Patriots & Peacemakers in Washington, D.C.

The Arab American National Museum was honored to present the Patriots & Peacemakers exhibit at the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda in Washington, D.C during the week of Veterans Day. Speaking to this, we were able to showcase the dedication of Arab Americans who have served our country in the heart of our nation’s capital; such a fitting and deserving way to recognize their contributions and heroism.

The opening reception—on November 12 in the majestic Kennedy Caucus Room—was an amazing event that brought together over 150 people to celebrate this exclusive exhibit and reflect upon its importance. The event hosted scores of Patriots featured in the exhibit; Members of Congress and their senior staff; colleagues from Smithsonian Affiliations and several Smithsonian museums; ambassadors; sponsors; and other friends of the AANM. We were pleased to welcome speakers from the three arenas of service featured in the exhibit: U.S. Peace Corps Deputy Director Kathy Rulon, Retired Brigadier General Guy Sands, and Deputy Under Secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs at the State Department, Ambassador Susan Ziadeh, who is also featured in the exhibition. National Advisory Board member Ambassador Ed Gabriel moderated the program, which also featured remarks by myself and Board member Ziad Ojakli, whose Ford Motor Company was the exhibit underwriter for the D.C. visit.

To present accurate and timely information about Arab Americans on Capitol Hill, directly to our country’s leaders, represents an historic moment. As a Museum and as a national community, we are at a turning point. We are increasingly visible, increasingly enthusiastic, and increasingly united as we celebrate the diversity among Arab Americans. We are poised to emerge as a formidable force in American civil society, and our Museum is the catalyst.

Making remarks at the reception
Devon Akmon making introductory remarks during the reception in the Kennedy Caucus Room.
Exhibit in the ussell Senate Building Rotunda
Looking down at the exhibit in the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda.
Viewing the exhibit
Guests explore the exhibit in the the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda.
The Russell Senate Building Rotunda
Looking up at the Russell Senate Office Building Rotunda.
Displaying her cube in the exhibit
A Patriot proudly displays the cube featuring her service in the exhibit.
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Arab American Patriots & Peacemakers Honored with Capitol Hill Exhibition

Veterans Day holiday coincides with historic Arab American Nat’l Museum presentation Nov. 10-14 at Russell Senate Office Bldg.

America’s only museum celebrating the Arab American experience is bringing an original exhibition on public service to Capitol Hill in time for Veterans Day on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014.

Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to Our Country will be on public display in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building, 2 Constitution Ave. NE, Monday, Nov. 10 through Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. Admission is free.

Created by the Arab American National Museum (AANM) in Dearborn, Mich., this multimedia, interactive exhibition tells true stories of heroism and self-sacrifice that affirm the important role Arab American men and women of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds have played in our country throughout its history. Patriots & Peacemakers highlights 170 people from 39 states in three specific areas of service: the U.S. Armed Forces, diplomatic corps and the Peace Corps.

More than two dozen Washington, D.C.-based Arab American patriots are featured in the exhibition; visit to view a list. Among them are Gen. John P. Abizaid and Gen. George Joulwan of the U.S. Army; Army veterans and diplomats George J. Mitchell and Philip Habib; diplomats Edward Gabriel, Susan L. Ziadeh, Marcelle Wahba and Camille Nowfel (a diplomatic interpreter for five U.S. presidents); and Peace Corps workers George Gorayeb, Raja’e Nami, Nura Suleiman and Ruth Ann Skaff.

Gabriel, Ziadeh, Skaff, and several more Arab American patriots, as well as federal lawmakers, military, diplomatic and Peace Corps leadership, will be in attendance at a private Wed., Nov. 12 reception in the Kennedy Caucus Room at the Russell Senate Office Building.

“Arab Americans have been an integral part of the United States of America since its inception, contributing to our society in myriad ways, including public service, with dignity, loyalty and sacrifice,” says Devon Akmon, director of the AANM.

“Right now, there is so much damaging misinformation being spread about Arab Americans, especially when world events cause some people to paint with a far too broad a brush,” Akmon continues. “To present accurate and timely information about Arab Americans in our nation’s capital, directly to our country’s leaders, represents an historic moment for the Museum and the national Arab American community.”

