I’m lucky enough to teach an Arab-American lit class at Fresno State– it’s officially an Arab-American Women’s Fiction class, but I also teach some poetry, comics, and non-fiction, too– and one of the assignments I gave my class was to think about what direction they think Arab-American literature seems to be going, and what direction they think it ought to go. Lots of students felt that it wasn’t their place, as White, Latino/a, or Asian-Americans, to tell Arab-American writers what to write about. But they wrote wonderful short essays anyway, asking Arab-American writers to write more Sci-Fi, less food porn, more literary fiction, less politically-centered narratives, more literature in general. There were lots of great responses, but I wanted to share this particular response from a young student.
A list of my hopes for Arab American literature by Neama Alamri
1. I hope that the future of Arab American writing will grow to include writers with ties in countries of the Gulf. In our course, we have had a limited representation of writers associated with the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. And this is because these countries are marginalized in the genre of Arab American literature. There are not enough writers representing this region of the world and consequently, this region of the Middle East is the most misunderstood.
2. I hope that the Arab Muslim American hijabi (girl who wears a scarf) will have a narrative, a space for her voice. I hope that her hijab becomes just one aspect of her identity. And I hope she tells the world how it does not hinder her.
3. I hope that the Arab Muslim American girl can have a narrative where her self-fulfillment is not achieved by the abandonment, rebellion, or resistance of her faith, culture and parents. This leads me to number four.
4. I hope that the Arab American Baba will be a really cool guy. Sure, he’s strict. Sure, he doesn’t allow his daughter to date. But in the end, he really is lovable.
5. I hope that Arab Americans can save each other and there will no longer be the White savior.
6. I hope that Arab American text does not make feminism and Islam mutually exclusive.
7. I hope that Arab American female characters will be defined by something other than their sexuality.
8. I hope that Arab American characters find their culture as not just a burden but a blessing. Enough with the conflicted Arab American who must compromise himself. Let’s have whole characters, no more broken identities. No more origin issues! We are AMERICAN, DAMNIT!
9. I hope that Arab American literature can be in an American literature course. I hope that one day an Arab American writer could just be a writer, and not an Arab American writer.
10. I hope that one day I see myself in a story by an Arab American author.