Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

French Library Highlights Arab Daughters

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

French Library Highlights Arab Daughters

Article excerpt


Presenting the true story of Arab-American women is the goal of Dr. Evelyn Shakir, who seeks to demolish stereotypes with her new book, Bint Arab.

Relating the stories of Arab-American women in their own words, she portrays individual tales of accomplishment and courage as they make the transition to a new society.

"Most people outside the [Arab] community don't know much about the community at all, especially the women," Shakir said March 5 at the French Library and Cultural Center in Boston, where she read from and signed copies of the book.

Bint Arab has two meanings, she told the audience of some 30 people. Literally, it means daughter of an Arab, but it could also refer to someone of Arab descent. In a project that Shakir has worked on periodically for 10 years, she interviewed and tape recorded dozens of oral histories of immigrants, as well as their daughters.

An English literature professor at Bentley College in Waltham, MA, Shakir said she chose different types of people to unearth as wide a range of experiences as possible. "I wanted to show different generations, social class and perspectives," she stated.

The project started when she talked with her mother in 1976. "I got bicentennial fever and got a tape recorder and started interviewing my mother." She then moved on to record her aunts and family friends, eventually traveling to other cities for yet more oral histories.

Shakir started reading from the story of her mother, Hannah, who arrived in Boston as a small child. Hannah was over 90 years old when Shakir interviewed her for the book.

Another woman in the book recalled discrimination and ignorance at Radcliffe; while a third remembered growing up in Beirut, where she received a French classical education, with its wealth of women writers, yet had to remain the dutiful daughter.

Much of the conflict in Arab-American families has come from differing views of the role of women, Shakir explained. In the Old World, "the honor of the family depends on the chastity of the women, especially the virginity of the daughters," she said.

Shakir grew up in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood, home to many Arabs, and received degrees from Wellesley College, Harvard and Boston Universities. …

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