Following four years of national research and curation, Patriots & Peacemakers originally opened at the AANM on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2011, and has since been presented in Jacksonville, Fla.; Topeka, Kan. (Brown v. Board of Education Historic Site); Houston; and two Southern California venues (Japanese American National Museum and University of California – Irvine). While this large version of the traveling exhibition is on display in our nation’s capital in November, a smaller version of Patriots & Peacemakers is on display through Nov. 20, 2014, at the Alif Institute in Atlanta.

Creation of the original exhibition was made possible in part by the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and Chevron. The AANM gratefully acknowledges the following legislators for their contributions: Michigan’s Sen. Carl Levin, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Rep. John D. Dingell, and the late Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Supporting the Washington, D.C. presentation of Patriots & Peacemakers are Chevron, Ford Motor Company, Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, DLA Piper LLP and many more; media sponsorship provided by

Read more about the Capitol Hill presentation of Patriots & Peacemakers at

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Arab American Foodways via the Southern Foodways Alliance

The Southern Foodways Alliance has some excellent oral history interviews with several descents of Arab immigrants to the U.S. within their collection. Here is a sampling:

Mary Louise Nosser

Mary Louise Nosser is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Her parents, John and Effie Nosser, immigrated to Vicksburg from the Mount Lebanon region of Syria (now Lebanon) just after World War I. In 1924 John opened a small grocery store on Washington Street. A year later, he married Effie, and they started a family. Mary Louise remembers growing up in a vibrant Lebanese community, with mom-and-pop grocery stores on every corner and traditional Lebanese feasts every Sunday.

Chafik Chamoun

Chafik worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but, like many Lebanese immigrants before him, including his grandfather, he spent years peddling dry goods to tenant families. He eventually earned enough to open a small grocery store out on Friars Point Road in Clarksdale, where Louise often made him lunch: a kibbe patty wrapped in homemade Lebanese bread. Customers began asking about Louise’s “kibbe sandwich,” and soon, picnic tables dotted the parking lot, and Louise was serving traditional Lebanese foods to the people of Clarksdale.

Elaine Daho

At first, life in Clarksdale was difficult. Not only was Elaine a recent immigrant, she was the lone Syrian among a great community of Lebanese. As Elaine puts it, she was the outsider of outsiders. But she managed to get a foothold in the Lebanese community and became a member of the Clarksdale Cedars Club, a Lebanese Social Club. Today, Elaine is the club’s president.

Pat Davis, Sr.

In 1960 Pat took over his father’s cafe. Today, Abe’s Bar-B-Q is landmark restaurant situated at the busy intersection of Highways 61 and 49. Regulars stop in for a Big Abe (a two-layer pulled-pork sandwich with Abe’s signature barbecue sauce), Blues pilgrims grab a plate of hot tamales (an ironic but iconic Delta food), and those in the know ask for the stuffed grape leaves.

Abe’s Bar-B-Q

Abe’s Bar-B-Q has been in business in the same location since 1937. Pat Davis, Sr. remembers Mexican vendors peddling hot tamales in downtown Clarksdale when he was a kid. At the same time, Pat was helping his father, Lebanese-born Abraham “Abe” Davis, make his own pork-filled tamales by hand in the kitchen of the family’s restaurant.

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Arab Americans in Search of Their Family History

Jeff Karoub, a Michigan-based reporter for the Associated Press, just published an excellent article titled, After a century, US Arabs look for pieces of past. As the title suggests, the article explores the difficulties in tracing the (factual) histories of Arab families that settled in the United States prior to 1924. Karoub draws upon his own frustrations of researching his family’s history in metropolitan Detroit.

The article speaks to many of the challenges we face when conducting research on Arab Americans who settled in the United States during the first major wave of Arab immigration (1880-1924). During this time, more than 20 million immigrants entered the U.S. Approximately 95,000 of these immigrants were from Greater Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel). For various reasons, including Ottoman rule in the homeland and the desire for rapid assimilation in the U.S., tracing the history of Arab Americans from this time period can be extremely challenging.

