I am an Arab American
Recently, I found myself watching NBC's new show Rock Center. They were doing a segment on some of my comedian friends in "The Muslims are Coming" Comedy Tour. It was a well put together segment and very entertaining.
During one part, an older white gentleman from Alabama suggested there was something wrong with the comics labeling themselves Muslim Americans or Arab Americans. He says "there's only one kind of American... you should just call yourselves American" and drop the additional descriptor "Muslim" or "Arab". He goes on to say, "My ancestors are Dutch, I don't call myself a Dutch American...".
This got me to thinking. Does he have a point there?
This got me to thinking. Does he have a point there?
I've heard this quite a few times recently. It's a popular idea in some circles. They say that by adding our heritage in front of the word "American", like African American, or Latino American, or Filipino American, or whatever, that we are somehow creating a separation between ourselves and the folks who simply call themselves "Americans".
They don't like it when we say we are Arab American, or when people of differing ethnic backgrounds highlight their ancestry.
Well, as an Arab American, as compelling an idea as this is, I disagree. I also submit that most of you don't really agree with the idea either.
Let me start by telling you that we all love our country and love being Americans. Believe me, no one knows more about how amazing it is to live here than people from other countries. Duh...That's why our ancestors came to the U.S. and the reason why many of them joined our military and fought in wars for our country. It is in no way our intention to separate ourselves. It's simply a way for us to preserve our heritage and culture, which we are proud of.
We enjoy our culture, our music, our food and like that it makes our lives richer. We also believe that it makes the American experience richer. How in the world does that negatively affect you? Really, what's it to you Dutch guy? We're not recruiting! We're just hanging out sharing who we are with you, and sharing good food.
Hey Dutch American guy, If you were actually culturally involved in your Dutch heritage, we would be the first to want to know about it. But it's more likely that you don't do any "Dutchy" things. Maybe that's why you don't call yourself a Dutch American. You should embrace your Dutch heritage. I do agree, however, it was a good idea to ditch those wooden shoes. You were getting your butts kicked in the Olympics in every race.
Oh, and let's not pretend you don't like our food. We all like our ethnically labeled restaurants. We've got Mexican, Mediterranean (code for Arab), Greek, Chinese, Italian, and more. And suddenly, I'm hungry. Who doesn't like good authentic Mexican food? Well, I hate to break it to you, but you have get it from "authentic Mexicans" who became Americans, sometimes they're missing a little paperwork, but that's another issue. And we still label them Mexicans, even when they are American citizens. The uproar over immigration from the south clearly shows that we don't want "actual" Mexicans making our food.
Also many comedians would lose half of their acts without pointing out the differences in people from different cultures... Comics joke about differences in black people, white people, Filipinos, Arabs, Latin Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Native Americans, Tall people, short people, fat people, skinny people, you name it. We point out the differences in people ALL THE TIME! And you don't have to be a comedian to be a part of this example, because I'll bet everyone reading this has laughed at jokes like this or enjoyed other entertainment that does the same...and guess what? It's okay!
But you can't have it both ways. You can't tell us to shut up about our heritage and then use it yourself when it's convenient.
By the way, I am always an "Arab American" at airport security. Those guys rarely see me as "just American".
Another point that I think is fair to make is that EVERY person (In the U.S.) I have ever come in contact with that carried on more than a half an hour's worth of conversation with me, eventually asked "where are you from?" And if I answer, Hampton, Virginia, they're never satisfied. To quote my friend Amer Zahr, a very funny comedian, they continue, "no...where are you from, from?", because they want to know my heritage.
So to be honest, I really don't think many of you mean what you say when you tell us that we should just be "Americans".
Funny thing is that to everyone else on the planet, we are just Americans.
What are you really saying? Should we just become a washed out version of our heritage? Believe me, we already are pretty vanilla compared to our families in the old country. We're just trying our best to keep our culture alive in our families. It's something to be proud of.
And don't worry, we are plenty American. We eat cheeseburgers, watch wrestling and reality TV, listen to good old rock-n-roll, play baseball, have cholesterol issues and a lot of us are overweight too! So you see, we're just like you, but with an accent and maybe a bowl of hummus.
We can't all just eat white bread and baloney (or bologna, for you purists), can we? And by the way, baloney comes to us from our Italian American friends. Enjoy!