This will be a tripartite post, mostly for ease of reading.
At first glance, I would expect any reader who knows me to raise a brow or two. For I am neither Arab nor American. In fact, I am a citizen of a country that has systematically and consistently discriminated against its own Arab citizens and oppressed a much larger of Arabs living under its military occupation. And In America I am but a visitor.
Yet politically, I often identify more closely with my Palestinian brethren, and my visits in the United States have been so prolonged, that other than having the right to vote, I have become quite involved in the American political and cultural discourse. Anecdotally, when I recently spent time in Egypt and Jordan, many people assumed I was Lebanese, and in the States, too many ears are insensitive enough to accents to detect what Deborah Tannen once told me was clearly an Israeli one.
To be honest, however, what spiked my interest in the nexus of Arab and American beings was a recent visit to Dearborn, Michigan and it's environs. Since I began teaching Arabic in the U.S., I have had the pleasure to come across several American students of Arab ancestry. In many cases, they knew more about Arabs than I did. In most cases, I knew more about their parents' or grandparents' native language then they did. I am still struggling to find optimal ways in which to streamline this symbiotic learning process.
So the weekend before last I flew from Philadelphia to Detroit. I stayed at a hotel on the Detroit/Dearborn boundary, and initially with the help of a local Palestinian-American friend, and later on my own, began exploring the streets of Dearborn. In a way, it reminded me of Paterson, N.J., which in turn resembles such cities as Ramallah or Bethlehem, with its long Main Street dotted with Arab restaurants and shops. My late uncle who lived in nearby Fair Lawn once introduced me to what he referred to as "the Syrian grocery store," a medium-sized enclosed market that sold hummus, labne, diamonds and Cheerios all under one roof. Dearborn is much like Paterson, with its bilingual signs, where one Arabic name or phrase has more than one English equivalent. It is different, though, in that it is more spread out, more suburban, and instead of the discount sneaker stores I remember from its New Jersey counterpart, I seem to have seen many more doctors' offices, pharmacies and ads for legal services. And — and this was the premise of my journey to Michigan — the Arab American National Museum.