Arab Americans have been an integral part of the United States since its inception, contributing to society in myriad ways, including representing and defending American ideals through public service.
Long the target of negative stereotypes, Arab Americans found themselves dubbed “guilty by association” following the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
A new exhibition created by the Arab American National Museum (AANM) — “Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to Our Country” — tells true stories of heroism and self-sacrifice that reaffirm the important role Arab Americans have played in our country throughout its history. The exhibition opens on Feb. 16 and runs through April 14 at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo.
“Patriots & Peacemakers” highlights three specific areas of service: the U.S. Armed Forces, the Peace Corps and diplomatic service. Personal narratives highlight Arab American men and women of different national and religious backgrounds. The exhibition also encourages visitors to consider how commitment to public service impacts their daily lives.
In recognition of the long-standing partnership between AANM and JANM, a private preview and reception for the exhibition will be held at JANM on Friday, Feb. 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. for AANM’s Southern California supporters and JANM’s upper-level donors. This event is by invitation only.
On Saturday, March 9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., JANM will present its Target Free Family Saturday program in conjunction with “Patriots & Peacemakers.” Generously sponsored by Target, this series provides unique ways families can learn, play, and grow together through exciting workshops, cultural performances, and craft activities. The Target event includes special performances and educational activities that have been coordinated with AANM staff.
“Whether serving in the military, joining the Peace Corps or speaking out as conscientious objectors, Arab Americans are committed to the core values of democracy and freedom that are dear to us all,” says AANM Director Dr. Anan Ameri. “While this exhibit focuses on Arab American public service in only three areas, Arab Americans have long been present in every facet of public life.”
“The Japanese American National Museum is honored to host the Los Angeles presentation of ‘Patriots & Peacemakers,’ and we are especially proud to be working with AANM, our sister institution,” said Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM president/CEO. “Through this exhibition, we are all reminded of the true meaning of sacrifice and service to our country, which is not only deeply rooted in our history, but also intersects across all ethnic and cultural boundaries including between the Arab American and Japanese American communities.”
Produced by the AANM Curatorial Department with guest curator Joan Mandell, “Patriots & Peacemakers” presents the stories of 170 individuals from 39 states and Washington, D.C. More than 100 Arab Americans in the military, and about 35 each in Peace Corps and the diplomatic corps, shared their service experiences for the exhibition.
The service stories begin with the Revolutionary War and touch upon nearly every conflict up to the present day. The earliest diplomats profiled date from the late 1940s/early 1950s. The Peace Corps was founded in 1961; “Patriots & Peacemakers” includes a profile from the 1962 class up through volunteers who are currently serving and one who has just been accepted.
“Together with AANM staff and volunteers, books and archival lists were scoured for Arab surnames, consulted with historians and national organizations,” says Mandell. “Over the last two years, I visited and interviewed hundreds of Arab Americans across the country, and phoned diplomats and active-duty military around the world.
“Humble people were sometimes reticent to talk, while others were elated to finally be heard. I learned to work with combat veterans to safely push through the fear and shame that has kept their heartfelt stories secret, even for decades.”
Following its 2011-2012 run at the AANM, “Patriots & Peacemakers” went on the road as a major traveling exhibition; small and large versions of the exhibition are available for bookings. Inquiries may be directed to Curatorial Department Manager Elizabeth Chilton at (313) 624-0227 or [email protected]
Mandell is a Detroit-based journalist, documentary filmmaker and educator. Among her documentary titles are “Tales from Arab Detroit”; “Voices in Exile: Immigrants and the First Amendment”; “Gaza Ghetto: Portrait of a Palestinian Family”; “I, Too, Sing America”; “One Million Postcards”; and “Arab American Road Movie,” the short film that is part of the AANM’s “Living in America” permanent exhibit. Her “9-11 Moments” can be viewed at http://archive.itvs.org/9.11/.
Mandell has taught documentary film production/film studies and ESL at UC Irvine, Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, Birzeit University in Palestine and most recently, aboard ship with the University of Virginia’s Semester-at-Sea program. She was a Fulbright scholar, a Felton Scholar in Media Literacy and an affiliated fellow at UCLA’s von Grunebaum Center for Near East Studies.
The creation of “Patriots & Peacemakers” was made possible in part by The Ford Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and Chevron.
For more information on JANM, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.