Mr. Karoub interviewed me for this article several months ago. As detailed in the feature, I can empathize with Mr. Karoub’s frustration with tracing his family’s history. As a third-generation American, you would hope to have a rather robust understanding of your family’s immigration story. However, this is not so for my family. I know roughly when my family arrived to the U.S., the name of our family’s village, but very little else. This is strange given that we have retained so many of our family’s customs and traditions. I have no idea why my family first settled in Kentucky, when they arrived in Detroit, our why my paternal grandfather’s family changed their surname from Joseph to Shatter. So many mysteries with so few answers.

We are currently working on a few initiatives at the AANM to help document and preserve family history. Many of these projects are being led by our staff in the Library & Resource Center. This includes the creation of a Community Resource Directory wiki, which will enable Arab Americans from around the country the opportunity to build community history for the comforts of their home. Additionally, we are creating a new laboratory in the L&RC for recording oral histories and digitizing two-dimensional artifacts and ephemera. Together, we hope these resources will provide an outlet for preserving Arab American history and documenting family histories.

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“Little Syria” featured on PRI’s The World

The AANM’s Little Syria project is picking up steam. We’re wrapping up the RFP process with exhibit designers, our curatorial staff is conducting research and collecting objects for the forthcoming exhibit, and the media is covering the story. We’re off to a good start.

Be sure to like the Little Syria Exhibit Facebook page for updates on the project. Also, if you missed it, there was a story from PRI’s The World, titled Saving New York’s ‘Little Syria’, that was aired on National Public Radio earlier this week. Check it out!

Little Syria Exhibit on Facebook
Little Syria Exhibit on Facebook
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Before the Spring | 2011 Arab Film Festival

Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Come check out the annual Arab Film Festival at the Arab American National Museum. This year’s festival, Before The Spring: Alternative Arab Cinema from 2005 to Today, explores films that were produced leading up to the “Arab Spring.” The festival was curated by our friends at ArteEast. You can read more about the festival over at the HuffPost Detroit.

Screenshot of HuffPost Detroit
The 2011 Arab Film Festival on HuffPost Detroit
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2011 DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts

This weekend, the Arab American National Museum is hosting its fourth installation of DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts. We’re excited to be taking this biennial arts convening out of Michigan for the first time. This year we’re partnering with Alwan for the Arts, the Middle East and Middle East American Center (MEMEAC) at the City University of New York, and FEN Magazine to host the event in New York City. Similar to years past, there is a great roster of speakers presenting on timely and important subjects.

DIWAN unites Arab American artists, scholars and performers representing myriad academic fields and artistic genres. The conference affords a safe space to discuss topics and issues affecting the community of artists while also fostering an open environment conducive to networking and community building. Most importantly, the presentations shed light on what’s new in the world of Arab American art while creating a greater awareness for the artists and their artwork.

I’ve been involved with DIWAN since it’s inception. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of moderating a panel at all four conferences. This year I will be moderating the session, The Stories We Tell: Arab Americans convey their truth through emerging mediums of installation art, film and the graphic novel. I’m looking forward to working with a great group of presenters and I expect nothing less than another inspiring and informative conference.

It’s really quite amazing how big we’ve grown this grassroots conference in five short years. Working on this project is definitely one of the highlights of my job at the AANM. If you’re in New York this weekend (March 25-26), be sure to stop by the CUNY Graduate Center, which is where the conference will be taking place. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention it’s FREE. Yes, we are all about being open and accessible to the public.

Also, be sure to check out the schedule and peep some photos from the 2007 and 2009 conferences. We’ve also published the audio and video of sessions from the 2009 conference on our iTunes U site. Hope to see you there this weekend!

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The Mother Colony: New York’s Little Syria

Last week I mentioned that I was in the process of conducting research on New York’s Little Syria neighborhood that existed along Washington Street during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (please see: Before Park51: Arab Americans in New York’s Little Syria). I’m pleased with how things are progressing thus far. I made contact with Redux Pictures, the archive for historical images from the New York Times, regarding seven photos that accompanied the 1899 article, New York’s Syrian Quarter. While I’m still waiting to hear back on access and reproductions, I’ve managed to find several more images via other online archival collections.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19028] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19026] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22835] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-23419] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22819] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19029] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22818] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19027] George Grantham Bain Collection

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22820] George Grantham Bain Collection

George Eastman House

George Eastman House [77:0177:0095, Syrian Arab at Ellis Island] Lewis W. Hine – Ellis Island

New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery

NYPL Digital Gallery [482835, Lebanon Restaurant (Syrian), 88 Washington Street, Manhattan. (August 12, 1936)] Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott, 1935-1938

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Coming Soon: Arab American Heritage Month

On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, Michigan State Representative Rashida Tlaib (D, 12th District) introduced House Bill 6555. The bill, co-sponsored by 24 other state representatives, would designate the month of April as Arab-American Heritage Month in Michigan.

