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Undergraduates Explore Middle Eastern American LiteratureFreshmen students learn about Middle Eastern Americans, multiculturalism

Undergraduates Explore Middle Eastern American Literature

Middle Eastern American literature featured in GE Cluster seminar on Racial Consumptions

Asian-Americans, Chicano/Latinas and Middle Eastern Americans have very different histories, cultures and perspectives, not only as groups but also within each group. Yet they also share the common experience of being seen as "foreign." These differences and commonalities are explored in a Spring seminar entitled Racial Consumptions: Media, Consumerism and Violence in Contemporary Chicano/Latina, Asian-American and Middle Eastern American Literature. The seminar is part of a year-long interdisciplinary General Education Cluster course on Interracial Dynamics in American Culture, Society and Literature, one of ten GE Clusters offered in 2003-04. GE clusters are team-taught by some of the University’s top faculty, in this case Robert Hill (History), Jeffrey Decker (English), and Velma Ortiz and Min Zhou (Sociology). During Fall and Winter quarters, some 200 students explored interracial and inter-ethnic dynamics. During Spring term, they enroll in one of nine "capstone" seminars that build on their preparation in the previous terms and challenge them to complete a major project.

Twenty-two students are taking the seminar on Racial Consumptions taught by Linda Greenberg, a doctoral student in the UCLA English Department. Greenberg worked with CNES Assistant Director Jonathan Friedlander to identify and integrate Middle Eastern American texts that reference the Gulf Wars and other issues that lend themselves to comparison with Asian-American or Chicano/Latina texts. CNES and affiliated faculty member Ali Behdad are pioneers in the study of Middle Eastern Americans through instruction, research, library development, informational websites and links with the large Middle Eastern American community residing in Southern California.

Asked what prompted her to seek out Middle Eastern American literature for the seminar, Greenberg said, "Over the past two quarters several of my students indicated they wished they could learn more about Middle Eastern American issues. In order to accommodate their interests, as well as my own, I decided to include selections from this literature in the Spring seminar. Little did I know what a rich and exciting field it would prove to be! I included two ethnic American novels that significantly reference the Gulf War — Ana Castillo’s So Far From God and Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats — and several articles on Middle Eastern American history and issues. I also decided to use Tara Bahrampour’s To See and See Again, along with several shorter works and poems. I found Bahrampour’s memoir not only moving and well written, but fascinating in the way memory and history interact to weave a narrative that is more than her personal story. It speaks to a larger audience. We are all students in this class, including me, and we all have unique ideas to contribute to the discussion."

Center for Near Eastern Studies