Mizna Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America
Volume 15, Issue 1 2014
St. Paul, Minnesota
Mizna, Inc. Guest Editors
Robert Farid Karimi Khaldoun Samman Editor
Lisa Adwan Poetry Editor
Jen March Selection Committee
Lisa Adwan Lana Salah Barkawi Jen March Moheb Soliman K. Flo Razowsky Executive and Artistic Director
Lana Salah Barkawi Program Manager
Moheb Soliman Board Members
Charlotte Karem Albrecht Ziad Amra Amy Kamel Nahid Khan Michele Khouli Shahé Mankerian Dipankar Mukherjee Rabi‘h Nahas William Nour P. Niny Salem Special Thanks
Ned Abdul Fadia Abul-Hajj Heba Amin Sharon Rodning Bash Delfina Foundation Kathryn Haddad Bao Phi Scott Smith
Mizna is an organization devoted to promoting Arab American culture by providing a forum for its expression. We value diversity in our community and are committed to giving voice to Arab Americans through literature and art. Mizna is an Arabic word meaning “the cloud of the desert.” This cloud shades and protects the desert traveler, easing the journey. Mizna is published by Mizna, Inc., 2446 University Ave West, Ste. 115, St. Paul, MN 55114. Copyright 2014 Mizna, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this journal may be reproduced without the consent of Mizna. To carry Mizna in your place of business, call 612-788-6920 or e-mail us at email@example.com. For more information, visit mizna.org. This publication is made possible by the support of individual subscribers, our generous donors, and by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
Foreword, “Food, Self, Other”
“Apricots for my Grandfather” “Tripolitan Rise”
“Meeting” “Sacrificing Spring”
Micaela Kaibni Raen
“Tabbouleh in London”
Timothy K. August
“The Taste of Freedom”
“Protest” “In Sickness, Home”
Christina Najla LaRose
“This Body, This Battering”
“Who Needs to Worry About Eating the Other When There’s SelfCannibalism Going on in the House?”
Visual Art Raed Yassin
Selections from Self Portraits with Foreign Fruits and Vegetables Selections from Sugar Routes, Sugar Routes II, and Seafaring “I Am a Palestinian ”
Front cover image by Raed Yassin from his 2011 series Self Portraits with Foreign Fruits and Vegetables. Archival inkjet prints on archival fine art paper, 52 x 70 cm. Back cover image by Zineb Sedira from her 2013 series Sugar Routes, Sugar Routes II, and Seafaring (Antilles, Brazil x2, Burkina Faso, Cuba, Guadeloupe x2, Guyana x2, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion, Swaziland x2, Zambia).
“The Abandoned Stone House in Damascus” “Visiting the Generalife”
“Miracle in My Kitchen”
“Steak and Grape Leaves”
“For the Love of Bread”
Mejdulene B. Shomali
“Elegy for Zahra” “Recipe for Mansaf” “Sahouri Living”
Dina El Dessouky
“Learning to Cook Rice”
“Cooking Cajun-Style Brown Jambalaya as an Arab”
Robert Farid Karimi
“Questions from a Mixed Race Worker Who Cooks & Reads” Afterword, “If I Eat Lebneh, I Must Be Lebanese, Right? (food for your head about food)”
FOREWORD Food, Self, Other “Colonialist” and “imperialist” encounters involve more than problematic “attitudes” and “stances” toward Others. They involve relationships between groups that are embedded in historically constituted relationships of power between different groups and different “cultures,” relationships that will change in fundamental ways only with large-scale changes in these power relationships. If mainstream individuals believe that concern and reflection alone can completely free them from “colonialist eating,” they mistakenly conflate changes in their individual stances and attitudes with concrete changes in social relationships of power. —Uma Narayan, “Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism” I. The Politics of Consuming “Ethnic Food” When I first came to the United States as a young boy from Jordan, beyond the kitchens of Arab Americans or community enclaves in Brooklyn, Paterson, or Dearborn, there were very few traces in the larger community of what we could call Middle Eastern food. Now, hummus, falafel, tabouleh, and stuffed grape leaves are available in many North American supermarkets and are not as exotic as they once were. Does this mean that we in the United States have progressed beyond the racial landscape of my youth and accepted the Other’s food? The answer to this question is not easily accessible to the mainstream consumer. Representations of food, including those consumed among the larger society, are not arrived at by democratic process. Groups that possess the greatest influence over political institutions and the media—and especially those who have more property and capital and retain better control over imports and exports—represent food in particular ways that are advantageous to them, and, often, in opposition to Others. As Uma Narayan suggests in the opening quote, we cannot limit our attention simply to the question of “individual stances” or the ready availability of a particular food in the marketplace without first attending to the question of “the structural inequalities and unpleasant material realities that often form the context in which ‘ethnic food’ is produced and consumed” (Narayan, 182). This social and political lens is often left out of the discussion of food, as though the only concern should be the attitude of the consumer.
