Monthly Archives: March 2010

Immigration Rally March 21

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Anti-War Rally March 18

This video shows anti-war marches around the country, with Chicago featured heavily. Look for AAAN in the Chicago section!

Click here to watch a Channel 5 (Chicago) video about the march. AAAN youth are featured prominently.

Making “Census” of the Neighborhood

AAAN Takes Aqsa students canvassing in Bridgeview for the 2010 Census

March 3rd, 2010

“Some people don’t have doorbells,” complained one student jokingly from the Aqsa School, a Muslim school in Bridgeview (all-girls from grades 6-12). “It’s not fair.” The students had been tasked with collecting Census pledge cards in the neighborhood near the school—and the pair that collected the most pledges, they were told, would win a prize.

The Arab American Action Network led the junior class at Aqsa—18 students—in a canvassing activity for the school’s March 3rd Service Day. AAAN Youth Organizing Program Coordinator Gihad Ali led the students in some orientation activities before the students began door-knocking. They played “the name game”—which involves clapping, snapping, and saying one’s own name followed by the name of someone else in the group, without losing rhythm—and “the question game,” in which players ask each other questions and may respond only with more questions.

Two to a team with an Aqsa or AAAN staff member, the young women hit the streets. Armed with clipboards, pledge cards, flyers, and the information AAAN Census Fellow Fatmah Tabally had presented during orientation, they went from house to house promoting civic engagement. “It was good that we were in Bridgeview,” said one student, “because a lot of us are muhajabaat [wear the hijab, or head scarf] and speak Arabic so people felt comfortable.” Not only were the students culturally aligned with neighborhood residents, but many also reported finding friends, family members, and even their gym teacher’s grandparents on the other side of the door. 

In total, the young women collected 40 pledge cards—an amount that might take up to 16 hours for Tabally canvassing by herself. One student described the experience as “enlightening” and nearly all said they would do it again. “People were so nice,” a student said. One of the people her team spoke to—an older person with accented English who tried to persuade them to come in and sit—even ran out after them because they’d forgotten a pen.

What To Do When You’re Blue

Women’s Committee holds workshop on depression

February 23, 2010

“Everybody has it sometimes,” said one of the participants at the Arab American Action Network Women’s Committee February 23 workshop. “It” was depression, the topic of community counselor Faida Sahouri’s presentation for the committee. “Women are alone all the time here”, the participant continued. “Back home, you’d be around your mom and sister and other family. Here you don’t have family, or not close family. Like for me, it’s just my husband and kids.”

Women’s Committee leaders chose depression as the topic because Arab immigrant women in the United States face a number of challenges, as does anyone that moves to a new place far from their culture, family, and friends. “They feel exactly like if we took a plant from one garden and sent it to another place,” says AAAN Associate Director Rasmea Yousef. Many of the Committee’s women came from smaller communities where they lived with many extended family members, and where everyone on the street was familiar. They could go anywhere—to a doctor’s appointment, the store, a restaurant, to have coffee with friends—with ease.

But here the difficulty of navigating unknown streets and areas where English is the primary language renders simple shopping trips confusing. It may take a long time for recent immigrants to feel comfortable and familiar with their surroundings in the United States and to begin to identify the Arab community and form relationships within it. Raising children in the U.S.—who are exposed to a very different culture than that of their parents—also  creates a large gap between mothers and their children, providing further fodder for sadness. “We feel Arab women are strong,” says Yousef, “They have talents and skills that we help them realize. Our goal is to encourage them to be active, first in their home with their family and then in their community and society. This workshop helps them understand the challenges they face and learn how to deal with them.”

Sahouri, who got her Master’s in community counseling in November, encouraged women to do something for themselves to maintain emotional health, like going to classes, workshops, the gym, restaurants with friends, or reading books, praying, or anything else they enjoy. “But if you feel depressed and it lasts for more than two months,” Sahouri said, “you should get help.” She mentioned that depression is significantly more common in women than in men, and that it can be genetic. Treating depression can include therapy, but for some people therapy isn’t enough, she said, in which case there are a variety of medicines that help. “It’s good to know that other people are going through the same thing,” said a participant. “It makes you feel normal.”

Sahouri, a Bloomingdale native and member of the Arab community, spoke to the cultural context of Arab American women and immigrants. She made it clear that feeling depressed is not something to feel bad about, that it is especially common for women feeling uprooted and finding themselves in a foreign land and culture. Her aim, she says, is for the women to “learn to protect themselves and to be resilient in facing every-day problems, and—when resilience runs out and depression persists—“to help themselves and their friends and relatives.”

Count our Community

AAAN reaches out to community to encourage participation in 2010 Census

February 20, 2010

“Are you coming to count us for the beled [“home country” in Arabic] or for this country?” joked an elderly woman dressed in an embroidered black thob. She was the second person to answer AAAN Census Fellow Fatmah Tabally’s knock on the morning of February 11th.  Fatmah has been going door-to-door in Bridgeview since January, telling residents about the Census and gathering pledges that they will fill out the ten-question form when it arrives in March and mail it back by the first of April.  

Fatmah speaks at ICIRR press conference.

On top of Tabally’s many-layered defense against Chicago’s winter she wears a neon yellow vest with buttons that read “ICIRR” (Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights), the organization which, partnering with local community organizations, national partners, and private foundations, is leading the 2010 Census campaign.  Tabally began with streets full of multi-unit apartment buildings to reach more families in less time. Her strategy is simple: she chooses Arab names from the mailboxes and rings the accompanying doorbell. When they hear her native Arabic, they tend to buzz her through. Once inside, she knocks on every single door. 

Many of the people answering the door, especially the Arabs, are wary—not of Tabally—but of the Census itself.  Arabs in America have been especially mistreated since 2001 and many have come to expect violations of their civil liberties. That’s where Tabally’s job comes in. She explains the confidentiality of the Census and why it’s so important: it determines how over $400 billion in federal funds gets allocated to different communities for things like hospitals, schools, libraries, and bridges. “The penalty for unlawful disclosure,” states the Census Bureau web site, “is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both.” And the Census form doesn’t ask anything sensitive like immigration status. “If the government wanted to go after you,” Tabally commented to one particularly reluctant resident, “they would use something more informative than the Census information.”  

Another reason why some Arabs feel apathetic about the Census is that it doesn’t provide them with a racial, ethnic, or nationality category. They can either mark white or “Other,” but at this point “Other” doesn’t factor in to most federal government programs.  As for lobbying to add a category, AAAN board member Louise Cainkar doesn’t see much point, and she notes that no term would be quite right. “Arab” would exclude groups like Kurds, Iranians, and Armenians, while most Arabs don’t identify as “Middle Eastern,” as was found in a test the Bureau conducted in the 90s. Instead, Cainkar advocates for “another kind of study.” To get an accurate count for Chicagoland, she says, “We could do our own block to block canvas” for a particular small area, generating further data from institutions like schools, and “then use the error rate we find to extrapolate on existing data.” 

Tabally’s experience with grassroots canvassing as a fellow suggests that Cainkar’s alternate proposal could be easily achieved. The hardest part, it seems, is getting in and out of houses quickly—“everyone wants you to come in, sit down, drink tea and coffee and have lunch,” Tabally says. “That’s our way.”