Local photo exhibit breaks down Arab stereotypes before 10th anniversary of 9/11
By Natasha Dado | Friday, 07.08.2011, 02:12 PM

DEARBORN — The Arab American National Museum (AANM) is featuring a photo exhibit created by the first generation of Arab American students who have no memory of time before the devastating events of Sep.11, 2001. 
Friends (Niveen and Leann)
Hassan Hammoud, 13  
"Niveen Dabaja, 12, and Leann Bazzi, 12, are good friends. They like to listen to music on the bus. Behind them is Nadine Sour, 12."

The exhibit captures stories  on  their lives while breaking down the negative stereotypes surrounding Arab Americans. The seventh grade class of middle school journalism students attend McCollough-Unis School in Dearborn, and are between the ages of 12 and 13. Twenty eight of the 29 students are Arab American.  
The exhibit, In The Heart of Arab America: A Middle School Perspective, opened July 2 and closes on Aug. 14. To view the students’ photos or stories online visit livingtextbook.aaja.org.
Most of the student’s families are from Lebanon and Muslim. Others have roots in Kuwait and Syria.  For a school program called USA Day, they dressed in red, white and blue. A few of the girls wear headscarves. For St. Patrick’s Day some put on green ones. 
The stories are about bullying, school, track team, Egyptin revolution, Terry jones protest, Detroit Tigers among other topics.  They also took photos sitting down to big Thanksgiving dinners with sides of hummus and tabouleh. One boy discussed his own family’s personal story about the Arab Spring and how it’s affecting them in America. The parents have family in the Middle East, and his mother stays up late to speak to them on the phone- losing sleep and weight as a result.  
Another discussed her mother’s three sisters who all moved to Dearborn to be closer to each other.  There are a total of eighteen children in the families. “I have a cousin in every grade,” she said. 
The student’s photos and stories were created during the 2010-2011 school year, when the Asian American Journalist Association sponsored a project called The Living Textbook with the class, specifically targeting Arab Americans. The project will continue for two more years. It’s co-directed by two veteran journalists, Emilia Askari of the University of Michigan and Joe Grimm of Michigan State University.
 The idea behind it was to help students learn about journalism and chronicle stories about the Arab community they live in-one of the largest in the United States. Arab Americans in Dearborn have drawn sharp criticism on a national scale often because of misleading and false information. 
Elizabeth Barrett Sullivan, curator of exhibits at the AANM says one of the objectives of the project was to get the students actively involved in journalism by allowing them to document their lives.  She says as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the exhibit shows the students are average Americans with a variety of interests and experiences. 
“The museum is sort of countering stereotypes and putting out truthful information and images because we see much that’s negative,” Kim Silarski of communications for the AANM said. “Positive truthful information I think is the best antidote that we can offer to the public and we hope it has a good impact.” 
The AANM documents, preserves, celebrates and educates the public on the history, life, culture and contributions of Arab Americans.  To contact the museum call 313.582.2266 

By Natasha Dado

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