However, if we keep this structural lens in mind, food will reveal to us much about race, class, gender, and the manner by which groups identify themselves. Food and taste are often used unconsciously as cultural resources to locate one’s class in relationship to other classes by creating a hierarchy between highbrow and lowbrow food and drink. In racial contexts, food is often symbolically appropriated to differentiate a “Self” from an “Other,” sometimes marking minority food cultures as involving, as in the example of halal food in many parts of Europe, barbaric “animal ritual slaughter.” In the age of imperialism, food differences were often invoked by both the colonizer and colonized, with the former using it to legitimize their colonial escapade while the latter used it to dislodge the colonizer. In a postcolonial nationalist context, the national cuisine is often used to discredit, silence, or, in extreme cases, to purge the nation from the toxins of minorities. In settlercolonial contexts like that of the Israeli-Palestinian example, which will be discussed below, appropriating food traditions from the Palestinian Other and referring to it as Israel’s national cuisine is a way to negate and disenfranchise the indigenous Palestinian Other from the “Jewish” nation. It’s “Eating the Other,” to quote bell hooks in her discussion of other colonial context, in quite literal terms, where the food, like the land, is renamed with the goal of removing any trace of its original cultures. One of the most obvious ways politics and food merge is the manner by which some Americans eat exotic foods of Others. From a naive perspective this is often mistaken for an inclusion or tolerance of other foods, as a form of cosmopolitan outlook and being open to difference. Yet, in actuality, this form of food consumption, wrapped in cosmopolitan discourse, often alludes to social class aspirations, where the eating of Middle Eastern and other foods becomes a sort of a badge of sophistication that marks the Self in opposition to other groups who only know of beef and potatoes and who just happen to be poor, often seen as ignorant folks. Moreover, the consumption of Arab and other “ethnic food” is often carried out in a shallow manner, with little interest in the cultural context of the food. And even when a historical or cultural context is provided, it is often informed by class status or aspiration—“where eating ethnic foods would further contribute to Westerners’ prestige and sophistication because their eating was enhanced by a few sprinkles of spicy information about the ‘cultural context’ of the ethnic food eaten” (Narayan, 181). Not surprisingly, this form of class distinction is not limited to whites but is often practiced by privileged immigrant groups, which include Arab Americans, toward poorer populations, especially the very poor whites who are often referred to as “rednecks” or “white trash.” Arab immigrants themselves often use their hybridity as -vi-
social capital against working class folks and other minorities. Their liberal identity politics permit them to forgo any sense of the politics of class, so trashing the white poor is seen as “progressive.” Their access to an exotic or an international food is often conveyed as a contrast to “unsophisticated” Americans who have never seen or eaten their food (usually, those poor white Americans who “lack knowledge” of the diversity of world cuisines). This is not to say that eating and consuming other foods is inherently classist or racist. Indeed, the desire to find good-tasting food, no matter what its class or racial location, is a healthy one. But what I am referring to is the way in which having the resources and access to consume diverse food cultures is often situated in a rhetorical context that serves to lift the privileged consumer above others. We all have seen evidence of this on our social networking sites. I myself have played into it only to realize after the damage had been done. Think here of those demeaning pictures and videos of fat working-class folks with the cracks of their butts showing, often portrayed in a very clown-like fashion, and whom we can laugh at in the same way we laughed at Archie Bunker in All in the Family. II. The Politics of Consuming Other’s Food: the Israeli Case A good illustration of the way power intersects with the representation of food is the emerging construct of “Israeli food.” Foods like falafel, hummus, and tabouleh are increasingly labeled Israeli foods in the United States. For instance, Sabra hummus—which is found in both large chain supermarkets as well as smaller, progressiveminded co-ops and marketed as an “Israeli snack”—usurps the Arab Palestinian traditions that long predate the Israeli appropriation of this food. The fact that Sabra is a food producer that directly benefits from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land, uses that land to produce its product, and enjoys capital and trade privileges courtesy of the United States’ “special relationship” with Israeli-owned companies, gives it and those associated with it an advantage over the Palestinian population, who is silenced both through a demographic assault on its population and land as well as over the definition of its food traditions. The turning of falafel, hummus, and other traditional Arab foods into Israeli snacks may, for some, be a testament that Israel is integrating itself into the region and accepting both its Mizrahi (Arab) and Arab Palestinian communities. That’s far from reality, however. What this appropriation does in fact do is remove the Arabness of the food and further de-Arabize the Mizrahim. So too do the Palestinians become marginalized by this nationalist culinary appropriation, and they know quite well that the appropriation of -vii-
their food by Israel is tied to the process of the appropriation of their land. One could, of course, argue that the fact that Israel includes Mizrahi food in its definition of Israeli food is to acknowledge its Arab character. Given the fact that the Mizrahim have Arab lineage is itself proof, some may say, that Israel has moved a long ways from its habitual Ashkenazi ethnocentric racism toward this group. But I would caution against this interpretation. Ashkenazi Jews were always interested in removing the Arab hyphen from the Mizrahim and turning them into “Israeli Jews.” When Israelis do acknowledge Mizrahi foods, the Arabness of said foods has already been cleansed. And while Mizrahi food may have been incorporated into the category of “Israeli food,” the desire to assimilate and possess what is external to the Self does not extend to actual people of non-Jewish origin. I think it is important for us to focus on some general implications of the proliferation of ethnic Mizrahi cuisine in contemporary Israeli contexts, and examine the notion that mainstream Israeli attitudes toward “ethnic Mizrahi foods” involve forms of food identity reconstruction similar to earlier Ashkenazi campaigns to detox Arab Jews and to turn them into “just Jews.” Thus to talk about the construction of falafel and hummus as “Israeli snacks” without exploring the racial attitudes of Ashkenazis toward the Mizrahim is to miss how food identities in Israel are constructed by a process that relies on erasing Palestinian and Arab existence. Billing these foods as “Israeli snacks” erases their Arab origins. Moreover, the Mizrahim, in a fashion similar to how the Irish in the 19th century United States used their whiteness to push against African Americans, often conspire with the Zionist project in linking their identity to the Jewish state and articulate an identity hostile toward all that is Arab and Palestinian. So the Mizrahim, too, have become part of the Zionist racial project of refusing the Palestinian/Arab link to land and culture. Eating falafel and hummus as “Israeli snacks” has the effect of negating their Palestinian-ness. It does not treat Palestinians as real people with shared traditions with the nation called Israel. The Palestinian character is dropped from the storyline and replaced by “Israeliness” (read Jewish), in the process making falafel and hummus defunct of the culture of Palestinians, a process similar to Israel’s renaming of the hundreds of forgotten Palestinian villages who have now become “Israeli.” In this special edition of Mizna, we have assembled a large number of contributions that allow for a more pluralistic expression of the role of food in the shaping of marginalized identities. Poetry, fiction, -viii-
and the literary imagination are powerful tools in understanding the way food is used by ethnic minorities and others to negotiate their identity in the United States. You could often â€œreadâ€? class, race, and gender in creative writing itself. Indeed, we have only begun to scratch the surface of literature as an ethnography, but with a keen eye and analysis, we can see these issues at work. Of course, Edward Said has brilliantly explored the Orientalist nature of Western literature. Texts, in his provocative analysis, are part of the social and political landscape that produce the identitarian subjects of Self and Other. Like media, they produce subjects that are otherwise too diverse for us to see and make visible. Power, of course, is a big part of this. For example, Egyptians, he says, do not have the power to represent the French as the French are capable of representing the Egyptians. But literature could also be a form of analysis that brings to light the social and political nature of our identities. Edward Said also did this beautifully with his keen analysis of writers like Frantz Fanon and CLR James. Indeed, I would argue that fiction and creative writing can often be more powerful tools of social analysis than their social science counterparts. Stories, when well told, allow for a creative elaboration of detail, where characters can illustrate the contexts in which the texture and subtlety of this political play between Self and Other takes place. They are a powerful tool to make visible to us the ways in which class, race, gender, and issues related to Orientalism saturate our lives. It is with this in mind that we should read the work collected in this volume. Khaldoun Samman, Guest Editor
Khaldoun Samman is an associate professor of sociology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He teaches courses on U.S. domestic and international issues concerning class, racial, gender, and global systems of power and resistance. His most recent book is entitled The Clash of Modernities: The Islamist Challenge to Jewish, Turkish, and Arab Nationalism. -ix-
Michelle Ramadan Apricots for my Grandfather Fridays after dusk, the grocer knows to declare: “Ahlan ya hakim, take a kilo of these for the wife.” “What are they?” the doctor always asks. His cracked fingers dip into the crates filled with small bursts of sunshine. His forehead rises, wrinkling skin beyond which his favorite fruit remains unremembered.
