Arab-American Artists Respond to September 11
Listen to Neda Ulaby's report.
Beseiged Community Seeks Comfort in Artistic Expression
Listen to "Babomb," by DJ Mutamussik
Guila Loli, aka Mutamussik
Sept. 8, 2002 -- Since September 11, Arab Americans have been put in the spotlight. Some artists in the community see this as an opportunity -- to work through issues, cast their own images, and show their audiences a different set of responses to the terrorist attacks and their aftermath.
As Neda Ulaby reports for Weekend Edition Sunday, most people's knowledge of Arab-American culture doesn't go much deeper than the menu at their favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. But that's OK, says Dearborn, Mich., resident Ray Alcodray, who helps manage an auto plant. In his spare time, Alcodray runs an Arab-American theater company.
"If our food is an entrée to who we are, then our art is a smorgasbord, and I think that's the key," he says. "Food has caught on and I think the arts are just around the corner."
Najee Mondalek, a Lebanese immigrant who runs Dearborn's other Arab-American theater company, wrote a political satire called "Me No Terrorist" that Alcodray is directing. Part of it depicts an elderly woman who is visiting the United States. Her broken English brings her trouble in the airport as she tries to tell security personnel that she's a "tourist." But what they hear is "terrorist."
"I am terrorist from the Middle East!" she exclaims -- or so they believe -- and things go downhill from there.
The play opened six months after September 11, just as the FBI, seeking terrorists, was going door to door in Dearborn, which has a sizable Arab-American population.
"It was perfect for the community at this point in terms of tension," says Alcodray. "There was nonstop laughter from the moment the curtain went up to the end of the play."
Guilia Loli, a DJ in New York, performs under the name Mutamussik. She says her work combines anthropology and diplomacy. She gathers tapes of traditional music from southern Egypt and mixes it with hip-hop and dancehall music.
Mutamassik has spent the past year working as a DJ alongside Arabs, Africans and Jews at events intended to promote cultural empathy. This multiculturalism is nothing new for her: as a child her family moved from Cairo to an American trailer park. "Me even saying that I'm Egyptian in... Ohio -- it was bad enough that I was half Italian," she says.
The Arab Theatrical Arts Guild
Mizna, a Minneapolis-based Arab-American literary journal.