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The Daily Need

Arab-American middle-schoolers dispel stereotypes in a post-9/11 world

The upcoming tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks prompts national reflection on the ways in which the attacks profoundly changed our world. But some of the people who are perhaps impacted most by the September 11 attacks are those who have no recollection of the event at all.

At the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., Arab-American middle-school students with no memory of the events of September 11, 2001 use photographs and stories to present snapshots of their lives growing up in a post-9/11 world and to counter the stereotypes that have proliferated since the launch of the global war on terror.

The photo exhibit, titled “In the Heart of Arab America: A Middle School Perspective,” can be viewed online at the Living Textbook website. The students are from the journalism class of McCollough-Unis School in Dearborn, and 28 of the 29 students are Arab-American.

Some of the stories are extremely ordinary. In one feature, entitled “Thanksgiving at the Zahra’s,” student Mohamad Zahra describes his family’s annual Thanksgiving ritual:

Thanksgiving is the day when my whole family gathers at my house to celebrate. Before we set it up, I would help out.

We all get different kinds of food. Some people get the turkey and some get other kinds. We had turkey, salad, rice with meat, lasagna, shrimp, hummus and tabouleh. The dessert was cake, ice cream and Oreo cookie pie.

After we eat, we start cleaning up. When we are done, the parents go upstairs and my cousins go downstairs and start to play with the Wii. This is what we do on Thanksgiving.

A photo from "Thanksgiving with the Zahras" by Mohamad Zahra at Unis Middle School

Other accounts delve into the experiences of Arab-American children just beginning to explore the realities of a post-9/11 world. In a blog post on the project’s website, student Samira Maatouk describes attending a protest against Rev. Terry Jones, the notorious Florida pastor who threatened, and eventually staged, a public Qu’ran burning.

Jones was already talking when we arrived. He was comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr. He was trying to make a point about the Qu’ran, even though he’s never read it. He thinks that it teaches us to do things that are bad. The Qu’ran doesn’t teach us to do bad things.

I’ve never read the Quran, either. But my Mom and Dad have taught me about it.

I think Jones just came to Dearborn to get attention. He knew that he would get attention because he was talking about Arabic people. And Arabic people, they don’t like people talking about them, especially when they’re saying things that aren’t true. We don’t like that.

Dearborn is home to one of the country’s largest Arab-American communities. The Arab American National Museum, the first of its kind in the U.S., opened in 2005 to dispel stereotypes of Arabs in the U.S. and around the world. The students’ stories and photos were collected during the 2010-2011 school year, through a project sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association.

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