Tripolitan Rise Listen: roosters play chorus to the call to prayer as the coffee vendor wanders below windows clinking cupsâ€” porcelain palms to be filled with the darkness that awakens. M
Yasmine Anderson Meeting In a semi-crowded grocery store—a Kroger maybe, the one on the corner of the street where we learned how to ride our first bicycle on timid legs, how not to cry when we came home with scraped knees—I hear a shokran held quietly under the breath like a little girl saving a petal from a rainstorm. I turn the corner, pretending to eye the watermelons, fruit my mother taught me to cup in my hand, tapping the emerald shells to find the best one. The man and the woman I’m trying to watch are standing at the meat counter, maybe looking for basturma. I ate it with my family in Egypt on early mornings, looking down at Cairo, already awake for hours, from our apartment window. The man and the woman are walking away from the meat counter with empty hands. I think of finding my sister, planting her near the man and woman and speaking to her loudly in Arabic. They would turn, maybe just offering a knowing smile or even beginning a conversation in Arabic, our sounds punctuating the low hum of Kroger’s air conditioners and freezers. But I don’t know enough Arabic to pursue this. The couple would look at me expectantly, waiting for my response to their tangled pattern of sounds, so I only watch from a distance, eyes searching as I pretend to look over the display of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. I see now that my mother was not teaching me how to pick the best watermelon, but how to send out a signal in a new language, to call out to a stranger in a grocery store, to say, “I’m here.”
Sacrificing Spring My mother stands, tracing the rounded rim of the evaporated skin with her spoon. She detaches the seeds from their nest re-rooting them to the mosaicked tile of the bowl. I allow my teeth to split the liquid shell, encasing the white seed in a new hollow before swallowing. The pomegranate juice sharpens my throat, forcing my sentences to catch on the end of my tongue. But I keep eating the fruit, disregarding the warning of winter. M
Lana Habash Exile We stuff our bags with coffee and zahter fill our bellies with sweet kinafeh press louisa between pages of books— the scent of jasmine— the taste of fresh figs embroidered cloth with patterns of towns and tribes and families, we collect evidence. This is how we bring you back. What we cannot take with us what we cannot take with us— the earth. A child digs her fingers into it and embraces the land. We are missing you even as we watch your sunsets over the Dead Sea from the wrong side— then one day on the phone someone you love someone thousands of miles away says something simple— something like “The roses are dead.” or “The dust blots out the sun.”
For just an instant we cannot see what was before, and suddenly strangely, for no good reason, among all the indignities among all the sorrow this seems the hardest to bear. M
Micaela Kaibni Raen Tabbouleh in London eating tabbouleh in London we lift up the same piece of pita bread and laugh, while pulling the bread to break we make a wish, one remade from wishes forfeited long ago but still lamented, as our words say nothing of Palestine . . . eating tabbouleh in London with Arab pop music pumping out its funky-techno-beat my fingertips tap onto the tile-topped table to the rhythm of a song once understood by those with our name we sit knowing that tomorrow we return to America, our home . . . as our words say nothing of Palestine . . .
