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San Diegans Reflect On Arab American Heritage Month

 April 27, 2021 at 1:56 PM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 This month, the president recognized April is national Arab American heritage month. It's a time where the diversity cultures and contributions of Americans from Arab countries is celebrated and acknowledged. Joining me is Alyssa Hidad lecture at university of San Diego and the school of leadership and education sciences. She recently did a workshop on middle Eastern stereotypes and sensitivities to raise awareness about her culture and the challenges of cultural identity here in America. Professor. Hidad welcome. Speaker 2: 00:31 Hi, thank you. It's great to be here. Speaker 1: 00:33 It wasn't until April 19th of this year that, uh, the first recognition on a federal level was issued, which was published as a white house letter from president Joe Biden, recognizing April as national Arab American heritage month. So what is your reaction to this? Speaker 2: 00:49 I was very excited to hear about this, this recognition. I feel as well deserved and very timely because Americans of Arab heritage are a part of this nation and have been for a long time and they have made significant contributions across many industries and many fields. Speaker 1: 01:04 Hmm. What's the biggest misconception people have about the Arab American committee. Speaker 2: 01:10 There are so many misconceptions. I believe that one of, one of the misconceptions people have about the Arab American community is that assumption that all Arabs are Muslim. When in fact not all Arabs are Muslim and not all Muslims are Arab. Another misconception too, is the belief that Arab Americans are oppressed, which is far from the truth. Speaker 1: 01:28 And, uh, let me ask you this. How has anti Arab sentiment and the rise of xenophobia, uh, presented challenges to the committee? Speaker 2: 01:37 It leads to a bias, both conscious and unconscious bias and bias does affect how people are treated and the opportunities that they receive, the professional opportunities that they get. And, um, these, these stereotypes can be very harmful. And, um, because once people act on them, they become prejudices and harmful stereotypes tend to prevent the individuals from embracing their culture and expressing themselves in an honest and a comfortable way. Speaker 1: 02:02 When you do these workshops, is there anything that stands out to you from members in the community? Speaker 2: 02:09 Yeah. So a lot of times, uh, people who are participating in these workshops, some of them are, um, of Arabic Arab heritage, and some of them are American. And one of the questions that they always ask is they want to know which culture is better. Is it better to be, um, someone who's from an Arab culture or to be American? And it's not really about what I say is it's not about being better, one being better or worse than the other. Um, what it really is about is understanding how our culture affects us, understanding how our culture helps us and how it hinders us and how it affects our behavior and extending that same treatment to other people. So when we're dealing with a person from another culture and understanding that if they do something differently, they're not trying to upset us or offend us. They're just coming at it from a different cultural background. And I think that understanding is the first step towards building trusting and meaningful relationships with people, especially when we're working across cultures. Speaker 1: 03:03 It sounds like that concern is, is rooted in cultural identity. Yeah. Tell, talk to me a bit about the difficulties that people from Arab countries have with their cultural identity of having come to America. Speaker 2: 03:17 So I can speak from experience. I was born in the United States, but I did grow up in, in Lebanon. Uh, and I moved here when I was 17 and, uh, I've been living here since, so I think there's a lot of, um, there's a psychological toll that comes from shifting between the two different cultural identities. It's not easy. And every time you make a decision, you're trying to, um, bring in the cultural schemas from these two seemingly competing identities. And there's also stress that stems from, uh, the existential questions of questioning of who, who am I, am I 11 years? Am I American? Am I both? And how do I integrate both and make decisions considering both cultural schemas? Speaker 1: 03:56 Uh, one of the reasons Arab American history month is so important is because it provides an opportunity to really celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of Arab Americans. And what ways do you think America has overlooked or ignored those contributions? Speaker 2: 04:11 That's a, that's a great question. So I think what we see in the media is very powerful. Uh, we, as human beings are highly impacted by availability, bias and recency bias. So what we see in the news, what we read about what we hear about is what we end up paying attention to. So what, we're not heat when we're not hearing about these contributions and these stories, they're not receiving the recognition they deserve. Speaker 1: 04:31 And tell me a bit about the contributions of Arab Americans. Speaker 2: 04:34 So Arab Americans have made contributions in many industries. Um, a couple of there are a couple of examples I could share here, even though there's many, many more, um, Tony Shalhoub for example, is a three time. I mean, award-winning TV actor, uh, Hoda could be who is an Egyptian American and is a very famous, uh, TV anchor. Uh, the marketer who is a famous clothing designer, [inaudible] who is a Lebanese American scholar instead of session has written famous books about uncertainty and probability. Um, one of his books, the blocks Swan is very famous and, um, his, his son is the president of Northeastern university. Um, and lastly Philip, uh, Satan was an oncologist and a researcher here in the United States. So this is again, just to capture a few, there are many more and many more contributions that Arab Americans have made. Speaker 1: 05:21 And I've also heard the word most safe related to, to the month. In what ways does, does that word kind of resonate with you? Speaker 2: 05:30 That's a, that's a very powerful metaphor. I think when I think of something that's mosaic, I think of, uh, a lot of different pieces that come together to create something beautiful and each and every piece is unique. And that's how I, uh, that's what I think of when I think of, uh, Arab, uh, Arab countries. They're, they're all unique. And then when they come together, they form something really beautiful. Speaker 1: 05:51 I've been speaking with Alyssa Hidad lecture at university of San Diego in the school of leadership and education sciences professor Hidad. Thank you. Speaker 2: 06:00 Thank you.

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This month President Joe Biden recognized April as National Arab American Heritage Month. USD Professor Elissa Haddad joined Midday Edition to talk about the significance of National Arab American Heritage Month.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments