Changing Visions of Ourselves > Between Two Worlds


Hatem Abudayyeh

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Director, Arab American Action Network

When the community is attacked, one segment becomes more nationalistic, more involved in expressing Arab or Muslim pride. Another segment is intimidated, more anxious to stress their American identity. I think the whole discussion about Arab vs. Arab-American speaks to that.

The prevailing sentiment among youth is, we were born here – we’re not outsiders. Boys are more into a nationalist identity, more strongly into Arab, Palestinian, or Muslim pride. It’s hard to us to involve them because they have to work. We get some funds for summer jobs, but retention is difficult.

Our community is 75-85 percent Palestinian. Maybe less in the past ten years because of the influx of Iraqis – you can see that more on the North Side, because of the Iraqi House. The Palestinian community has many links with Palestine. It maintains active ties with family and community there.

In 1991, Palestinians led the antiwar movement locally. After 9/11 we saw the Iraq war on the horizon and tried to build alliances with the Iraqi community – around opposition to the war, the assault on national sovereignty, the destruction of lives and communities. But local groups were afraid to jeopardize their status as refugees and the access to funding that comes from that. They are more vulnerable than the Palestinian community.

It’s very different here than in Detroit, where the Chaldean community has been very pro-war. In Chicago the community is mainly Assyrian – they see themselves more as Assyrian than as Iraqi Arabs.