eating tabbouleh in London her eyes search for fortuneâ€™s find left by the Polish waitress as we talk of humus, tea, and the winter wind of lesbian love affairs, family struggles, and warraq enab of old recipes for future hope and the leverage of the cold rain as our words say nothing of Palestine . . . eating tabbouleh in London our mute pause examines lemons piled high within see-through plastic columns our tears gaze past the lemons into the windowâ€™s night as we grieve separately, yet together through conversation, over topped-off tabbouleh bowls and Arab coffee, our language short flashes of light filled with memories as our words say nothing of Palestine . . . M
Timothy K. August The Taste of Freedom In a recent episode of CNN’s series Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain visits an Uncle Kentaki Fried Chicken restaurant in Libya with a young ex-freedom fighter, Jawar Aboshkiwat, who recently helped to dispose of Muammar Gaddafi. Aboshkiwat, brimming with earnestness and enthusiasm, gestures emphatically to his fried chicken sandwich, telling Bourdain, “That’s we why fighting; that’s we why given out of blood from my country. Because I wanted feeling that. The taste of freedom.” Aboshkiwat’s weighty decision to turn to killing in order to stop a mass murderer seemingly clashes with the relentlessly cheery environment of the brightly colored fast-food restaurant that he and Bourdain inhabit. The producers of the program highlight this aesthetic discord by weaving in dissonant music throughout much of this clip, and they include a slight pause while they zoom in on Aboshkiwat’s gleeful face after he utters, “[Gaddafi] has now die, that’s what we wanted.” This pause leaves the viewer to contemplate the gravity of this juxtaposition of life, death, and fried chicken, while gazing at Aboshkiwat’s youthful visage as he nonchalantly returns to his sandwich. Bourdain has made a career on his various television shows by looking gracious and at ease in the most uncomfortable situations— the ideal traveler who by the end of each hour-long episode can synthesize the different people, places, and food he encounters into an easily consumable morsel for the viewer sitting comfortably in his home. But in this sequence even the adaptable Bourdain is thrown for a loop as he strains to digest this postwar culinary juxtaposition, where a generational victory won in a brutal uprising could somehow be found in the pedestrian taste of a greasy chicken sandwich. Bourdain betrays his uneasiness by half-chuckling and repeating the phrase “the taste of freedom,” using the strategy of ironic distance to attempt to defuse the situation, but Aboshkiwat does not bite and simply responds, “It’s nice taste.” As an academic who writes on ethnic American culture, postcolonialism, and food, I am sometimes at a loss to properly convey the significance of my work. While most are eager to talk about cultural ideals of food, when the chips are down and matters of life and death are on the table, Food Studies is often dismissed as a novelty rather than a substantial form of scholarship. This problem crystallized for me a few years ago when sitting down for lunch with a Palestinian friend of mine. After I had recited my usual elevator speech about my research, citing the development of culinary nationalism, gastrodiplomacy, and the ways that these concepts -9-
have been deployed by both colonial and postcolonial cultures, my friend replied, “That’s very well and good but do you really think that people go to war over such things?” Faced with this question, posed to me by someone who had experienced the turmoil of Tel Aviv in the late 1980s and early ’90s, I gazed down into the brownish-yellow mess of my poutine and muttered something conciliatory about the French Champaign wars or some other minor border skirmish that was ignited by territorial claims over regional cuisine. But she was right; in that instant I could not state why cuisine and matters of taste are important to those facing urgent decisions concerning their mortality. Bourdain’s incredulity during the scene with Aboshkiwat mirrors my previous reticence to make bold assertions about life, death, and food. Despite occasional gestures toward the panacea of sharing meals, Bourdain resists making absolute claims about the regions of the world he visits. In his customary performance, he expresses interest while maintaining the tourist’s license to not be fully implicated in the development of the culture or cuisine itself. He uses this visitor’s persona to walk the fine line of promoting refined tastes while simultaneously producing a subtle metacritique of the fine dining spectacles he encounters when traveling throughout the world. In order to challenge these established hierarchies of eating he often turns to foods that are on the lower end of the class spectrum in order to rehabilitate them with the prestige that only an outsider can bring. In this scene, however, Bourdain is caught. Instead of reinvesting an Other’s cuisine with a new perspective, here the tables are turned, as Aboshkiwat re-imagines industrial American cuisine with the type of revolutionary power that even Ray Kroc could not have anticipated. With the anthropological gaze turned back toward his own culture, Bourdain struggles to repackage an ideological outlook that seems unthinkable to those who have not recently been faced with life and death decisions. To manage this intellectual friction, a montage sequence is inserted where Bourdain concocts a narrative of change, envisioning a clash between old and new traditions in Libya. Of course, in this narrative Western-style modernity inevitably overtakes the “old” traditions of the Arab world, with the Arab Spring being cast as the event that has allowed Libya to belatedly join in the march of progress. Yet despite Bourdain’s claims that he feels welcome in the atmosphere of “freedom” exhibited by the mimetic Uncle Kentaki Fried Chicken restaurant, when reading Bourdain’s mannerisms it is clear something is awry. For this fast-food restaurant is a rather grotesque revision of American tastes, a clandestine bootleg coup that has slipped in while the movement of global capital, the “real” Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), is afraid to enter this uncertain -10-
market. The identical but inauthentic Uncle Kentaki Fried Chicken clearly bothers Bourdain, as the segment begins with his probing whether Aboshkiwat knows what Kentucky even is—a subtle inquisition designed to assert KFC as the original and thus dominant structure. Therefore, while Bourdain would be loathe to endorse KFC otherwise, here he quietly takes on the role of a spokesman looking to set straight the mixed-up non-Western Uncle Kentaki Fried Chicken by reclaiming this enterprise as an American original. By now, though, Aboshkiwat is used to saying no to power and chomps his way through the segment in an unaffected manner. He views the revolution he participated in as a zero-sum game where if he had not killed Gaddafi, he would have run the risk of eventually being killed himself. The decision, if not the action, then, was easy. But to maintain revolutionary momentum among those with divergent interests requires a way to imagine one’s everyday life after the fall of the government. The quotidian existence is what one hopes will be radically altered with change, and the ability to eat new foods in convenient American-style restaurants is an appetite that can be shared among many. It is thus incorrect to consider this chicken sandwich as a mere symbol of modernity that the revolutionaries fought for, but also a tangible spoil that Aboshkiwat can now literally hold on to and taste. Aboshkiwat disturbs Bourdain, the producers, and perhaps the viewers, by showing that violent revolutions can be held together by an amalgam of base drives and desires. If in the place of a sandwich Aboshkiwat was savoring heady objects—like books of philosophy or a constitution—his violent actions would be easier to digest. Instead Aboshkiwat turns to mass culinary culture, mimicking fastfood mannerisms, and in the process exposes how flimsy, or base, American hierarchies of tastes become when imitated. When gazed at from a “part unknown,” American cuisine seems to consist of unhealthy modern eating practices that shape cultures through gluttonous ingestion and glimmering spectacles, begging the question of whether calories, convenience, and cleanliness have come to constitute the taste of freedom. When imagining a new Arab state, the cross-cultural crossover that Aboshkiwat desires involves an exploitative form of labor, manufacturing, and distribution that works to wipe out particularity and history. Analyzing the power structures that shape what we eat and how we taste can reveal unsavory truths. One could say that Aboshkiwat’s performance demonstrates that the Other now desires, as bell hooks suggested, to be “eaten, consumed, and forgotten.” In my research I have learned that the development of tastes and cuisines often serves to mask destructive desires, while subtly pulling together masses of unequal people through edible plebiscites. It is food’s banality, its base everydayness, that allows -11-
one to imagine, however subconsciously, a common future for all. Because discussions of food are necessarily future-oriented and involve entire ways of life, battles are fought to keep tastes the same or to revolutionize them. When looking at food through this lens, we must ask if the taste of freedom always comes with a side order of violence. With this knowledge clenched tightly in his hand, Aboshkiwat makes personal the question posed to me by my friend many years ago, looking back at the viewer and asking, â€œWould you kill for a sandwich?â€? M
Mary Barghout Protest People commodify and buy up things called cultures and then consider themselves cultured after the consumption of live active cultures. Well, that shit gives me indigestion. When cravings supersede acceptance, it makes me wonder. A person is infinitely more complex than a recipe or food assigned to them. It would be wise to remember stereotypical nonsense sensory assumptions it would be wise to forget.