I applaud the 25 representatives for introducing and supporting this measure. The Arab American community’s presence in Michigan has a rich history extending back over 100 years. Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States and the second largest outside of the Middle East. It is one of the few communities within the state that continues to grow in both its size and impact. There is no better time to introduce a bill to recognize the contributions of Arab Americans in Michigan. (See the recent Time article, Arab-Americans: Detroit’s Unlikely Saviors)

Rep. Tlaib is both an Arab American and the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature. I am proud of her for leading this important initiative. At this time, New Jersey is the only state that has recognized an Arab American history month at the state level, which it enacted in 2008. I hope that Michigan will soon proclaim an Arab American History month of its own. Time will tell; the bill was just referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

November 9, 2010, Introduced by Reps. Tlaib, Scripps, Segal, Kandrevas, Liss, Slavens, Huckleberry, Roberts, Constan, Jackson, Johnson, Durhal, Stanley, Bledsoe, Roy Schmidt, Lemmons, Byrum, LeBlanc, Gregory, Geiss, Cushingberry, Warren, Gonzales, Corriveau and Polidori and referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

A bill to designate the month of April of each year as Arab-American Heritage Month in the state of Michigan.


Sec. 1. (1) The legislature recognizes the contributions that the Arab-American community of Michigan has made throughout the entire state. Since the early 1900s, several different populations and groups from Arab countries have migrated and flourished in this state. Michigan is home to the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States. The Arab-American community of southeastern Michigan is known for its diversity, institutional leadership, and cultural outreach and is widely considered a center of Arab-American culture in the United States.

(2) In recognition of the contributions that the Arab-American community of Michigan has made, the legislature declares that the month of April of each year shall be known as “Arab-American Heritage Month”.

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An Archival Treasure: Lewis Hine’s Photographs of Phoebe Thomas

Yesterday, while conducting research for our project on New York’s Little Syria, I stumbled upon a great sequence of photographs by the renowned sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine. In addition to producing numerous iconic photos of the construction of New York’s skyline, Hine’s photographic work was instrumental in helping to reform child labor laws. My research revealed a startling discovery: Hine captured a series of photographs in 1911 that show a momentary glimpse into the life of an Arab American child laborer.

In the images shown below, Hine documents a young Syrian American named Phoebe Thomas, who is seen running home from a canning factory in Eastport, Maine after cutting her thumb with a knife. This is the first series of photographs I’ve seen that depict an Arab American child laborer at the start of the 20th century. It is both an impressive photo essay and an important look at the Arab American community in Maine at the turn of the century.

Eight year old Syrian girl, Pheobe [i.e. Phoebe] Thomas, going to work at 6 a.m., August 14, with great butcher knife, to cut sardines in Seacoast Canning Co. Factory #4, Eastport Me. Said she was a cutter, and I saw her working later. (See photos of her accident, #2444, #2445, #2449.) Location: Eastport, Maine.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00965] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

In center of the picture is Phoebe Thomas, 8 year old Syrian girl, running home from the factory all alone, her hand and arm bathed with blood, crying at the top of her voice. She had cut the end of her thumb nearly off, cutting sardines in the factory, and was sent home alone, her mother being busy. The loss of blood was considerable, and might have been serious. (See succeeding photos.) Location: Eastport, Maine.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00966] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

This is a detail of the previous image.

Phoebe’s thumb [Phoebe Thomas], a week after the accident. She was back at the factory that day, using the same big knife. Location: Eastport, Maine.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00971] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

Phoebe [Thomas], a little while after the accident. Location: Eastport, Maine.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00967] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)

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