All American Yemeni Girls: Being Muslim in a Public School

All American Yemeni Girls: Being Muslim in a Public School

All American Yemeni Girls: Being Muslim in a Public School

All American Yemeni Girls: Being Muslim in a Public School


Based on more than two years of fieldwork conducted in a Yemeni community in southeastern Michigan, this unique study examines Yemeni American girls' attempts to construct and make sense of their identities as Yemenis, Muslims, Americans, daughters of immigrants, teenagers, and high school students. All American Yemeni Girls contributes substantially to our understanding of the impact of religion on students attending public schools and the intersecting roles school and religion play in the lives of Yemeni students and their families. Providing a valuable background on the history of Yemen and the migration of Yemeni people to the United States, this is an eye-opening account of a group of people we hear about every day but about whom we know very little.

Through a series of intensive interviews and field observations, Loukia K. Sarroub discovered that the young Muslim women shared moments of optimism and desperation and struggled to reconcile the America they experienced at school with the Yemeni lives they knew at home. Most significant, Sarroub found that they often perceived themselves as failing at being both American and Yemeni. Offering a distinctive analysis of the ways ethnicity, culture, gender, and socioeconomic status complicate lives, Sarroub examines how these students view their roles within American and Yemeni societies, between institutions such as the school and the family, between ethnic and Islamic visions of success in the United States. Sarroub argues that public schools serve as a site of liberation and reservoir of contested hope for students and teachers questioning competing religious and cultural pressures. The final chapter offers a rich and important discussion of how conditions in the United States encourage the rise of extremism and allow it to flourish, raising pressing questions about the role of public education in the post-September 11 world.

All American Yemeni Girls offers a fine-grained and compelling portrait of these young Muslim women and their endeavors to succeed in American society, and it brings us closer to understanding an oft-cited but little researched population.

Loukia K. Sarroub is Assistant Professor of education at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She is currently conducting fieldwork on literacy in and out of school among American and Iraqi refugee youth.


Okay, in their eyes, it means you be quiet, you listen, you obey and you go
through, you listen to what we say, regardless, because we know what’s best
for you. Okay, in my eyes, it’s not. It’s you take what they say into consider
ation but you also see your own views. You try to—you have to make the
decision on your own. You have to go beyond just what they say, what they’re
demanding and look at it and look at what you want, how do you see it,
how do you feel about it, what is the best outcome for you. Because you know
yourself best…. For me, see, I consider everything in an Islamic point of
view. and being Yemeni, that’s basically, you listen to what they say. Being
Americanized is the fact that you can stand up and say, “No,” you know,
“This is what I want. and this is the reason why I want this.”

In 1998, Saba’s hands and fingers punctuated each thought as she spoke with the slight staccato that is characteristic of English speech influenced by Arabic. Except for her face and hands, Saba’s body was completely covered as she sat across from me, explaining how difficult it is to construct an identity that makes sense in the American and Yemeni Muslim worlds she inhabits. This was not the first of our conversations on this topic, but it was the most emotional. Saba was tired, emotionally stressed to a breaking point, and depressed. Yet she shared her thoughts with me freely as the audio recorder blinked after each pause, recording not only her words but also the strain of her efforts to make sense of her life. As I listened and responded to her comments, I thought of the other Yemeni American girls with whom I had talked. Their families settled in the United States in the early 1970s, and all of them felt the same optimism and desperation Saba expressed; all of them were attempting to reconcile the American lives they experienced at school with the Yemeni lives they knew at home; all of them wanted to succeed at being good students and good daughters and wives; and all of them felt as if they were failing at being both American and Yemeni. They each feared the risk of becoming less than “good Muslim women.”

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