In Sickness, Home I crave molokhiyya when Iâ€™m sick. Nice slime-y soupâ€”chicken, rice. I hated it as a child. Seems time teaches meaningful lessons to formerly temperamental taste buds. One of those rare foods I actually enjoy explaining to bewildered faces and confused misunderstandings. The telling and describing of it at least reminds me of home. Delicious memory is a savior during times of sandwiches and complacency. M
Christina Najla LaRose This Body, This Battering For Chigozie
You know, habibi, that my father is in his grave, but did you know I saw his limbs, sparse as spring twigs, saw sallow skin turn hollow? Did you know I kissed his cheek, tasted salty sediment of flesh gone to bone? You embrace me, say Iâ€™m too bony, say I need to put on flesh, say women in your culture take up more space.
You cook for me: African stew, pulling chicken from the bone. I eat with my hands and soon your fingers are on my skin. You can pick me up and carry me because of what you donâ€™t know: A small notebook I keep, every morsel of food a calculus, the body a battering ram. I waited nine months for the call about my father, and each day I wore myself thin. But now, I eat urgency: bone cleaving bone. This is war, baby. Give me one. Yours. M
Randa Jarrar Who Needs to Worry about Eating the Other When There’s Self-Cannibalism Going on in the House? Who needs to worry about eating the other when there’s selfcannibalism going on in the house? The only way they accept us is by our food, my friend H says. He’s talking about how hummus is served at potlucks and parties, and pita bread is a good lunch option for people keeping their carbs low. I thought he was talking about how the more successful books by Arab Americans feature food in the text and food on the cover. Arab food is more palatable than Arabs. I get it. And he’s right. Although the way people think they can get away with calling everything hummus is unacceptable. Someone brought ground white beans in oil to a party and called it hummus. That’s not hummus, I told them. That’s fucking bean dip. I even got into a 10-minute argument with a dear friend, who’s married to an Israeli, because she insisted that hummus was pronounced “chummus.” (It’s . . . not.) But we could talk about hummus for days. Let’s not, shall we? Let’s stop talking about hummus. Let’s stop talking about food, in general. I’m starting a rule right now: if you’re an Arab American writer starting out (or well on your way!), please stop talking about food. Stop talking about food in your fiction. Stop talking about food in your poetry. Stop talking about food in your essays. I’ll write about whatever I want, I hear you saying. I agree that you should. Just don’t write about food. Don’t name your anthology Grape Leaves of Wrath. Don’t write a cycle about stuffed dates, even if you wrap them in bacon to be subversive. Don’t italicize anything Arabic, either. It makes Arabic look tilted, drunk. Like it’s performing its ethnicity, whatever the Arab version of the Chiquita Banana Lady is. But there I go using a food analogy.
It’s a kind of cannibalism. I see it with my young Arab American fiction students—the three or four I’ve been blessed with having in my classes. They get stuck on a story and all of a sudden, the mansaf comes out. A character doesn’t have a conflict, so let’s give him some kifte. Who needs a sex scene when you can have two Arabs cooking mjaddara? But I say, if they’re going to cook the mjadarra, you have to show farts in bed later. Because Arab Americans need to be human, not palatable. M
Eating the Other
The artists included in this issue were two of the ten artists featured in a group show called The Politics of Food, an exhibition and residency by the Delfina Foundation in London (January–February 2014). We were pointed toward this exhibition by the artist Heba Amin, and we were struck by the coinciding themes of this issue and the exhibition. The Delfina Foundation staff were generous in connecting us with Zineb Sedira and Raed Yassin, and we are grateful to them. The other artists in The Politics of Food were Abbas Akhavan, Leone Contini, Gayle Chong Kwan, Candice Lin, Asunción Molinos Gordo, Senam Okudzeto, Jae Yong Rhee, and Tadasu Takamine. The exhibition can be explored by visiting delfinafoundation.com/whats-on/exhibition-the-politics-of-food/.
VISUAL ART BY
Raed Yassin graduated from the theatre department of the Institute of Fine Arts in Beirut in 2003. He is a visual artist, curator, and musician (double bass, tapes, turntables, and electronic music). The artist has exhibited and performed his work across Europe, the Middle East, the United States, and Japan. He was awarded the Fidus Prize for The Best of Sammy Clark at Beirut Art Centre’s Exposure (2009) exhibition and the Abraaj Capital Art Prize (2012). Born in 1979 in Lebanon, Yassin currently lives and works in Beirut. My work is an examination of my own personal narratives, as well as those of the collective history that surrounds me, through the lens of consumer culture and mass production. For a long time, I have been an aficionado and collector of all things “pop” in the Middle East, especially Egyptian commercial movies and popular music. To my mind, these works represent the collective cinematic and musical memory shared by the majority of people in the Middle East—and subsequently the nostalgia evoked by the latter—and in turn they lead me to the re-interpretation of sensibilities and memories on a local level. It is this approach—reaching for private experience through the collective, public cultural fare—that best characterizes my work over the last decade. I am also concerned to a large extent with the materiality of the media used, more specifically its time-based qualities, and as such I am eager to use its glitches as part of both the aesthetics and concept of the work. My recent works walk a thin line between historical truth and fiction, and trace the effects of subjectivity on the individual and collective level. Increasingly, I have come to insert myself into the work, both as a performer and as one of the commodities of consumer culture and the contemporary art world. My person and my persona, as well as various elements of my personal life, serve to create a life-story, into which I weave external elements derived from pop stars such as Sammy Clark and Mahmoud Yassin.
