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Middle Eastern Diaspora: US Multiethnic and Multiracial Collaborations

Panel IV-9, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
This panel will consider various coalitions of Arab Americans, Assyrian, Coptic, Kurdish, Lebanese. These papers will consider various solidarities, collaborations across lines of ethnicities and racial identities, as well as analysis of what political and historical pressures that these solidarities have faced. Papers can include the strategies of resilience and resistance that these multiethnic and multiracial groups have used. The kinds of questions that this panel is interested in include: How do these collaborations change the lens of state and national history? How do these multi-racial U.S. Muslim and orher coalitions work together towards protest movements? How are coalitions formed as sites of capital, property, employment, marriage? Or what narratives have emerged that include multiethnic and multiracial bonds? How are these coalitions using sites of media, such as a local press, or pamphlets, or digital media? How are U.S. mosques a site of multi-ethnic and multi-racial collaborations? How do these collaborations challenge the racialized narratives of state/regional whiteness? Or challenge national histories? How are the narratives of Arab America being reimagined in relationship to other racial and ethnic groups? Even as the field of Arab American studies is pressing towards recognition in schools, how are these inter-racial and US Muslim collaborations important in this conversation? How do we write the histories of intersections, given that racialized identities have been part of critical bonds, but also part of the topography of empire?
Media Arts
  • Dr. Kimberly W. Segall -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Dr. Candace Lukasik -- Presenter
  • Mr. Joseph Hermiz -- Presenter
  • Dr. Stanley Thangaraj -- Presenter, Chair
  • This paper traces a solidarity group of multi-racial U.S. Muslim women activists in the Pacific Northwest, mapping their online networks during the historic era of protest for Black Lives Matter and Immigration Rights, starting in 2019. Although there have been a proliferation of images of the “Muslim female protester” in mass media, U.S. Muslim women activists are rarely recorded. And these digital activists are employing their own images—an oppositional media and a kind of “citizen journalism,” redefining mass media’s image and accompanying propaganda about needing to be “rescued,” while (re)constructing multiracial solidarities in virtual communities of U.S. Muslim women. The central question this paper asks is: what is the importance of their protest pictures, and how are they being situated in social media, used as a “digital tactic”? The case study of this paper is based on data from a protest workshop and studies of Facebook and of Instagram. This paper further argues that the group photo and its Facebook captions have been part of a re-territorialization—political claims and multi-racial bonds in digital images—connections between Arab American and South Asian and Black and multi-racial U.S. Muslim activists. Analyzing data of images of patriotic hues and of superheroes, this paper suggests how these images have been re-deployed alongside captions in order to re-imagine national inclusion, to deploy anti-racist strategies to re-imagine “Arab America,” and to press for specific kinds of legislative change for immigrant rights. These online images re-position multi-racial solidarities in resistance aesthetics and creative strategies that refuse mass mediations. And these Facebook icons have been grounded in individual histories and in Black protest traditions—a radical base for their online icons. Following these internet icons in social media, this paper theorizes the ways in which digital activists and their online icons are doing important political work—a heteroglossic virtuality—and the tensions, pressures, and potentials of these digital solidarities.
  • Dr. Stanley Thangaraj
    During the early 1900s, there was a boom in mining. Coal mining and copper mining expanded into major industries in the United States. There were not enough local labor and thus there was both an opening of borders to bring in labor for the mines while also opening up spaces locally for racial Others to join the mining workforce. In this paper, I am interested in the relationships between Kurds and Lebanese/Syrian Arab Christians in Butte, Montana. As Butte was known as the copper capital of the world in the early 1900s, I examine the points of intimacy and difference between Kurds and Lebanese in the city. In particular, I am interested in the ways that the Lebanese set up the infra-structure that provided pathways to employment and support for Kurds and Turks. The formation of a Syrian Colony integrated Kurds into vital networks for employment. This infrastructure became a model for Kurds to then institute their own forms of support, employment, and life in Butte, Montana. As copper became king in Butte, Montana, Kurds and the Lebanese managed their place in a site of whiteness through capital, employment, property, religion, and marriage. Thus, I am interested in the connections and distance between Kurds and Lebanese in Butte, Montana at the turn of the century. There is little to no work on people from the Ottoman Empire in the mountainous region of the United States. Montana is often imagined through a rugged white frontier masculinity that erases the histories of indigenous communities and the presence of non-white racial Others. By weaving in the stories of Kurds, it expands the conversation about labor and race by incorporating histories of the Kurds and Lebanese in the copper mining town of Butte, Montana. In addition, the work on Arab America has proven pivotal to rewriting US histories and this article asks us to reimagine Arab America through its relationship to Kurdish America. These relationships provide important information on how these communities worked together and managed in a city deeply structured to Irish masculinity, vice (gambling and prostitution), and industrial expansion.
  • Dr. Candace Lukasik
    In migration from Egypt to the United States, sectarian memory of intercommunal violence has shaped Coptic translations of identity and possibilities of solidarity. Since the end of the Cold War and most especially following 9/11, Copts and other Middle Eastern Christians have been interpellated into U.S. imperial itineraries of religious difference and civilizational battle between Islam and Christianity. The racial infrastructures of the War on Terror have impacted upon U.S. Muslims and other Middle Eastern minorities alike—targeting Muslim-looking bodies for securitization. Such diasporic contexts have remapped minority migrations onto new imperial terrain with various ordinary affects. This paper will reconsider the idea of “diasporas of empire” (Naber 2014) through the case of the Copts, by attending to the intersection of sectarian memory from Egypt with the religio-racial itineraries of U.S. empire. Specifically, the paper will attend to these intersections through the 2005 brutal murder of the Armanious family in Jersey City, New Jersey, unpacking how violence and conspiracy translates transnationally and reopens wounds that prevent possibilities of intercommunal migrant solidarity. Ultimately, this paper will think about the (im)possibilities of Arab American Studies to include transnational minority difference—and particularly Christian difference—as more than a space for solidarity between racialized communities. Rather, this paper seeks to open a space to consider the challenges of repair and possibilities of mobilization in diasporic contexts.
  • Mr. Joseph Hermiz
    The United States v. Shmuil David is a seminal case in the history of Assyrian immigration to America. The case, which took place in 1924, centered around the challenge to the U.S. citizenship of Rev. Samuel David, a Chaldean Catholic priest and popular Assyrian writer in Chicago. The case ultimately determined whether or not Assyrians could be considered "free white persons" under U.S. law. Despite its significance, the case has remained virtually unknown to both Assyrians in America and specialists in Assyrian history. The history of how Assyrians, an ethnic and religious minority from the Middle East, situated themselves within racial hierarchies in early 20th-century America remains largely unexplored. This case provides insight into the broader social and political dynamics faced by Assyrians seeking citizenship in post-World War I America as they navigated the conflicting desires to maintain their cultural identity and assimilate into the American mainstream. This case is part of a broader history of ethnic and national communities from the Middle East positioning themselves within western racial hierarchies. The David case provides a starting point for further exploration of racial dynamics among Assyrians in America.