Posted by David Curtis on July 07, 2015 in Blog
Arab Americans tend to have a strong focus on education, and they make up an integral part of highly educated professionals in the United States excelling as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. It could be said that Arab Americans have not done enough to successfully inject themselves into American arts and culture; the absence of more Arab Americans in the arts could be one reason for the conspicuous deficiency in progress to combat negative stereotypes and preconceptions that people may have about the Arab American community.
This is the viewpoint of Egyptian-born Yussef El Guindi, a noteworthy Seattle playwright who recently spoke with AAI: “We have enough doctors and engineers … We need more dreamers and cultural workers. More people in the arts making a difference in the cultural sphere. That will be the only way to alter perceptions: to become part of the many cultural conversations going on in the States and elsewhere. These end up filtering into other areas like politics and policy.”
“Threesome,” El Guindi’s most recent play, “blends sex, humor and politics when portraying a ménage à trois.” The production is a provocative and complicated comedy-drama that “seriously examines gender and cultural issues in the U.S. and Middle East, and an Egyptian-American woman writer’s struggle to recover her sexual autonomy.”
In El Guindi’s words, “giving voice to three dimensional Arab/Arab American characters becomes a radical act all by itself in that it runs counter to the predominant negative perception of Arabs in general … I don’t set out to present ‘positive’ portrayals. It is enough to foreground the humanity of my characters, the good and bad of that humanity, for that to become a subversive act — subverting the images that a lot of Westerners have of Arabs and Arab Americans.”
El Guindi’s fearless undertaking of complex social and political issues through performing arts does something important: it demonstrates to people in the U.S. that Arab Americans are just that: American. In order to break stereotypes and tackle profiling, the public needs to understand how ordinary and similar Arab Americans are to everyone else. Art can provide an essential platform to reveal this fact.
Arab Americans should be proud that they can boast an abundance of highly-trained professionals in society. But perhaps the Seattle playwright is correct in suggesting that involvement and confrontation with cultural issues through art can become a greater podium to further normalize Arab Americans in the United States.
David Curtis is an intern with the Arab American Institute