SF State Celebrates Arab Culture
April 3, 2007 5:57 PM
As hundreds of students took advantage of the sunny weather, the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) began its three-day Arab Awareness Week Tuesday with Arab Cultural Day.
Arab countries’ flags hung behind the stage and students smoked flavored tobacco out of a hookah, while the female members of the dance troupe Al-Juthoor (Arabic for “roots”) opened the day’s festivities with a traditional dance.
Dressed in thoob, the traditional Palestinian embroidery, the members of Al-Juthoor performed dabkeh, a folk dance indigenous to Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.
“As Americans, we should be aware of the beauty and culture [of Arab people],” said Debbie Smith, a member of Al-Juthoor.
“We want to call to Palestinian people to stand firm, to get freedom among men and women,” said Smith.
After their performance, some GUPS members, both male and female, joined hands with Al-Juthoor and danced together, expressing solidarity among all Arab students. Student passersby would occasionally stop to watch the performance, sometimes taking pictures with digital cameras or with their phones. Many would sit down in the packed crowd to watch the dancing students, who encircled Malcolm X’s name at their feet.
GUPS chair Ramsey El-Qare felt that Arab Cultural Day was important for all students whose education of the 22 Arab countries is crafted only from what they see in the media.
“The media is not the reality of the Arab world,” said El-Qare. “It stretches from Morocco to Iraq and it’s not just one culture.”
By playing folk, dance and hip hop music from such Arab countries as Palestine, Jordan and Algeria, members of GUPS hope that Arab Cultural Day will express union among Arab students and will break stereotypes against Arab people, on and off campus.
“The typical images [of Arab people] are Arabs spitting into TV cameras,” said Naser Halteh, 23, a Palestinian American information systems major who wore a red Iraqi hutta scarf around his neck. “We have a very rich culture that we need to share on the SFSU campus.”
Since last year, the GUPS organization has also been in its own disputes, such as a run in with the SF State College Republicans after they had stopped on Hamas and Hezbollah flags containing symbols of Allah. Another controversy they faced was over the Palestinian mural that was to be hung in the Cesar Chavez Student Center.
Though the festivities were peaceful and relatively tame, about half a dozen police officers, who refused to talk to the press, were posted around the plaza and near the library, causing unease among GUPS members.
“It is usually much worse, normally there is a whole police force,” said El-Qare of the police officers, later adding, “Imagine what goes on in other parts of the country.”
Other GUPS students, like 23-year-old Chris Kazaleh, a liberal studies student, felt that the peaceful activities that the organization was holding were being oppressed.
“We are always censored,” said Kazaleh. “They don’t want us to feel welcome, they want to block us off.”
Of the non-Arab students who were observing the event, like senior Nate Wollman, 29, a Russian major who was hanging around the plaza eating lunch, the festivities were fun aesthetically, but did not move him towards activism.
“It’s cool for people who are associated, but I don’t have any way of interpreting this [event],” said Wollman.
But for the Arab students, Arab Cultural Day and the rest of Arab Awareness Week will help re-educate American youth from stereotypes against Arab people.
“The festive part of our culture is a big part of our culture that we embrace,” said Kazaleh. “If people want to get educated about Arabs, the number one expert to learn from is the people of that culture.”
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