Among the surfeit of narratives about Arabs that have been published in recent years, surprisingly little has been reported on Arabs in America -- an increasingly relevant issue. This book is the most powerful approach imaginable: it is the story of the last forty-plus years of American history, told through the eyes of Arab Americans. It begins in 1963, before major federal legislative changes seismically transformed the course of American immigration forever. Each chapter describes an event in U.S. history -- which may already be familiar to us -- and invites us to live that moment in time in the skin of one Arab American. The chapters follow a timeline from 1963 to the present, and the characters live in every corner of this country.
These are dramatic narratives, describing the very human experiences of love, friendship, family, courage, hate, and success. There are the timeless tales of an immigrant community becoming American, the nostalgia for home, the alienation from a society sometimes as intolerant as its laws are generous. A Country Called Amreeka's snapshots allow us the complexity of its characters' lives with an impassioned narrative normally found in fiction.
Read separately, the chapters are entertaining and harrowing vignettes; read together, they add a new tile to the mosaic of our history. We meet fellow Americans of all creeds and colors, among them the Alabama football player who navigates the stringent racial mores of segregated Birmingham, where a church bombing wakes a nation to the need to make America a truly more equal place; the young wife from Ramallah -- now living in Baltimore -- who had to abandon her beautiful home and is now asked by a well-meaning American, "How do you like living in an apartment after living in a tent?"; the Detroit toughs and the potsmoking suburban teenagers, who in different decades become politicized and serious about their heritage despite their own wills; the homosexual man afraid to be gay in the Arab world and afraid to be Arab in America; the two formidable women who wind up working for opposing campaigns in the 2000 presidential election; the Marine fighting in Iraq who meets villagers who ask him, "What are you, an Arab, doing here?" We glimpse how America sees Arabs as much as how Arabs see America. We revisit the 1973 oil embargo that initiated the American perception of all Arabs as oil-rich sheikhs; the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis that heralded the arrival of Middle Eastern Islam in the American consciousness; bombings across three decades in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, and New York City that bring terrorism to American soil; and both wars in Iraq that have posed Arabs as the enemies of America.
In a post-9/11 world, Arabic names are everywhere in America, but our eyes glaze over them; we sometimes don't know how to pronounce them or understand whence they come. A Country Called Amreeka gives us the faces behind those names and tells the story of a community it has become essential for us to understand. We can't afford to be oblivious.
ALIA MALEK is an author and civil rights lawyer. Born in Baltimore to Syrian immigrant parents, she began her legal career as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. After practicing law in the States, Lebanon, and the West Bank, Malek, who has degrees from Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities, earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Her reportage has appeared in Salon, The Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times. This is her first book.
"In a beautifully rendered work, Alia Malek succeeds in a challenging task: restoring humanity to a community too long buffeted by the vagaries of chauvinism, bias, and ignorance. Her book...is at once timeless, in its telling of immigrants in America, and unique, in its exploration of the diversity of the Arab American community.... A stirring story of humor, loss, love, and triumph." -- Anthony Shadid, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War
"Great reading for anyone who is interested in the hyphenated American immigrant.... Beautifully depicted.... The lives of these people who have come to the Land of Great Hope are compelling for their struggles.... Engaging and enlightening, impossible to put down." -- Helen Thomas, columnist, Hearst Newspapers
"If you're not an Arab American, then it's really imperative for you to read this fascinating book. You couldn't ask for a more informative, engaging, and provocative introduction to millions of our fellow citizens. From football star to soldier, from gay activist to union leader, cheerleader, minister, Democrat, Republican, Christian, Muslim -- Alia Malek brings the entire spectrum of Arab America to vivid, threedimensional life." -- Samuel G. Freedman, author of Jew Vs. Jew
"A unique, engaging portrayal...that is nearly impossible to put down. Malek [introduces] the reader...to lovable, quirky, diverse characters who all have in common a desire to find comfortable spaces in A Country Called Amreeka.... A book of great imagination and unusual depth." -- Steven Salaita, author of Anti-Arab Racism in the USA and The Uncultured Wars
"A deeply engaging series of portraits of Arab American lives in a profoundly complicated time.... This should be a textbook across the nation -- even the most reluctant readers will (hopefully) be enlarged, their stereotypes neutralized." -- Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Habibi
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