BCBSM employees attend Arab culture workshop
By Natasha Dado | Tuesday, 11.23.2010, 02:15 AM

Workshop instructor Cynatt Ali, a BCBSM intern and student at Madonna University, has a passion for educating others on Arab culture.
To build cultural competency in the workplace and in the communities it serves Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) conducted a workshop on Arab heritage Nov. 12 at its service center office in Detroit.

The workshop was facilitated by Cynatt Ali, a BCBSM intern and student at Madonna University. Ali's passion is educating others on Arab culture. She's a lecturer for The Arab American National Museum (AANM) and has made a number of public appearances to discuss Arabic heritage. BCBSM has held similar workshops to reach out to Asian, African American and Latino communities. 

Arabic artifacts provided by the AANM were showcased at the workshop and included traditional clothing, cookware, musical instruments and artwork. Handouts featuring Middle Eastern recipes and facts about Arab Americans were distributed to associates.  Arab dishes including hummus and baklava were also offered. 

The lecture, "Who Are Arab Americans, an Understanding of a Diverse Identity," dismantled stereotypes surrounding Arabs according to BCBSM Cash Control analyst Lisa Martinez. "I learned lots today. More than I knew. It's been highly effective," Martinez said.

Ali said although Islam overshadows other religions in the Middle East Judaism and Christianity are other dominating religions, and a number of different languages are spoken outside of Arabic.

She says Chaldeans aren't the only Christians in the Middle East, and that several other Christian denominations exist.  "A lot of people tend to think the only Arab Christians are Chaldean, that's not true," she said.

According to Ali, Chaldeans aren't always referred to as Arabs, because they're an indigenous group that settled in Northern Iraq before it was established as being part of the Arab World or a country. Ali said that classifies them as being different than the rest of the Arab World. "Chaldeans are Aramaic speaking Catholics, Aramaic being the language of Jesus Christ. Most of them do speak Arabic as well," she said. 

Ali discussed Ramadan.  "You go by your day as you normally would except you have such a greater appreciation for things you take for granted," she said.

She says the first Arab immigrated to North America in the 1500s. His name was Zammouri and he arrived as a slave with the Portuguese. According to Ali, the states with the highest concentration of Arabs are New York, California, Michigan and Florida. 

She explained why Arabs migrated to the U.S. and during what time periods. She says the first wave of immigration began with the great migration which occurred in the early 1880s to 1920s and consisted of single men seeking job opportunities. The second wave of migration, Brain Drain, occurred in the post World War II era around the 50s and 60s. Men and women were recruited from their countries to come to America and receive an education then come back to their native land and share that knowledge. They eventually stayed to take advantage of the great opportunities that came with an education.  "So they were draining lots of professionalism and education from their countries and that's why it's called the Brain Drain," Ali said. The third wave of migration occurred due to refugees in exile who faced political conflict. 

Equilla Wainwright, Vice President of BCBSM Diversity and Inclusion, said having associates become more familiarized with the communities they serve is part of making the transformation into healthcare reform easier for consumers. "What we have been doing in terms of strategy is looking at the importance of health care reform and that's going to take a great deal of cultural competency and cultural competency awareness. So we are driving this concept of being more culturally competent through each other and all of our divisions, and a really strong component of that is how you expand and grow cultural competency beyond the workplace," Wainwright said. Outside of workshops, Wainwright says BCBSM also held a diversity expo and seeks to make its workforce more diverse. She says the workshop was an effort led by BCBSM's Employee Research Network which uses associates to seek information about different communities and share the knowledge with colleagues to better serve and understand consumers. "Our Employee Research Network, that's just one area in terms of using our employees to help get the word out," Wainwright said.

The lecture was part of the organization's Lunch and Learn series.

By Natasha Dado

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