Becoming Arab American

by Louise Cainkar
published in MER278

Scholars have long found that while pan-Arab organizations in the United States called themselves Arab American, few individuals adopted that appellation as a personal identity, preferring Iraqi, for instance, or Syrian. So I was struck, while interviewing 45 Palestinian Americans attending high school in Palestine, that so many of them referred to themselves and others as Arab American, in addition to Palestinian. Why does Arab American make sense as an identity now, when it has not in the past? The experiences of these transnational youth—17- and 18-year olds most of whom were born and raised in the US and who moved to Palestine as pre-teens—suggest that the answer lies in notions of belonging and exclusion in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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