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Students Celebrate Middle Eastern Culture Following Immigration Order

By Alice S. Cheng and Kristine E. Guillaume, Crimson Staff Writers

A crowd of Harvard affiliates filled Ticknor lounge Monday to hear performances celebrating Middle Eastern people and cultures following President Donald Trump’s executive order that suspended immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The event, called “WE are what makes America Great,” featured scheduled performances from Harvard affiliates and allowed attendees to access an open mic. The Harvard College Iranian Association, Harvard Islamic Society, Harvard College Pakistan Student Association, Society of Arab Students, and Harvard African Students’ Association organized the event soon after news broke of the executive order.

HCIA board member Layla Kousari ’17 helped organize the event with what she called a goal of creating a place to “have some pride and display our heritage.”

“Recently a lot of identities—even identities beyond what was represented here—have been put under attack by the presidency,” she said. “The idea was that the identities that this President is wanting everyone to fear have a lot to celebrate.”

The event’s performances featured spoken word poetry, musical numbers, and speeches about Middle Eastern culture and identity in America and abroad. Zena Agha, a graduate student at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, read two original poems, one of which described London’s diversity, which she attributed to influences from the city’s many immigrants. Tajrean Rahman ’20 delivered a spoken word performance in which she spoke about feeling excluded in America.

“There isn’t a United States of America,” Rahman read. “There is an ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

Tunisian students Medhi Aourir ’17 and Nobras Jemel ’19 performed songs with an oud, an instrument used frequently in Arabic and North African music. Aourir sang “The Arab Dream,” which some audience members said they found moving.

“I actually teared up during the song ‘The Arab Dream,’ [which] kind of encompasses the Arab dream really, just wanting to unite in the face of struggles,” said Nadia Ali ’17.

Four performers from the Boston Dabke Troupe danced in a final planned performance before the open mic session. The dance troupe invited audience members up to the floor and taught them the steps to the Arab folk dance.

In the open mic portion of the event, several audience members including HIS board member Anwar Omeish ’19 also participated in the event in a personal capacity.

“I participated in a not-affiliated with HIS way, in a personal way because I’m the only Libyan student at the college, and that’s a lot to carry and I’ve been carrying that and stories of my family,” Omeish said.

Audience members said they found the event comforting in the wake of controversial political events during Trump’s 10-day presidency.

“What really stood out was how many people showed up and it shows how deeply this ban has impacted a lot of people. It also shows the strong sense of support that there is here,” said Meyling E. Galvez ‘18.

“This event was a space that allowed for some kind of emotional processing, but it also was just a reflection of how people are feeling. People are scared. People are upset. That’s how it is,” Omeish said.

—Staff writer Alice S. Cheng can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alicescheng.

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