May Kamalick Presents Workshop On Arab-American Perceptions and Culture

Using interactive activities and discussions that involved student participation, Arab-American May Kamalick explored various aspects of her cultural heritage in her workshop last Friday. Mrs. Kamalick examined a wide variety of issues, ranging from the Arabic language, to Arab social values, to the different religious beliefs within the Arab community. In a time when the Arab community in the United States and around the globe has taken a position in the forefront of many American minds, Mrs. Kamalick’s workshop offered a glimpse into the Arab culture, providing students with a unique perspective on current issues around the globe. Mother of English Department Teaching Fellow Leyla Kamalick, Mrs. Kamalick is an Arab-American who was born in Lebanon, but has spent most of her adult life the United States. The workshop, jointly organized by the Community and Multicultural Development Office and the Community Service Office, was held in the Underwood Room. Mrs. Kamalick began her presentation by offering a brief background of herself and her experiences as an Arab-American. Born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, she moved to the United States after marrying an American media correspondent. Sharing her experiences from her various occupations, Mrs. Kamalick spoke about her current position as an Arabic translator for the government and her prior experience teaching English as a Second Language (ESL ) to college students. While still living in Lebanon, Mrs. Kamalick devoted herself to promoting understanding about the different cultures between Arabs and Americans, and she said that she has dedicated herself to the same cause in the U.S., especially after the events of September 11. “September 11 came, and I realized that there was a lot of misunderstanding [between Americans and Arabs],” she observed. By promoting understanding, Mrs. Kamalick aims to encourage more interaction between the groups and contribute her own part to the goal of attaining world peace. Following this brief introduction, Mrs. Kamalick offered students the opportunity to test their own knowledge of Arab culture by distributing a short multiple-choice quiz. Questions about Arab religion and the Arab influence on American culture challenged students to evaluate their own knowledge on the topic. Afterwards, she discussed the surprising answers with the audience, revealing statistics like the fact that 77 percent of Arab Americans are Christian, and though recent films have negatively portrayed Arabs as being from the lower classes, the average income of Arab Americans stands at 22 percent higher than the national average. Using these facts to set the groundwork for a discussion, Mrs. Kamalick then focused the next part of the workshop on studying which nations are actually Arab, and which are often mistakenly considered to be. After handing out maps of the Middle East, Mrs. Kamalick demonstrated that the primary distinction between Arab and non-Arab countries revolves not around geographic location, but rather around language and culture. Mrs. Kamalick then proceeded to expound upon the Arabic language, explaining that there are five distinct dialects of Arabic, ranging from the flowery Classical Arabic, in which the Koran is written, to the Egyptian Dialect, which most popular Arab films use. These dialects, she noted, are so distinct, that in many ways they could even be considered different languages. After providing students with a handout of the Arabic alphabet, Mrs. Kamalick discussed the differences and similarities between Arabic and English. She noted that common words such as “alcohol,” “admiral,” and “candy,” have all been borrowed from Arabic Mrs. Kamalick continued the workshop with an exploration of religious practices among Arab Americans, noting that the majority of Arab immigrants to the United States are Christian and emigrate partially because they feel more comfortable in the states than in the predominantly Muslim nations of the Middle East. Citing an assortment of verses from the Koran, the Old Testament, and even the New Testament, she attempted to prove that Islam and Christianity are very similar in their teachings. Mrs. Kamalick emphasized that, contrary to claims made after 9/11, “The Koran itself–Islam itself–does not propagate violence.” To conclude the workshop, Mrs. Kamalick initiated a comparison of Arab cultural values with those of Americans. Whereas Americans tend to embrace change, she noted, “Tradition is very important in the Arab world.” She also contrasted the concept of competition–a driving force in American business, education, and politics–with the Arab world, where cooperation is valued above all else.