Posted on: April 8, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

By Omar Shalabi, JRN 111 Student

While Arab Americans continue to face bullying and discrimination in the aftermath of 9/11, they have made important contributions to the country as a whole and to the Chicago community in particular.

Nina Shoman-Dajani

That was the focus of a virtual event held Wednesday in celebration of April being Arab Heritage Month. First-generation Arab American Nina Shoman-Dajani took the time to shed some light on her culture as well as her personal perspective in a talk sponsored by the library. At Moraine Valley, Shoman-Dajani serves as assistant dean of Learning Enrichment and College Readiness. She is also adviser for the Arab Student Union.

Shoman-Dajani was raised to be open and proud of her culture by her parents and hopes to keep the tradition going for future generations.

“My father raised us bringing us to cultural events and advocating for Palestine,” she said. “I’m very passionate about my background.

“It’s very important to me as an Arab American to not only share my culture with my colleagues and my community but to instill in my children their heritage as well. Just as it was instilled in me.”

Because the love she has for her culture is true, she conducted a research program to identify the main hardships her people have endured, more specifically, the hate that followed the attacks on the World Trade Center.

In her research, she focused on Arab American college students between the ages of 19 and 26. She found that even though all students came from various backgrounds and different faiths, they all at some point in time witnessed a hate crime.

“When I asked them about events or circumstances that may have influenced their identity or how they think about their identity, every single one of them brought up 9/11,” she said. “They [either] witnessed a hate crime of a family member or they witnessed their mom being harassed because she might wear a hijab, or they were shunned by their friends because of their Arab or Muslim background.”

Shoman-Dajani’s talk is available for viewing on the library’s YouTube channel.

Shoman-Dajani showed how discrimination, hate crimes, surveillance, and anti-Arab racism are all very much alive despite Illinois having the second-largest Palestinian, Assyrian, and Jordanian populations in the U.S.

The origin of Arab Americans’ culture is commonly misunderstood, she said. Although the culture is primarily centered in the Middle East, Arabs have made their mark in parts of Africa, Europe, Asia, and now the United States also. 

With their culture now in Chicago, Shoman-Dajani found it essential to highlight all of the efforts Arab Americans have put back into the community, including work with charity organizations, cultural programs, local organizations and social gatherings.

“It’s important to do this work, maintain these conversations, and continue to not only advocate for students behind the scenes but also to have students feel at home here at Moraine, to help them feel proud of their culture by providing a safe space for them to share who they are, to share this information and to invite speakers in who look like them and who are sharing information about their communities,” she said.

Those are some of the reasons the library decided to sponsor this event, according to head librarian Troy Swanson: “One of MVCC library’s goals is to be a platform for our community to help share ideas and discussions that impact them.”

The fight for Arab American equality is ongoing, and bias and stereotyping continue to be a problem, Shoman-Dajani says.

“One of the main goals is to challenge the misinformation that is so prevalent in the mainstream media and the movies that continue to work against our communities,” she said. “It’s almost like an uphill battle. We want to share who we are and our culture and we want people to understand, but we also are fighting against this historic western image of Arabs as terrorists and very orientalist, kind of romanticized version of what it means to be an Arab or from the Middle East.”