Search for Arab Identity

Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I did not have a strong connection with my Arab roots.  I knew I was Arab because the majority of my extended family lived in Palestine.  I felt I did not have a community to belong to.  Although I had the support of my family as I searched for self-identity, I struggled to find my place in the world. My father has supported Al-Bustan for some time now, and I remember attending some music performances growing up.  Initially, I felt these performances were a link to my heritage; they provided me with a comfortable, enjoyable outlet for my cultural interests in music and the arts.  However, I was still yearning to learn more about my roots and myself. At the time, my main connection was the Arabic language, which I began studying on the weekends while in elementary school.

Zeanah helping prepare desserts trays for 
Al-Bustan’s 10th Anniversary Gala held on April 20, 2013

For my undergraduate studies, I had to find an internship that relates to my course of study.  Given my interests in business administration and the Arabic language, my father suggested I look into working for Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, which I did and fortunately, there was a place for me!  Two weeks ago, I began interning at Al-Bustan, and since then, I’ve had a “crash course” in both the management of the organization and in gaining a better understanding of my Arab culture. A few days into my internship, I sat in on an interview by a reporter with Hazami, founder and executive director of Al-Bustan, and Hanna Khoury, music director.  I was astonished to find out how quickly Al-Bustan was established.  Hazami had the idea for the organization early in 2002 and within a few months Al-Bustan Camp was up and running with 18 campers for two weeks in July.  During the interview, I also observed Hazami’s and Hanna’s passion for Arab arts, culture and language.  I realized the high quality of programming that Al-Bustan has achieved and maintained since its establishment. The Resident Takht Ensemble, which performs a range of Arab classical music led by Hanna, is an example of this quality.   

Since meeting Hazami and becoming familiar with Al-Bustan, I have started to better understand my heritage and gain confidence in defining myself as an Arab American.  I see how this organization has served as an ongoing support group for many – ready to assist, educate, and entertain those who are interested in what Al-Bustan has to offer.  The professional approach of the staff and teaching artists of Al-Bustan encourages me to challenge myself to achieve the same level of leadership and respect in my endeavors.  The richness of the Arab culture illuminates through the programs of Al-Bustan and its staff.  I feel privileged to have this opportunity to work with Al-Bustan this summer and I hope to positively contribute to this organization and to the community of Arabs and non-Arabs. 

Zeanah helping with the food buffet for 
Al-Bustan’s 10th Anniversary Gala held on April 20, 2013

– Zeanah is a sophomore at Drexel University, pursuing a major in accounting with a minor in Arabic.  She will be writing her Arabic thesis on Palestinian history in Arabic.

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