Debunking the myths: A look at the Arab-American experience


A new exhibit at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library on the Fairfield University campus presents a glimpse of the rich and diverse history of Arab-American communities, while debunking some of the myths surrounding them. The exhibit, contributed by Dr. Ralph Coury, professor of history, and his wife, Melissa, is a small version of the exhibit they helped arrange at the Museum of the City of New York last year.

The Fairfield Exhibit, consisting of two large exhibit cases on either side of the foyer of DiMenna-Nyselius, along wih six more cases inside, explains the two waves of migration that brought Arab peoples to America. The first wave came from rural and peasant backgrounds, primarily from the Ottoman area of Greater Syria, or present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. The second wave, from 1965 until the present, came as citizens of sovereign states, including Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan.

Contrary to popular opinion, the exhibit points out, Arab-Americans, who number some three million today, do not constitute a religion or a race. They are Christians and Muslims, white, black and brown, socially and economically diverse, an ethnic group united by the Arabic language and its cultural heritage.

Christians have comprised the majority of Arab-Americans since the earliest settlements and continue to make up two-thirds of the community today. A Bible in Arabic, published in the 1920s, is on display.

The exhibit proudly presents well-know personalities, such as Marlo Thomas, Ralph Nader, Helen Thomas, Selma Hayek, Donna Shalala, Queen Noor of Jordan, Dr. Michael DeBakey and Christa McAuliffe, who are all of Arab-American heritage. Books by Khalil Gibran and Edward Said are on display, and a photo marks the first Arabic-language performance of Hamlet, performed in Utica, N.Y., in 1915.

In contrast, another case shows Hollywood's vilification of Arabs, with several examples of Arabs in stereotypical roles in movies as cruel and dangerous people.

Some fascinating objects include an Arab Chieftan Doll from 1910 and a colorful Tarboush from the 1930s, also known as a Fez. A note explains that the head coverings were commonly worn by Muslims, Christians and Jews in the Middle East until the 1950s, and are now rare.

The exhibit is open to the public from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily and will continue through December.

Bookmark and Share

Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 25, 2003

Vol. 36, No. 131