The focus on nostalgia is part of my intention to create a bridge that allows for a different understanding of the Middle Eastern region, as viewed through the prism of popular culture. The absorption and re-integration of images and ingredients from popular culture constitute my material of choice. My aim is to create a language that shifts back and forth between the personal and the popular, in order to create an alternative reality that links the realms of fact and fabrication. —Raed Yassin
Self-Portraits with Foreign Fruits and Vegetables (2011) is Yassin’s attempt to express the futility and melancholy associated with forcing oneself to assimilate to a culture other than one’s own. In an array of varying postures and positions, the artist poses naked with a different fruit or vegetable. These fruits and vegetables are, in his eyes, the success story of his dilemma. For despite their foreign origins, they have managed to fit into the European diet and go unnoticed at the dinner table. They are the successfully naturalized foreigner, the role model that the artist seeks to become. The photographs that appear on the following pages appeared in The Politics of Food and are selections from Raed Yassin’s 2011 series Self Portraits with Foreign Fruits and Vegetables. They are archival inkjet prints on archival fine art paper. They are reproduced here courtesy of Kalfayan Galleries.
VISUAL ART BY
Zineb Sedira was born in Paris to Algerian parents. She studied at the Central Saint Martins School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art, followed by research studies at the Royal College of Art. She lives in London and works between Algiers, Paris, and London. Sedira’s photographs and video installation use the perspective of her own experience to frame questions about language, transmission, memory, and mobility. Sedira’s work has been included in many solo exhibitions since 2002, including surveys at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2010); Rivington Place, London (2009); The Wapping Project, London (2008); and Centre Culturel Francais, Algiers (2008). Her work has also been included in extensive group exhibitions, including Everywhere But Now, Thessaloniki Biennále, Thessalonica (2013); The Mediterranean Approach, Palazzo Zenobio, 54th Venice Biennale, Venice (2011); Told / Untold / Retold, Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha (2010); and Elles@centrepompidou, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2009). Sedira’s work is in numerous public collections, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow Museums, Glasgow; Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Marseille; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha; Sharjah Art Museum Collection, Sharjah; and Tate Collection, London. This body of work was created after several visits to the sugar silos located on the Grand Port Maritime of Marseille. The sugar arrives in Marseille from a multitude of countries such as Brazil, Mauritius, Cuba, Guyana, and the island of Réunion. Each sugar shipment carries singular stories and personal narratives of journeys from its original soil to its arrival in Marseille. The mountains of sugar stocked in warehouses then take the shape of landscapes, and geological and topographical strata. The sugar becomes a symbol of both geopolitics and journeys through the seas and oceans. —Zineb Sedira
The images on this and the following pages appeared in The Politics of Food and are from Zineb Sediraâ€™s 2013 series Sugar Routes, Sugar Routes II, and Seafaring (Antilles, Brazil x2, Burkina Faso, Cuba, Guadeloupe x2, Guyana x2, Madagascar, Mauritius, RĂŠunion, Swaziland x2, Zambia). This work was created with the support of Marseille-Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture 2013, Grand Port Autonome de Marseille, and Arts Council England.
Joseph Rathgeber I Am a Palestinian  and my cheeks are hollow. I am half the man I once was. Detained, Iâ€™ve lost my appetite. Day 200 has passed. I weigh 47 kilograms. I struggle to calculate the math. My vision is blurry; I wretch blood. I baked pitas in Jenin: my stomach is empty today. I hunger for more than food. Sustenance means more than bread and water. I have two daughters: one seven, the other four. I struggle to calculate the math. I am shackled to a hospital bed; I am shackled to a wheelchair. My rib cage is apparent: self-portrait in a concave mirror. My arms are two bones. Interest in hunger strikers has declined considerably. I am half the man.
________________ â€œI Am a Palestinian â€? is one of a sequence of poems under the same name. -29-
Hedy Habra The Abandoned Stone House in Damascus Don’t ask me what side I am with! Don’t ask me about the outcome! They say rain won’t wash the indelible blood splattered in the streets, the moans and cries of children resonate in my aching ears, filling each crack and corner of my heart. Will anyone open doors and windows wide, let the wind in to erase the bitter clouds of gunpowder? Faces smeared with dust and sweat all look alike, come and go as they please, their footsteps resonate in my temples as over worn out, stretched out drums. My walls yearn for the daily smell of freshly cut herbs, for the warmth of the hearth, the familiar sight of the iron pot hanging over glowing coals. Once, the simmering stew was singing with spices and children played under the shade of the olive tree. I can still hear their mother’s humming while separating lentils from stone.
