Monday, May 18, 2009

Arabs Need Our Own (Census) Box

By Mike Nally
The Independent Monitor

“We’re considered as white, but not treated as white,” said Rashad Al-Dabbagh, Partnership Specialist (Santa Ana), U.S. Census Bureau at a recent NAAP Mixer held at the spacious Victory Bakery on Brookhurst in Anaheim. “We need our own box. Right now we mark the OTHER BOX as Arab. Perhaps the next census we’ll have our own.”
Despite this bias, Al-Dabbagh underscored the importance of an accurate count of Arabs in the 2010 census. “It’s important, safe, and simple” he said. “Some $300 billion is distributed to states and cities, and the census determines how that money is distributed, who gets it such as hospitals, libraries, schools, etc. The census determines how congressional districts are drawn and redrawn.”
“And everyone is counted — whether on a work visa, an international student, undocumented or not. The U.S. Constitution mandates a census be done every ten years, and the information collected is protected by law. It’s not shared,” continued Al-Dabbagh, “with the IRS, FBI, or anybody else. Sharing census information is a felony”
Al-Dabbagh did inform this reporter that the last census undercounted Arab Americans who could number more than three million in the U.S. When asked about the number in California, Al-Dabbagh put it at “close to 700,000.”
Another guest speaker at the mixer was Ahmad Zahra, Producer/CEO of Zahra Pictures LLC in Fullerton. He discussed with his attentive audience the role of Arabs in the US media and film industry which he described at best as mixed.
“My niche is the Arab market,” he said. Zahra remarked that the negative image of Arab stereotypes is not entirely true in Hollywood. Hollywood has made some great films.”
“The problem for independent filmmakers and producers (when it comes to Arab themed films) is when you get the product to the consumer. It’s hard for the investor to recoup his money because no one buys the DVD or goes to the box office.”
“We’re in the art of selling art,” said Zahra. “We live in a consumer driven economy. We need the support and backing of the Arab American community. Just like Latinos, Afro-Americans, and most recently the Indian (Bollywood) film industry show support for their respective communities.”
Zahra asked his audience at the mixer how many own a copy of a documentary he produced along with a young Saudi director entitled “Saudis in America.” Only one hand was raised.
But another artist, Abdel Abu-Shawish, countered: “I am a filmmaker too. Why haven’t I heard about your film?”
“Well, marketing is expensive,” replied Zahra. “Mainly (on our budget) we have to depend on word of mouth …”
Zahra underscored again how powerful the media of film is, and how important it is in firming the Arab identity. “It is our legacy, it’s up to us.”
A short break was then taken and NAAP attendees sampled the delicious food prepared by Muhamed’s wife at Victory, a very tasty buffet of all your favorite Arab dishes. Chowing down in a corner of the restaurant were a couple of visitors from Pakistan and India. Mr. Shariff Nasrulla was a fruit vendor from Bangalore, India, and was enjoying a shawerma sandwich. (this reporter misses the mouthwatering shawerma I used to buy outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem).
Then the spunky emcee for the mixer, Ms. Dima Kallas ( a project manager for Nortel and a side business with Trans Tour Express Travel) grabbed the mike and had NAAP attendees introduce themselves and get to know each others’ businesses and line up new clients. Assisting her was a gentleman whose name I didn’t catch but who was in fact, a matchmaker (ArabLoveLine.com)
The list of attendees was most impressive including realtors, insurance sales, fine jewelry sales, doctors from Kaiser, lawyers (including immigration law) financiers, artists, musicians, poets, designers, social workers, electrical engineers, teachers, and some surprise guests from Jerusalem.
Invited to speak to the mixer was Andre Batarseh, General Secretary of the East Jerusalem YMCA on Nablus Road (by the way, a wonderful place to stay, I was there on my first trip to Jerusalem). Batarseh mentioned the Y also has places in Jericho, Beit Sahur, Jenin, and others.
“The work of the Y is very important,” said Batarseh, “because of the problems of the population.” He cited the divisions caused by the Wall among the Arab people, and its impact. The Y responds with psycho-social work and vocational training.”
The East Jerusalem director was pleased also on this trip to team up with the aid and support of the Y in Nashville, and also the Y in Anaheim headed by President and CEO, Paul Anderson ( who many years ago had one of his first assignments with the Y in Nazareth).
Both the Y in Anaheim and East Jerusalem help thousands of families (www.anaheimymca.org for more info or the Y in East Jerusalem: abatarseh@ej-ymca.org). They need your support!
The mixer was a joyful reunion for L.A. sheriff Mike Abdeen, who had Mr. Batarseh as a teacher at St. George’s School in Jerusalem.
“It’s been almost 30 years!” said a happy Abdeen, conversing with his old friend and mentor.
Also at a nearby table was designer Raad Ghantous, tall, lanky, longish hair who looked liked he belonged in a Milan fashion magazine. From Dana Point, he does residential, commercial, landscaping and even yachts.
At another table was Dania Alkhouli, in hijab. Congrats to her on her book of poetry “91 at 19″ being published in New York.
It was good to see Caterina Haiek, a realtor with Rodeo Realty in Beverly Hills. Her father is Joe Haiek, respected news publisher.
And always good to run into again two lovely sisters — Manar and Diane Fakhoury, who are active with a third sister Rena in the L.A. area in helping promote worthy causes in the Jordanian-American community. Sitting nearby them was Nancy Ennabe, a friend, who is profiled on the cover of California Arabic Magazine (Spring 2009) for her work in building a stronger Arab-American generation.
The successful mixer came to a conclusion with Arabic singing. Then it was off to the nearby Hidden Cafe for a toke on the hookah.
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