Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Blog

By Nicole Abi-Esber

2012 Summer Intern

The first-ever documentary chronicling the immigration journeys of thousands of Arab Americans, called “A Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab Americans” is set to be released in late 2012. Director and producer Abe Kasbo has been working on the documentary project for almost five years, exploring the history of the diverse Arab American community and interviewing Arab Americans who have made significant contributions in many fields including arts, politics, entertainment, business, and science.

Since 2007, Kasbo has been traveling all over the country, from Toledo to Kansas City to Boston to Dearborn. He conducted hundreds of interviews for the film, including with well-known Arab Americans such as Ralph Nader, Senator George Mitchell, General John Abizaid, and journalists Helen Thomas and Anthony Shadid. In addition to public figures, he interviewed Arab Americans community leaders, recent Arab American immigrants, and more established Arab-American families.

When I spoke to Abe, he had just returned from an interview in Indianapolis with championship racecar driver Bobby Rahal. I asked him about the kinds of responses he received when requesting interviews with prominent Arab Americans. He said he found that “there is a need on the part of the Arab American community to tell their story and also to own their stories—almost everyone was enthusiastic and had an engaging story to tell.” When asked who his favorite person to interview was, Abe couldn’t pick one. He said, “I'm in love with this project. I've learned so much, it's been a privilege to meet everybody and hear them tell their stories.”

I asked him what insights he’s gathered about the Arab-American community in general throughout his many interviews with such a diverse group of people. Abe said that one of the most noticeable generalities was a difference between the attitudes of the earlier and more recent generation of Arab immigrants. Like many new immigrant populations, the Arab immigrants who came to America early in the 20th century tend to keep a low profile, work hard, and assimilate; they wanted to be American and they wanted to look and play the part. The younger generations of Arab Americans, presumably more confident and established, tended instead to be very politically active, more vocal about their opinions, and more publicly engaged with their culture and their identity.

The main message of the documentary that Abe hopes will come across is that Arab Americans have played a huge part in the fabric of American society—as entertainers, politicians, businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, community leaders, and as ordinary, hard-working citizens. The filmmakers want to celebrate this extraordinary history that has been largely untold and oftentimes silenced. According to Kasbo, “the Arab American experience is truly an American story. Just like Polish Americans and Italian Americans and Jewish Americans, the immigration of Arabs to the United States and their evolution into integral, productive citizens is a purely American phenomenon.” More importantly, “as Americans we can only complete our story when we recognize everyone else's story.”

The filmmakers hope to wrap up production by December of this year, and Kasbo intends to submit the film to international film festivals. He will also make the DVDs available for individual purchase online and downloads available on iTunes. To follow the documentary’s progress, submit a story of your family’s immigration journey, or donate to the documentary project, check out their website: http://arabamericathefilm.com/

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