Visiting the Generalife I linger along the rose orchard cooled by water fountains. A suspension of iridescent droplets rises and falls in splashing loops, trickles through inlaid channels. Here, air speaks with caressing syllables and fragrant language; each lemon tree heavy with golden globes, its crisp shiny leaf ready to break when folded under my fingersâ€™ slightest touch, oozes essential oils. Each rose speaks of the harvest of rose petals and orange blossoms my mother distilled in alembics in the vast white-tiled bathroom, the transparent essence imprisoned in a row of bottles stored in the sandara, that secret room above the kitchen, hosting a microcosm of flavors gathered from faraway plantations and mountain slopes. M
William Nour Miracle in my Kitchen “Rooh min hon. Btefhamesh lal-akel.” “Go away! You don’t understand food.” Mother was frustrated with my action or inaction, really, which did not warrant such a pronouncement. All I was doing was eating my chopped vegetable salad with oil and lemon dressing. She told me to dip my bread in the dressing, and I did not feel like it. The woman had gone mad. She is banishing me for not wanting to dip my bread into the salad dressing. Then she said to me that I could just drink it. “Drink it!” Are you kidding! I don’t want to drink my salad dressing. Again she says, “Go away! You don’t understand food.” Just like that, she brands me with ignorance. What is there to understand? You buy it, you cook it, and you eat it. What great mystery is it that I am missing? That was not the first time such accusations were laid against me. I was in third grade at Sisters of Nazareth Catholic School. I came home one day and announced to Mother that Sister Elizabeth, our religion teacher, said I would not be going through First Communion with the rest of the class. Mother took a deep breath, held it in, walked to the phone, and dialed the church. I waited by anxiously. I had caused Mom trouble and now I was in trouble with Abuna Augustine, our very tall, ghostly-white priest with short cropped hair and sharp features. He had been to our class the previous week to talk with the prospective communicants. We had been preparing for First Communion for months now, learning all the prayers by heart, along with the question-and-answer section at the back of the book. We all surrounded him and begged him for an ouni, an icon. He always had some of these religious pictures stuffed in some pocket in his robe. My icon showed the blessed mother and her son with chests ripped apart, their hearts aglow with fire. The hearts were shown wrapped with wreaths of thorns. A drop of blood hovered in midair between each heart and upturned cupped hands. I looked over at Saleem’s ouni. His was of Jesus holding a bouquet of white lilies, surrounded by happy children who draped over his shoulders, sat in his lap and at his feet. Jesus seemed to be telling them a story. I liked his Jesus better than mine. I asked Saleem if he wanted to switch icons. He leaned over to look at mine and said no. Mom’s voice brought me out of my reverie. “Hello, Raghidah. This is Em William. Is Abuna Augustine in?” The secretary asked what it was about. Mom said to tell him it was very important. I did not know why the urgency, but to Mom it was important that I go through First Communion with the rest of my classmates. On the bus to the church she muttered something -32-
about having already bought a white shirt, black pants, and shoes. She wouldn’t have money to buy me another white shirt, black pants, and shoes again next year. Mom and I were greeted by Abuna Augustine. He led us to two chairs in front of his desk. Mother had only one question for him, and she couldn’t wait to ask it. “Abuna, why is it that my son won’t be taking his First Communion with the rest of the class?” He seemed to remember me well. “I met with him last week at his school. He just isn’t ready.” He took another look at me. “All fruit does not ripen at the same time.” “Yes, Abuna, with your permission, all fruit does not ripen at the same time, but all fruit is equally nourished by the tree.” “You give your baby milk until it gets teeth, and then it is ready for bread and other food. It’s just that he is not ready.” “Well, you should see the way he eats at home. I can hardly keep up. He is ready.” I sat there as they talked about me and wondered why they were talking about food. “So how is he not ready? He has memorized all the prayers like everyone else—he really should not be held back. He should be confirmed and take Holy Communion with all his friends.” This sounded reasonable to me and I nodded in agreement. She said nothing about the shirt, pants, and shoes. Abuna Augustine looked at me. I felt the blood rush to my face and ears. Then he asked me what seemed to be a very simple question, to which my mind went blank. “Who puts Jesus in the bread, my son?” The question echoed in my brain, darting back and forth inside my skull, allowing no room for the answer to take shape. Who puts Jesus in the bread? Who puts Jesus in the bread? . . . Mom looked at me like I should know. I looked at her to see if she knew. It seemed like an eternity; I opened my mouth and nothing came out. Then we both looked at Abuna Augustine, who sat there so proud. He looked at Mother, who jumped to my defense. “Well, maybe he was never asked that question exactly as you are asking it of him now.” Then she said what I thought was a very smart answer. “God put Jesus in the bread, who else?” She was trying to help me but clearly she was guessing. Abuna Augustine impatiently interrupted and talked to her as if she were my age: “The priest puts Jesus in the bread. The priest, my daughter, when he prays over the bread, the bread and wine become the sacred flesh and blood of the Lord.” He was talking down to Mother, a woman who had spent her whole life in the kitchen feeding people. Mom was put off. “Silly me, how could I forget.” Then she mumbled something as she rearranged herself in the seat. It was something about God not having anything to do with it; it’s all the priest’s doing. She looked at me and figured this was not her fight. -33-
She was here for me. She turned to Abuna and said: “Okay, now he knows. He knew it. Didn’t you not know it, honey?” She ruffled my hair. “Okay, he knows. Now can he go through First Communion with the rest of the kids?” Abuna looked at me and then at Mom. He was not going to win this one. He filled his lungs with more air than he needed for what he had to say. “I will meet with him the next three Sundays for an hour after mass and then we can talk again to see if he is ready.” She looked at me and saw that I was hopeful, smiling without really smiling. A deal had been struck, and I trusted her to see it through. As far back as I can remember, I had always been drawn to Mother’s world, a world of intrigue, of mystery, maybe even magic. If Abuna Augustine could put Jesus in the bread just by praying over it, how much more could Mother accomplish at home for hours on end in the kitchen. Suddenly I had many unanswered questions. What was she doing in there? What kinds of potions and remedies was she immersed in, and what is that big book she keeps on top of the cupboard that she consults before starting her brews? I started to surprise Mom by creeping into the house quietly to see what she was doing in the kitchen. I became increasingly aware of individual smells and sounds. My eyes, my nose, my ears, all of my senses became extra vigilant. Even the