This month Southern California saw the opening of an exhibition organized by the Arab American National Museum (AANM) in Dearborn. Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to Our Country opened on the campus of University of California, Irvine on Jan. 5 and there was a special reception for the Orange County community on Jan.13, organized by the Southern California Friends of the AANM. Also on Jan. 13, Gregory Orfalea, author of The Arab Americans: A History, presented the workshop "A Hundred Years Angeleno." A native of Los Angeles of Syrian and Lebanese ancestry, Orfalea's most recent book is Angeleno Days: an Arab American Writer on Family, Place and Politics. Following Orfalea, JPL scientist and musician Sami Asmar, founder of Turath.org, presented a musical demonstration of Arab music with several musician friends.
The Patriots & Peacemakers exhibition tells the story of over 100 years of contributions by Arab Americans to three arenas of national service: the U.S. military, diplomatic service and the Peace Corps. It features more than 170 individuals from 39 states and was designed by the AANM to shine a light on the acts of heroism and sacrifice of generations of Americans of Arab descent, and to challenge prevailing stereotypes that have only deepened in the past decade. In undertaking the task, curators spent four years researching and conducting hundreds of interviews across the United States. Patriots & Peacemakers first opened on Veterans Day 2011 at the museum in Michigan; the UCI visit is the first one on the West Coast.
Capt James Jabara of the U.S. Air Force, who served 1943-1966, is among several veterans whose stories are featured in the exhibit. In the realm of diplomacy, Ambassador Marcelle M. Wahba is highlighted as the first woman to hold such a post in a Gulf state; Wahba served 1986-2008. Other notable narratives including Peace Corps volunteers active since the organization's inception to missions in Rwanda in the aftermath of genocide.
The exhibit features a number of Southern California locals, including Korean War veteran Don Bustany (U.S. Army Infantry and Signal Corps, 1952-1954), who has gone on to host the long-running KPFK 90.7 FM public affairs program Middle East in Focus (Sundays, 9 a.m., kpfk.org). Following his years in uniform, Bustany became a progressive activist, working with such efforts as Progressive Democrats of America, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimation Committee, the Cousins Club and Americans for Democratic Action.
The exhibition will be on display at the Student Center (Doheny Beach Ballroom) of the UC Irvine, January 5-26, 2013. Admission is free and the public is welcome; exhibition hours are 9 am to 9 pm.
Since the Arab American National Museum opened in 2005, it has worked to preserve and present the cultural and community heritage of Arab immigrants in America. While located in the nation's heartland, the museum is very much a national institution, affiliated with the Smithsonian, whose programs and exhibits represent the experience and contributions of Arab Americans across the country. Among its many initiatives, the museum fostered the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), which links up Arab cultural centers and social organizations across the U.S., helping them to share resources and programs. The Levantine Cultural Center is a NNAAC member.
In Orange County, UCI's Middle East Studies Student Initiative (MESSI) is sponsoring workshops on the Arab American experience to complement the exhibition. Upcoming workshops scheduled include "Arabic Calligraphy" with Maece Seirafi, Jan. 20, 1 pm; and "Who Are Arab Americans" with Dr. Faiza Shereen and Rima Nashashibi.
Patriots & Peacemakers will be on view in Los Angeles at the Japanese American National Museum, Feb 16-April 14, 2013.