Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Blog

For the past decade, under the pressure of public scrutiny, Arab Americans have tried to project a friendly face to the broader American public. Organizations and community groups have fought to highlight our positions as doctors, engineers, professors and active participants in civil society. Spokespeople and advocates have consistently struggled to make us more relatable to the average American family, in the hope that positive images of the Arab American community will help to lift public perceptions away from negative stereotypes and broad generalizations.

Mizna, an Arab American cultural organization, attempts to accomplish the same goal by very different means.

Mizna, which roughly translates to “the cloud of the desert,” is a group “devoted to promoting Arab-American culture, providing a forum for its expression.” The stories told in Mizna’s literary journal uncover a complicated, multifaceted narrative of Arab American life, dealing not simply with issues of identity and profiling but also with troubled relationships, sexual mores, personal burdens, responsibilities and desires.  

In the latest issue of Mizna’s literary journal, a woman returns to a loveless marriage for the sake of their newborn child, a white woman struggles to deal with her husband’s Arab family after the death of their son, a gay Lebanese American tries to hide his relationship with his “roommate” from his visiting parents, and a woman copes with the shame of an abortion. Interspersed between the stories are poems about womanhood, death, resilience, courage, and identity.

The stories are remarkable in their depth and complexity, capturing the difficulties of Arab American life, but also the difficulties of American life at large. Mizna helps us to come to terms with the fact that the “good side” of a people isn’t necessarily the most widely relatable. The average life experience isn’t one characterized by stellar public service or shining examples of heroism. American life is filled with yearnings, heartbreak, love, family drama, and countless other idiosyncrasies that embody the modern human experience.

Tom Robbins once wrote that the attributes that distinguish the human race are Humor, Imagination, Eroticism, Spirituality, Rebelliousness, and Aesthetics, and Mizna provides the Arab American community with an outlet for all of these and more. In this respect, Mizna may be a powerful tool for Arab community integration in a fashion that none of our “positive image” campaigns can produce. Let’s just hope people read it.

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