Arab Fest celebrates diversity, showcases Middle Eastern cultures

Over the weekend, the Arab American Club of Knoxville and the Religious Studies department at the University of Tennessee held its fourth annual Arab Fest on pedestrian walkway.

The two day festival showcased food, dancing, crafts and various demonstrations of Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

Erin Darby, assistant professor in the Religious Studies department at UT, is the co-coordinator of the event.

“It began when my students came back from their study abroad tour [in Jordan] in 2013, and they were frustrated that they didn’t have the ability to share their experience with the rest of the UT community,” Darby said. “So, between UT and the Arab American Club of Knoxville, what was a tiny, little baby idea sort of jumped forth into this crazy festival, and it’s gotten bigger every year.”

“It’s basically a way to share the best of Arab culture, not just with UT students but the whole community,” Darby said.

There were several booths lining the circle of pedestrian walkway. Authentic Middle Eastern food from Yassin’s Falafel House, Mirage and other individuals were available to attendees. People could also smoke hookah, get a henna tattoo or purchase authentic beaded home decor and clothes.

In the middle of all of the vendors was a stage for people to sing, dance and play Arab music. On Friday, there was a musician playing a doumbek, which is a style of Middle Eastern drum. Students were encouraged to come up and learn the Arab group folk dance dabke. There were plenty of smiles in the chain of individuals dancing around to the music both days of the festival.

Among guests at the event was the City of Knoxville Mayor, Madeline Rogero. When speaking to the attendees of the festival, Mayor Rogero admitted to this being her first year attending the festival.

“I love coming to our ethnic festivals in our city,” Rogero said. “Thanks to UT, and Tennessee Valley Authority, and Oak Ridge National Lab and a lot of our businesses here we are a very diverse city and I think it’s really important that we celebrate the diversity we have here.”

Some students like junior Jasmine Parks attended the event as a volunteer for extra credit.

“I just love cultural things,” Jasmine said. “Professor Darby asked that we all come out, and I did, and it is a lot of fun.”

For future Arab Fests, Darby would like to see more people come out and learn about Arab and Middle Eastern cultures.

If you have any interest in being involved with or helping plan future Arab Fests, you can email Darby at edarby1@utk.edu.

Featured image by Nima Kasraie, obtained through Creative Commons

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

The Third Annual Arab Fest presented authentic culture to the community

On Friday Oct. 21, The Arab American Club of Knoxville, students and members of the surrounding community joined on Pedestrian Walkway for the Third Annual Arab Fest.

There were many tents set up, each with a variety of activities for passersby to participate in. There was authentic food from Syria, Arabic coffee, henna art and different styles of traditional dress for people to see, as well.

During the course of the events, there was a dance recital where some of the community’s Arabic youth danced to the style of dabke. Yasmin, a Palestinian native, gave some insight on the style of dance.

“This traditional style of dance is done in many Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Palestine and Syria.”
Yasmin also mentioned that all of the young dancers’ parents were born in the Middle East. Once they moved to America, their parents wanted their children to still be familiar with the culture, so they put them in Arabic style dance classes.

Under one of the many tents were Brittney and Omar Yousif, the owners of the popular restaurant, Mirage, that is located on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville. The workers, who are Catholic refugees from Iraq, say they are proud of their culture and glad to be sharing it with a new crowd.

Mirage serves authentic Middle Eastern food and also has traditional belly dancers on Friday and Saturday nights.

“You can tell people really enjoy events like this. It not only meshes American culture with Arabic culture, but it brings in a variety of different people. I truly got a taste of Arab culture today,” said Lisa Allen, a UT student who attended the festival.

Arab Fest continues on Saturday, Oct. 22 from 12-5 p.m. You can find more information on the event’s Facebook page.

Featured Image by Kelly Fallon

Edited by Katy Hill

Correction: A previous edition of this story said the workers from Mirage are from Syria. They are Iraqi Catholic refugees.

Profile: Arab-American author, consultant speaks on racial stereotypes

[title_box title=”Profile: Arab-American author, consultant speaks on racial stereotypes”]

In the 1970s, Dr. Jack Shaheen’s children would wake up early and enjoy Saturday morning cartoons starring their favorite cartoon heroes, Bugs Bunny and Popeye. One Saturday morning, however, Shaheen found his children watching an episode of their cartoon heroes hurting Arabian characters.

An Arab-American himself, this moment sparked Shaheen’s interest to investigate how Arabs and Muslims are portrayed in United States media. Now an author, former CBS news consultant and professor emeritus, Shaheen has made a name for himself in racial and ethnic stereotyping.

“I just began looking how television portrayed Arabs and I looked at eight years of television programming, everything from documentaries to sitcoms to dramas to children’s cartoons, and that led to my first book,” he said.

After studying years of programming, Shaheen concluded that Arabs and Muslims are mostly played as threats. He added that since Sept. 11, this image has intensified to not just Arabs and Muslims, but also Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans.

“We’ve had monolithic images of hate and distress, meaning we seldom—if ever—see an Arab or a Muslim like a normal human being,” he said. “The American Arabs and American Muslims who were (once) invisible in the media are now being targeted as a threat to this country.”

Shaheen has written several novels on the subject. His award-winning novel “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People” was turned into a documentary by the Media Education Foundation in 2006. Shaheen said that it was an off-and-on 10 year project that has had a “profound impact” worldwide.

Krista Weigand, UT associate professor of political science and a faculty fellow of the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy, was influenced by Shaheen in the early 1990s when she had to read one of his novels in college. She now focuses her time on helping spread diversity awareness to Knoxville and UT.

“Any time there’s stereotypes and racism and simplification of an entire group of people, it’s really frustrating because (…) sometimes governments make bad policies, people are mistreated and in some cases violence against these people,” she said. “None of these things should be happening. There’s no reason based on stereotypes that people should be treated in certain ways.”

Shaheen headlined the second annual Arab Fest Thursday in the Toyota Auditorium at the Baker Center. Weigand thought that Shaheen was the right choice to start Arab Fest because of his knowledge and critical acclaim in Hollywood.

“I think the more people understand different cultures and also get to know people, individuals from those cultures, then they say ‘Oh wow, you’re not at all like I thought these people were,’” she said. “Once people are familiar with those cultures, they won’t be as nervous or scared about them.”

Shaheen said he has seen recent efforts from the media trying to “change the status quo of images.” One example is “Shimmer and Shine,” a Nickelodeon series that Shaheen was a cultural consultant for. He hopes to see this progression continue because the U.S. is the global leader of exporting entertainment.

“I’ve always said that my goal is to see Arabs and Muslims being portrayed like a normal group, no better or no worse,” he said.

Feature image by Thomas Delgado

Edited by Taylor Owens