Tag Archives: arab

Quoted: Lucette Lagnado On Being An Egyptian Jew In 1960s America

Lucette Lagnado

I was a child of the ’60s. No, not those ’60s of peace, drugs, and rock and roll, but rather the period several years prior, when a secret agent named Emma Peel reigned supreme on TV’s The Avengers. [...]

When I caught my first episode in 1965, I assumed it was the black leather that gave Mrs. Peel her courage. At nine years old, I longed for a catsuit of my own. [...] Every week, I watched with a combination of fascination, intrigue, and utter longing, dreaming of growing up to be exactly like her.

It was madness, of course. No child on earth was a more unlikely Mrs. Peel.

At the time, my family was new to America. Even our black and white TV was a recent acquisition – the only vaguely valuable possession in that cramped apartment on 66th street in Bensonhurst, a working-class section of Brooklyn where our neighbors were either Italian Catholics or Jewish like us. But we were Egyptian Jews – Arab and Jewish both. When I was seven, my parents moved me and my three older siblings from Cairo, where we were born. In Egypt, we’d lived in a lovely apartment overlooking a main boulevard and I attended a private French lycée. Several times a week, my father would take me to a Swiss patisserie where we’d sit outdoors enjoying cakes and cold drinks.

But this comfortable way of life was rapidly deteriorating. For decades, Egyptian Jews had been embraced by both Muslims and Christians, managing to flourish in a society that was exceptionally tolerant. But the creation of Israel in 1948 marked the beginning of a Jewish exodus, which intensified after the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown in 1952 by an oppressive military dictatorship. Its leader, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, had decided that Jews were no longer true Egyptians. The security that Jews, foreigners, and other minorities had enjoyed vanished; a Jewish community numbering 80,000 was chased out or pressured to leave.

By 1963, businesses had been confiscated, the once-renowned Jewish hospital had been taken over by the army, and a g general fear — of arrest, of some terrible repercussion for refusing to leave-was pervasive. Most of our friends and relatives had already fled, and my father finally agreed that we too should go.

We were a family of six with only $200 ~ and 26 suitcases. Our papers branded us co as “stateless”-people without a country. Our painful journey led us from Cairo to Paris and ultimately to New York, where we fetched up in a corner of Brooklyn.

Yet Americans had trouble processing us. How could I be both an Arab and a Jew? Had I lived in the Pyramids, they asked, or perhaps in a tent? I learned early on not to tell people I was Egyptian at all.

—”The Avenger” by Lucette Lagnado, part of her memoir The Arrogant Years, originally published in Elle Magazine

Look Twice

by Guest Contributor Joseph Shahadi, also published at VSthePomegranate

A few months ago, I got into a fistfight on the subway.

I was coming home from work and it was packed. There was this gawky twelve year old kid standing nearby. I’d noticed him earlier in the ride clowning around with a friend: Skinny kid, all fingers and toes, awash in the dorkiness of an actual pre-teen who does not have his own show on the Disney channel. I was tired and spacing out when the door slid open and people shifted to get off. The kid made a move for the door but I had a few stops left so I twisted out of the way to let him exit but instead of moving forward he just stood there, blinking and stammering. Just as I was asking him, “are you getting off?” someone behind me gave me a hard shove out of the way. I fell forward, the guy walked around me, and out the door…but not before I gave him a hard shove back.

Then he whirled around and sucker punched me in the face.

In retrospect, the dorky kid was probably paralyzed because he could see past me to the impatient guy who, it turns out was big. Very big. But I didn’t really have time to process any of that in the moment because when he punched me I saw red and…do you remember how Garfield the cartoon cat used to sail through the air to throw himself on to a cartoon lasagna? I did that. “Hello,” said my lizard brain, “I will be taking it from here.” Impatient guy was surprised. The people around us, who were streaming off of the subway, were surprised. Hell, I surprised myself. We stumbled out on to the subway platform as New York commuters, disinterested but ready to move away in case one of us pulled out a weapon, watched blankly.

For some reason, this is the part of the story where everyone wants to know if the guy was black. Continue reading

Sundance Interview: Cherien Dabis, Director of Amreeka

by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, orginally published at Women and Hollywood

Cherien Dabis is having one of those dreamlike weeks. She was named one of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch in 2009, and her film Amreeka had its world premiere at Sundance this past weekend to a standing ovation and positive reviews. Now all she needs to do it sell the film and get an agent.

Not being in Sundance, I haven’t seen the film but if I were there, it would been tops on my list. Here’s the description from the catalog:

Director Cherien Dabis’s auspicious debut feature, Amreeka, is a warm and lighthearted film about one Palestinian family’s tumultuous journey into Diaspora amidst the cultural fallout of America’s war in Iraq. Muna Farah, a Palestinian single mom, struggles to maintain her optimistic spirit in the daily grind of intimidating West Bank checkpoints, the constant nagging of a controlling mother, and the haunting shadows of a failed marriage. Everything changes one day when she receives a letter informing her that her family has been granted a U.S. green card. Reluctant to leave her homeland, but realizing it may be the only way to secure a future for Fadi, her teenage son, Muna decides to quit her job at the bank and visit her relatives in Illinois to see about a new life in a land that gives newcomers a run for their money.Dabis weaves an abundance of humor and levity into this tale of struggle, displacement, and nostalgia and draws an absorbing and irresistibly charming performance from actress Nisreen Faour as Muna, who stands at the heart of this tale. Amreeka glows with the truth and magic of everyday life and signals the arrival of an exciting, new directorial talent.

She took a couple of minutes to discuss the film and her Sundance experience.

Women & Hollywood: What made you want to make this film?

Cherien Dabis: The story is quite personal, inspired by my family and loosely based on true events. I grew up in a small town in Ohio of about 10,000 people. I actually grew up between Ohio and Jordan but most of my time was spent in this small town where as Arab Americans we were isolated because there was no Arab community and not a whole lot of diversity. For a while everything was fine and we fit in relatively well until the first Gulf War when my family was scapegoated and overnight we virtually became the enemy. All kinds of absurd things happened. My father who is a physician lost a lot of his patients because they wouldn’t support an Arab doctor and then it came to a head when the Secret Service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my 17 year old sister threatened to kill the president.

Continue reading

The Daily Show Introduces Us to Gitmo

by Racialicious Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

In this clip from YouTube, we see Gitmo the Puppet’s first appearance, as well as a subsequent appearance. In Gitmo’s first appearance, he’s introduced as a bearded (and presumably Muslim) detainee of Guantanamo Bay with a fakey “Middle Eastern” accent. (He is also an obvious relative of Elmo, for those of you who can’t see the video. – Ed.) Gitmo pleads, “Tell Gitmo’s family Gitmo is aliiiive.”

In the subsequent appearance, Gitmo appears, calling for the execution (and therefore, according to Jon Stewart, martyrdom) of Sheikh Khalid Mohammed and other defendants who admit to planning terrorist activities. When Stewart questions him about his intentions, Gitmo says, “You can’t handle the truth” and then ululates. In retaliation, Stewart “waterboards” him and tells him not to complain or he’ll go back to the “untrained puppy room.” Cut to Gitmo being dragged around by a dog and wailing, “I’m just a cab driverrrrrrr…” Continue reading