The United States celebrates Arab American Heritage Month in April to honor Arab Americans and their culture. Every year, the University of Michigan’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs celebrates Arab, Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) culture between mid-March and mid-April with events to celebrate and educate audiences about SWANA languages and cultures. 

This year, due to the University’s cancellation of all physical events and programs, MESA’s celebration of Arab American Heritage Month happened online from March 23 to April 17.

LSA sophomore Hiba Dagher works as a student coordinator with MESA and helped plan many of the events that were supposed to take place on campus for Arab American Heritage Month. Dagher said it was disappointing that in-person events were canceled. 

“We came to the realization that despite the breadth that we wanted to portray, all the events we were planning and wanted to have critical dialogues about, we had to size (the plans for Arab American Heritage Month) down a bit,” Dagher said. “We had to make it more palatable and more easy for people to engage with.”

MESA held a movie night involving a Netflix Party screening of the Egyptian movie “Amar’s Hands,” created a Spotify playlist of Arab songs students can listen to and a list of books by prominent Arab/SWANA authors that students can read during the stay-at-home order. Additionally, for each week of the celebration, MESA shared posts about Arab icons like Fairuz, a Lebanese singer and actress, Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum, Yemeni migrant worker Nagi Daifullah and Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad.

“There is a significant lack of positive Arab icons in (the) media and a huge lack of representation for good Arab role models and Arabs who have positively contributed to society,” Dagher said. “So many Arabs and people who claim Southwest Asia and North Africa as home are constantly being portrayed as terrorists or extremists. (Having a weekly Arab icon) was done in part to combat that and to promote positive Arab representation.”

The Iraqi student association held a Chai and Chobi event as a part of Arab Heritage Month. Chobi is a traditional Iraqi dance performed at events and wedding ceremonies, and chai is a traditional tea served at gatherings. The event aimed to celebrate and educate attendees about Iraqi culture. 

LSA junior Mays AlBayati, social media director of the Iraqi Student Organization, said Arab Heritage Month is very special to students on campus, and she was glad MESA still celebrated even after University classes moved offline.

“Every year, Arab American Heritage Month is such an important thing on campus, at least for me as an Arab student,” AlBayati said. “It is a whole month where the (Arab) community gets together, hosts events and celebrates. People from outside our community are able to learn about our culture and traditions. I applaud MESA for still hosting Arab (American) Heritage Month and having these virtual events.”

LSA sophomore Diana Ramo said she was impressed by MESA’s initiative to host the events planned for Arab American Heritage Month virtually even after the cancellation of in-person events due to COVID-19.

“(MESA’s) initiatives are very inspiring,” Ramo said. “Now that everything is online, it is a little bit more complicated to set up these events. The fact that MESA is still going through with these events and still encouraging students to attend events virtually is impressive. It gives us the opportunity to immerse ourselves within the (Arab) culture while also staying safe and practicing social distancing.”

Daily Staff Reporter Navya Gupta can be reached at itznavya@umich.edu.

 

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