You don’t need to travel much farther than UM-Dearborn’s classrooms to meet people who have incredible stories of resilience and strength. They’ve lived through events that make news headlines: changing governments, economic crises, war and more. They’ve traveled the world, navigated new languages and cultures, and have feelings of home in places both old and new.
Class of 2018 graduate Hanan Ali Nasser penned a letter reflecting on the journey her parents took when fleeing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime when Nasser was a small child. Yasmin Mohamed, whose family left Yemen when she was an infant, writes about the changes her family experienced starting with North Yemen’s Civil War — and how that’s shaped the College of Education, Health and Human Services alum’s identity as an Arab American today.
“I remember Dad always expecting me to do more. He used to hold my hands when I was little, kiss them and say, ‘these hands are going to write,’” wrote Mohamed, a Dearborn Wolverine who earned her graduate degree in 2009 and is a teacher for Dearborn Public Schools. “These hands that he kissed are writing…he will forever be my hero.”
These are two of the 14 authors who contributed to the book “Hadha Baladuna: Arab American Narratives of Boundary and Belonging” (Wayne State University Press, 2022). The book is UM-Dearborn’s 2023-24 Community Read.
Community Read is a campuswide program where students, faculty and staff learn together and develop a clearer picture of the university community and what it means to be a part of it. “Hadha Baladuna,” which means “this is our country” in Arabic, is a collection of creative nonfiction exploring the diversity of Arab American voices and experiences in the southeastern Michigan region. The book, which has been named a Michigan Notable Book and received the Arab American Book Awards’ Evelyn Shakir Non-Fiction Award, is the first work of creative nonfiction in the field of Arab American literature that focuses entirely on the Arab diaspora in Metro Detroit.
“When discussing which book to choose for the Community Read, ‘Hadha Baladuna’ emerged as the unanimous favorite. It allows us to celebrate the creativity and vibrancy of our campus and the city we live, learn and work in,” said Associate Professor of History Kristin Poling, who is this year’s Community Read co-chair. “It also shows current students the power of storytelling and voice.”
The 237-page book — which can be downloaded for free by UM-Dearborn community members — is edited by History Professor Sally Howell, former UM-Dearborn English Assistant Professor Ghassan Abou-Zeineddine, and anthropologist Nabeel Abraham.
“I hope that ‘Hadha Baladuna’ will help the campus community understand a bit more about the diversity of experiences and worldviews found among Arab Americans, and also to see what is universal in these stories,” Howell said. “We have so much in common with one another, regardless of where our families come from.”
Throughout the academic year, Poling said there will be several opportunities to engage with the book, learn more about the diversity in the Arab American community, and think about themes featured within “Hadha Baladuna.” University events will include book readings, workshops and community projects. More information will be shared this fall.
Until then, here are five ways to get involved:
Read the book. To keep “Hadha Baladuna” easily accessible, the e-book version — is free for Dearborn Wolverines.
Apply for grants. Want to take your students on a field trip? Bring in a guest speaker? Or get supplies for a hands-on activity? The Faculty Senate First-Year Experience Committee is providing small grants to support curricular and co-curricular efforts related to the Community Read. Apply. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis until all funds are distributed. Questions? Reach out to Poling.
Check out the library resource page. The Mardigian Library’s subject guide on “Hadha Baladuna” shares more information regarding southeast Michigan’s Arab American community, immigrant experiences and Dearborn’s history. There are companion readings, podcasts and online exhibits. Questions or suggestions about the guide? Contact librarian Anne Dempsey.
Get teaching ideas. Here are a few ideas for how to adopt the book into your classes. It includes writing and discussion prompts, activities and field trips. If you need a hard copy of the book to facilitate teaching, reach out to Poling or Dempsey.
Visit the Arab American National Museum. By showing your UM-Dearborn ID, UM-Dearborn students receive annual membership to the Arab American National Museum, which includes unlimited admission to the museum, discounts on public programs, workshops and events. It also includes check-out privileges at the Russell J. Ebeid Library & Resource Center, the largest collection of books by and about Arab Americans.
Howell said learning and teaching opportunities are everywhere — and can even be found within our homes. She hopes people, after reading the stories and poetry in the book, will consider writing down their own reflections and experiences.
“We have four alumni included in the book and I am hoping that a future volume might be inspired by this one,” Howell said. “For all the writers out there: keep at it.”
Article by Sarah Tuxbury.