to escape from my Arab roots." He was ashamed of his parents' accents, wanted to eat only American food, refused to dance the Arab dabke, would not write about his family and community. "To include such material would be to identify myself with exactly what I'd been avoiding all my life" ( Where I'm From 58, 61).
In the story "Almost Thirty," Geha change of heart is allegorized when the narrator, alone and suicidal, returns home to heal. Later, in its most emblematic moment, the story suggests that it is possible to be, in one person, both American and (in Geha's words) "one of my people." At a family picnic, Cousin George, who has never danced to either Arabic or American music, does "a wonderful thing." He throws down the egg salad sandwich his "American" wife has prepared, stands up with her, and advances on the dabke, as do the narrator and his wife, another "American." First, the four practice a bit on the side, stumbling and laughing.
Then, with our arms locked, we broke into the dance and joined it. The snake [of dancers] became a circle, things got dizzy, we were stamping. "Crazy Americans," Aunt Afifie said as we spun past her. (47)
At first, Arab-American writers, living in a society frankly suspicious of "Orientals," tried to prove that they and their compatriots were not so alien, after all. For a long time after that, as open disparagement of particular ethnic groups yielded ground to a general understanding that ethnicity itself was in bad taste, Arab Americans fell silent. Most recently, with ethnicity in fashion at home and Arabs in trouble abroad, Arab Americans have been entering into spirited political debate with one another and with the public at large.
In literature, a number of people have spoken up at once, eager to join the conversation, to tell what they know about family and nation. Women, in particular, have found their tongue. For anyone wanting to listen in, there is much to learn and to enjoy. For Arab Americans, there is something more. To borrow Dr. Johnson's pronouncement about biography, the new Arab-American literature gives us "what comes near to ourselves, what we can turn to use." 7 Its usefulness is exactly commensurate with its evolving capacity to move beyond self-consciousness and sentimentality to a place of sure footing and from there to contrive stories, characters, and idiom that we recognize, to address issues that we care about--above all, to make art of our experience, too.