The documenting of Arab American history is still in its infancy stage, despite the fact that Arabs have been immigrating to the United States for centuries. Just this week, on October 17, the Arab American Historical Society held what was its fourth annual conference on the subject at USC.
Following Gregory Orfalea’s 2006 The Arab Americans (Olive Branch Press), New York-based civil rights attorney Alia Malek has written a new volume that merits wide attention. A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots, American Stories, presents a range of individuals and families across the country, from the uplifting story of Alabama football hero Ed Salem to the unfortunate saga of Palestinian American Alex Odeh, who was assassinated in Orange County by a bomb blast in his office in 1985. This sad chapter in Arab American history worsened when eight Arab Americans were haunted by the FBI and threatened with deportation (known as the “L.A. 8,” all charges were dropped years later, in the post-9/11 era).
Early readers, including Jordan’s Queen Noor, have begun to praise Malek’s book. Her “impassioned and harrowing set of profiles of Arab Americans gives vitality and resonance to a cause that is dear to my heart: fostering cross-cultural understanding and respect,” Noor commented. Heart newspaper columnist Helen Thomas noted that the book "is great reading for anyone who is interested in the hyphenated American immigrant. The hopes and dreams of ordinary people who have come to the Land of Great Hope are beautifully depicted in her book. The lives of the people she depicts are compelling for their struggles for a better life. The book is engaging and enlightening, impossible to put down.”
Samuel G. Freedman, author of Letters to a Young Journalist and Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry, wrote, “If you’re not an Arab American, then it’s really imperative for you to read this fascinating book. You couldn’t ask for a more informative, engaging, and provocative introduction to millions of our fellow citizens. From football star to soldier, from gay activist to union leader, cheerleader, minister, Democrat, Republican, Christian, Muslim – Alia Malek brings the entire spectrum of Arab America to vivid, three-dimensional life.”
Alia Malek will be touring the West Coast in November, with stops in Orange County at Chapman University on November 9, in Los Angeles at Levantine Cultural Center on Nov. 11, in San Jose at the Arab Cultural Center on Nov. 12, and in San Francisco on Nov. 13 at the Arab Cultural Center.