Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists

By Joanna Kadi | Go to book overview

Crossing Over to the Other Side

MARTHA ANI BOUDAKIAN

My great aunt Tsainig refused to change her name when she came to the United States from Western Armenia in the 1930s. Her older brother, my grandfather, anglicized the family name Hampartsoumian when he came to the United States several years earlier. He shortened it to Hampar and all other members followed suit. With her fighting spirit, Tsainig, whose name actually means "little voice" (which she has anything but) insisted on keeping her name as Hampartsoumian. She would not compromise something as precious to her Armenian identity as her name.

Two generations later, my life is a different story. As an adolescent I wanted desperately to get rid of any attributes that marked my Armenian identity. I tried to remove all of my body hair, plotted the date of my nose job and breast reduction surgery, and imagined how I would neutralize my name. I wanted nothing more than to mold the telltale signs of my Armenianness into something that just didn't stand out—into something "normal." My grand transformation also included failed attempts to starve myself and to control my volatile Armenian spirit, in short, to make myself as little an aberration as possible from WASP culture. I believed that despite my attempts to attain normality, I would never be good enough, because I was not made of the right stuff.

What does "normal" mean anyway? Calling something a cultural "norm" usually means following the ways of those with the most political and material resources in any society. They define and impose their experience of normality for everyone. The concept of cultural norms in multicultural societies is historically enmeshed in power, colonialism, and control. In the United States, norms are defined and imposed by white, upper-class men, as they are in much of the world. Any way of life that differs from that elite patriarchal norm is marginalized until it is conveniently co-opted by the dominant culture; even then it remains marginal. "Passing" for normal means trying to emulate the dominant culture, in order to survive in it. To break this oppressive cycle, we can refuse

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Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Related Titles from South End Press *
  • Food for Our Grandmothers - Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists *
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments x
  • A Note about Arabic Terms xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Food for Our Grandmothers *
  • I - Olives Our Roots Go Deep: Where We Came from *
  • Olives 3
  • Recognized Futures 5
  • Sittee (on Phantom Appearances of a Lebanese Grandmother) 7
  • Great-Grandma Michael 18
  • Longing for Winter 21
  • Battling Nationalisms to Salvage Her History 24
  • For My Son Shaadi 30
  • Crossing over to the Other Side 32
  • The Queen, Carcasses, and Other Things 39
  • One Room 48
  • Chalked out 50
  • Unpicked Fruits 56
  • II - Bread a Basic Desire : Going Home *
  • Bread 63
  • Boundaries: Arab/American 65
  • Wherever I Am 87
  • Homecoming 94
  • Banned Poem 97
  • Peace is Tossed to the Wind 101
  • Moroccan Steam 104
  • She Makes Me Tea in Cairo 107
  • III - Thyme Growing against the Odds: Surviving the Gulf War *
  • Thyme 111
  • Amara 113
  • A Woman's Place is in the Struggle - A Personal Viewpoint on Feminism, Pacifism, and the Gulf War 114
  • Offensive Art by Palestinian Children - Anti-Arab Racism and the Gulf War Fallout on Campus 120
  • Military Presences and Absences - Arab Women and the Persian Gulf War 125
  • Gulf War 133
  • IV - Laban Silent Victims and Belly Dancers: (mis) Representations of Arab Women *
  • Laban 147
  • Say French 149
  • Global Sisterhood - Where Do We Fit In? 151
  • Tear off Your Western Veil! 160
  • Arab-Americans - Living with Pride and Prejudice 165
  • Exotic 168
  • The Arab Woman and I 170
  • The Arab Woman in U.S. Popular Culture - Sex and Stereotype 173
  • Orientalism in Science Fiction 181
  • V - Grapeleaves Tangled Identities: Claiming Ourselves *
  • Grapeleaves 189
  • A Lunatic from Libya, One Generation Removed 190
  • Going Home 192
  • What's Not in a Name 197
  • Browner Shades of White 204
  • On Language and Ethnicity 206
  • Mocking Civilization 210
  • Pulled 211
  • Abyss 214
  • Two Women Drinking Coffee 217
  • In Search of Home 218
  • Hairless in Gaza (or Plucking the Lines of Gender Difference) 224
  • Blood 226
  • VI - Mint Moving beyond Survival: Celebrating Who We Are *
  • Mint 229
  • ABC 230
  • Five Steps to Creating Culture 231
  • Camel Girl 238
  • Artist 241
  • A Blessing 244
  • Armenian/Lesbian - Telling out Stories 246
  • Mint, Jomatoes, and the Grapevine 250
  • VII - Appendix Arab Resources and Organizations *
  • The Image of Arabs in Sources of U.S. Culture 259
  • Organizations with an Arab-American/Arab-Canadian Focus 273
  • About the Contributors 275
  • Permissions 283
  • Index 285
  • About the Editor 289
  • About South End Press 290
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