Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Blog

On April 25, the Arab American National Museum was a part of a national discussion on the role that “culturally specific” or “ethnic” museums play in the United States. Helen Samhan, who is a founding member of AAI and the current Senior Outreach Advisor for the Museum, was invited to participate in a day-long symposium hosted by the Smithsonian Institution. The symposium, called “(Re)Presenting America: The Evolution of Culturally Specific Museums,” sought to address the debate on whether these museums serve to divide the nation along ethnic lines or whether they instead offer a more thorough look at the diverse history of the United States.

The Arab American National Museum opened in 2005, with the goal of showing how “Arab Americans have enriched the economic, political and cultural landscape of the United States.” The museum became a Smithsonian affiliate in 2007, and offers educational and performing arts programs to the Dearborn, Michigan community and to visitors from across the U.S. “It’s the only museum that documents the Arab American experience,” says Samhan, “and it tells the Arab American story in our own voice; it helps dispel some of the stereotypes and prejudice about Arab Americans that exist in this country.”

Samhan’s presence on the panel, “A Work in Progress: Museums and the Multidimensional American Story,” was especially significant, as only three non-Smithsonian experts were invited to speak. The Arab American National Museum, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience were the only three of the 156 such affiliates nation-wide chosen to be a part of the event. Along with two experts from the Smithsonian Institution, Samhan and the other affiliate representatives discussed the importance of ethnic museums in telling a more complete American story.

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