Students traveling to and from classes on Monday may have felt a bit disconcerted at the sight of belly dancers, the smell of baklava, and the sound of Middle Eastern music from a nearby table on Cross Campus.
The Yomna — “our day” in Arabic — celebration was the first event organized by the newly formed Inter-Collegiate Arab Network. Event organizers said they hoped the day would help to dispel the media’s negative representation of the Arab culture and to commemorate their cause simultaneously with various colleges in the United States and Canada.
The table set up on Cross Campus not only offered free Middle Eastern food, but also henna tattoos and the possibility of translating one’s name into Arabic.
ICAN affiliate groups at universities including Harvard, Brown, Duke and the University of Toronto each celebrated their own version of the day. In addition to hosting events, ICAN members also sought to write and publish editorials that promoted the message of Yomna.
Yale ICAN leaders said they hoped the event would make other students more aware of the Arab culture.
“There is more to the Arab world than just belly dancing and terrorism,” ICAN member Marc Michael ’06 said.
Raja Shamas ’05, another member of the group, agreed.
“Our aim is to bring out the generally unrepresented Arab voice on campuses in the United States,” Shamas said.
Throughout the day, students flocked to the table. Many of them said they were impressed by event.
“I find [the members] to be very inviting, and they all serve as good ambassadors to their native cultures,” Sophie Raseman ’04 said.
The Arabic Student Association developed the idea for ICAN, the umbrella organization behind the event, last October at an ASA-sponsored Yale conference entitled “Thinking In and Out of Crisis.” Students from about 15 other universities in the United States and Canada attended the event. In an attempt to promote unity, these colleges joined together to create ICAN.
The whole purpose [of ICAN] is to amplify the voices of individual groups on separate campuses. Pooling our recourses strengthens our voice,” Yale’s ICAN representative Omar Christidis ’04 said.
Yale ICAN members said the University’s section of ICAN includes about 10 active members, many of whom feel that the prejudice toward Arabs in the United States, especially in the media, has forced them into taking action.
“If you watch Fox News, you get one story, essentially,” Shamas said. “A lot of narrative opinions are very skewed in the fact that they only project one image of the Arab World — In a way it is cultural chauvinism.”
Other members of the group said they find it difficult to represent the cultural diversity of the Arabic world.
“We’re expected to act as spokespeople for a very diverse and nonhomogenous region that we cannot adequately represent as individuals,” Diala Shamas ’06, another member of the group, said.
Christidis stressed the necessity of cultural bonding.
“The day should really be known as Arab Solidarity Day,” he said.
Group members said they hope to make Yomna an annual event, but also to expand it in future years.
“We hope to streamline it more to include more campuses, to develop a more united, uniform front,” Chrisitis said.
Yomna concluded Monday night with a showing of West Beirut, a film about two teenage boys coming of age in the middle of Beirut’s civil war.
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