The Arab Heritage Month Closing Ceremony took place at the Trotter Multicultural Center Thursday night. Hosted by the office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA), the event concluded a month of Arab cultural festivities featuring workshops, performances and guest speakers.
The ceremony began with Arabic food and people gathering around tables. MESA Program Manager Jesús Galvan greeted students and families as they walked into Trotter Center.
Taubman freshman Lynn Samman, the event coordinator for the closing ceremony, began by thanking MESA and the Arab Student Association for their support in empowering the Arab community on campus. She then recognized each of the Arab Heritage Month committee members, thanking them for their work in putting on various events throughout the past month.
“We would like to recognize all our committee members for all their hard work,” Samman said. “Starting with the programming committee, then the marketing committee, and the finance committee, and special thank you to our manager and coordinators.”
Arab Heritage Month takes place in April every year and celebrates Arab heritage and culture, paying tribute to the contributions of over 3.7 million Arab Americans in the United States. It wasn’t until 2017 that the Arab America Foundation began a national initiative to coordinate all states under National Arab American Heritage Month. In 2019, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., introduced a resolution to Congress to proclaim April as National Arab American Heritage Month.
Samman highlighted all the events that took place throughout the month, beginning with the Opening Ceremony — which was in person for the first time in two years — on March 17. Following the opening, there were 15 other events, including “Teach me how to Dabke,” “Students Organize for Syria Night” and “Palestinian Future in Art and Film.”
This year, the theme for all of the Arab Heritage Month events was qisasna, which means “our stories” in Arabic.
“For too long, our stories have been told by folks who don’t represent us,” Samman said. “We are committed to empowering the voices of Arab Americans and our intersecting identities, which are often dismissed or negated so we may claim our agency and tell our qisasna.”
LSA sophomore Dania Zeidan served on the finance committee for the Arab Heritage Month celebrations and is in the Arabesque Dance Troupe. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Zeidan said that as a Syrian, qisasna to her means embracing the uniqueness of each person.
“Oftentimes with being a minority group your story is glossed over, generalized and stereotyped,” Zeidan said. “People don’t have the right idea of what our culture means and what we value.”
Engineering sophomore Nicole Baalbaki, who is on the marketing and outreach committee for Arab Heritage Month, said her favorite part of Arab Heritage Month was when her non-Arab friends joined her at the Opening Ceremony and learned the dabke — an Arab folk dance often performed by groups of people at weddings and public events.
“They each brought their friends and I taught them all how to dabke,” Baalbaki said. “The day after, between our classes, we began to dabke in the halls. It meant so much to me to show my culture to people and see people at the University so interested in it.”
Though her Syrian heritage was always an important part of her identity growing up in Rhode Island, Baalbaki said she felt like she never had an Arab community until she came to the University of Michigan. She said she hopes the Arab Heritage Month events helped show the University how rich Arab-American culture is.
“We love to have fun and spread our hospitality to others. We are one of a kind,” Baalbaki said. “There is always something new I learn about our story and what life is like in such a beautiful country (Syria).”
Zeidan echoed Baalbaki, also emphasizing how thankful she was to have found a “safe space” within the Arab community at the University.
“Finding this community changed everything,” Zeidan said. “I have formed my greatest friendships here and strengthened my relationship with my own culture. You meet people with levels and depths of different backgrounds even though we’re all Arab. It’s nice to have a place to celebrate together and discuss what’s going on within your community.”
The closing ceremony concluded with Arabic karaoke, a photobooth and a dabke dance, filling Trotter Center with music and laughter throughout the night.
Daily Staff Reporter Ashna Mehra can be reached email@example.com.