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Middle Eastern Americans On The Move

A groundbreaking exhibition of the literary, cinematic and scholarly output of this diverse community, and UCLAs impact on the field of Middle Eastern American Studies, is on display from September 17 through December 21, 2007 in the Powell Library Rotunda.

The largest Middle Eastern American community in the United States resides in Los Angeles and Southern California. This diverse and vibrant group cuts across religions (Baha'ism, Christianity, Druze, Islam, Judaism, Mandaeanism, Zoroastrianism), nationalities and ethnicities (including Afghans, Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Copts, Iranians, Israelis, Kurds and Turks).

Middle Eastern Americans have been contributing to American culture for more than a century, yet the community has remained largely invisible. Nevertheless, The Prophet, by Lebanese American writer Kahlil Gibran, stands out as one of the most celebrated works of spiritual literature, and authors such as William Saroyan (My Name is Aram) and recently Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) and Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in Farsi) are among the many Middle Eastern American writers whose work enriches American literature and culture.

The Middle Eastern American community as a whole is highly educated, upwardly mobile and prolific in its literary and artistic output. Moreover, personalities and public figures abound, including politicians and activists, business and community leaders, educators and philanthropists, scientists, artists and entertainers. Comedians and television actors Danny Thomas (Make Room for Daddy), Jamie Farr (MASH) and Tony Shalhoub (Monk) are all of Arab descent. And while this previously low-profile community has received its share of attention in the post–9/11 era, the sober reality for many of its members is complicated by distorted Hollywood and media portrayals of their ancestral homelands.

The field of Middle Eastern American Studies has contributed to various academic disciplines. The distinctive characteristics of these populations have led to new theoretical formulations on issues such as entrepreneurial and professional incorporation, backlash and discrimination, and media representation, all of which are now mainstream topics of research in the social sciences and increasingly so in the humanities.

The literary and scholarly output by and about this diverse community is being showcased for the first time in the US, at UCLA's Powell Library Rotunda. Drawing on the riches housed at the Young Research Library, the exhibition features works of literature and literary criticism, memoirs and autobiographies, cuisine and cookbooks, academic and community studies, journalism and mass media, and pioneering works by UCLA faculty, students and alumni who have advanced and impacted the field of Middle Eastern American Studies: historian Alixa Naff, film and media specialist Hamid Naficy, poet Majid Naficy, authors Laila Halaby and Linda Sawaya, ethnomusicologist Anne Rasmussen, magazine editor Elie Chalala, photographer Ron Kelley, filmmakers Joan Mandell and Nigol Bezjian, educator Shideh Hanassab, sociologists Mehdi Bozorgmehr, Arlene Dallalfar, Claudia Der-Martirosian and the late Georges Sabagh, CNES Assistant Director Jonathan Friedlander, as well as academics Susan Slyomovics, Samy Alim, Ali Behdad, Lev Hakak, A. J. Racy, and Nouri Gana who are among the many specialists in this thriving field.

The Young Research Library's vast Middle East collection, to which Bibliographer David Hirsch is continually adding new materials, features a trove of primary and secondary sources and online resources about the history and the contemporary lives and times of Middle Eastern Americans. Hirsch has received several research grants from the Librarians Association of the University of California and the American Institute for Yemeni Studies to explore the publications and productions of Middle Eastern emigré communities in the US, Canada, Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia, of which a large number, including feature films and documentaries, is housed at UCLA’s Research, College, and Instructional Media libraries.

The curators have endeavored to showcase the books, journals, magazines, films, photographs and archival documents in a manner that respects both American and Middle Eastern roots and traditions and speaks strongly to the need for further exploration, study and self-reflection.

The exhibition and accompanying program of lectures and films are sponsored by the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the College Library and the Young Research Library. Co-sponsors include the Departments of Comparative Literature, English, and Sociology, and the UCLA International Institute.

Center for Near Eastern Studies