hairs on the back of my neck would rise on occasion as I awoke to the brutality of her magic. One day I walked into a scene of blood and mayhem. On the ceramic floor of the kitchen lay four hairy legs with hooves, and up by the sink was the head of a sheep in a pool of blood. A huge vat steamed on the stove. Mother held a big knife to the head. Was she gouging out the eyes? Had she severed off the ears? What kind of sorcery was this? I ran out. Hours passed. I could smell this amazing aroma and I could hear and feel my stomach churning. Inside the whole family gathered at the table, eating. They were all heartily filling bowls of stewed meat and rice. “Come eat! Where have you been?” I looked at Mother. She gave me a strange look. I sat down out of fear and grabbed a bowl. When Mother cooked she put her whole heart and soul into it. That was her magic. Father only liked Mother’s food. I think that she put a spell on him and on us, because nothing tasted like Mother’s food. Still today as we gather and remember our mother, we talk about her food. We take our books of spells down from the shelf, light fires under big vats, and start mixing potions and powders. But nothing comes close, because we know exactly what it should taste like. A couple of years after Mother died, I was looking in the freezer and came across a bag filled with Easter date cookies that she had made at my house on her last visit before she died. At the time I had enjoyed a few and then decided to freeze the rest for later so I would -34-
not eat them all at once. When I realized the treasure I had found, I called my brother, Adnan, and told him to put the Arab coffee on the stove, that I was on my way. At his house, I heated up some of the cookies. “Where did you get these? You made cookies!” “Taste them first.” He took a bite. “Mom!” He smiled and sighed. I could see his eyes were wet. That, I thought, is what First Communion should feel like. She was in her cookies. Her food still held her magic after two years in the freezer. Adnan took two cookies and walked to his boys, eight and nine years old, Tarek and Malek, slouched on the couch watching cartoons. “Boys, take this, eat it. Remember Teta? She made these.” “Yeeeew, Teta is dead!” yelled the oldest, and he jumped off the couch to get as far away from the cookies as he could. Over the years at Easter time, I have seen date paste on the shelf at Holy Land Bakery on Central Avenue. A couple of years ago I purchased some, but it sat on my shelf for so long I finally threw it away, thinking I could not make cookies like Mom’s. This year again I saw the date paste. I took some home, brought down a well-worn book of spells that had lost its cover but whose Lebanese author’s name I remembered, “Farah,” Arabic for happiness. I took that for a good omen. I assembled the listed powders and potions on the table. The songs of Fayrooz blasted in the kitchen. Suddenly I was remembering things I had never known: the scent of the dates that rose up to my nostrils as I started kneading the paste, the sticky feel as I rolled them into thin ropes like Mother had, the squish of the dough as I pressed it and set it in the bowl. I was in a trance, seeing my hands on the table at times and at other times seeing my mom’s hands. I was remembering everything as if I had done it a million times. I even remembered to press the sign of the cross into the dough like Mom would do, and I said, “Ism Allah” at the end, invoking God’s blessing. I was praying Mom into the dough and I remembered Abuna Augustine. When the cookies were sufficiently cool, I took a bite. I had tears in my eyes. I picked up the phone and dialed my brother. “Adnan, put the Arab coffee on. I am on my way.” M
Priscilla Wathington Salted Moon The cucumber is a perfect circle a pale crisp moon just big enough for a child’s hand Nothing in my hand they want— tomatoes sliced into hearts soured yoghurt rolled in a ball a green olive, still hissing I offer anyway— bedouin cheese delicately fried apricots rescued from locusts steaming chicken livers with sumac almond infants in their crunchy wombs They choose puffed rice, whole milk in a plastic bowl decorated with fish and take slow, deliberate, slurping bites If there’s more room, they’ll want bacon berries, maybe even the salty Mediterranean moon dipped in chocolate. M
R. Abusahan Steak and Grape Leaves I evade his searing gaze and stare with fake intensity at the platter of sanguine porterhouse steaks he’s holding. Excuses run through my mind. The grill is ready, and in my hand I feel the celebration cigar cherry lose its heat. I reach for the platter with my other hand; however, he isn’t about to let go of the marinated steaks or of the subject. “So are we gonna do it?” he says in a surprisingly weak voice. I tug the platter gently loose from his grasp and say something about not wanting to stink up the house with cigar smoke, then retreat fast from the kitchen. It isn’t an unreasonable question. After all we are celebrating the passage of marriage equality in Minnesota. The state senate just passed the bill auspiciously, today, the 13th of May, 2013, on our very 13th anniversary. The governor’s promising to sign it tomorrow seems a superfluous formality. Unlike the steaks, it is a done deal. For the both of us this is a textbook case of the triumph of basic democratic civics. Our long evenings of phone banking, in addition to our multiple visits to the state capitol and volunteering for the cause, have paid off. We won the fight, and very soon same-sex couples will be able to wed. But, the question I cowardly avoided upstairs keeps nagging for an answer, distracting from the unctuous smell of the charring steak surfaces, their titillating sizzle and the mini-grease fires starting to flare up. Coming out as gay may be portrayed as a joyous cathartic denouement for a secret past lived in shame, but I saw it as an occasion for mourning. When I first uttered the word “gay” to describe myself, it was as if I had spat out the final nail to hammer in the coffin of all my dreams of family, normalcy, and children. This is how it has always been. Integrity and the closet can’t mix. To paraphrase Churchill: There are lies, damned lies, and there’s the kabuki dance of the closet. Yet Minnesota’s marriage ruling, in the stroke of a pen, reverses millennia of exclusion and unveils in full sunlight the true face of our desire: a face yearning for family and for belonging. A face we humans, as members of a social species, are genetically predestined to express. I try to buy time and ask him for a water spray bottle to put out the now-increasing flares of fat fires, taking refuge in the urgency of billowing smoke from the obligatory eye contact. For a moment, I reflect on how adult salmon, in the depth of the salty Pacific, recognize the taste of the freshwater rivers where they were hatched -37-
as small fry, then, with uncanny precision, return to those same streams to spawn. I want to explain to him that navigating back into the teeming waters of family life from deep marginalization is by definition queer for our kind. Whatever highly specialized organ we possessed, the one that homed in on the breeding grounds of family life, must have atrophied as a result of disuse. I suppose it was repurposed into that famed “gaydar” we use to recognize other gays we meet in public. The steaks are now firming up past the desired medium-rare stage, and I know they’ll cook further for a few minutes after I’ve taken them off the grill. Yet, I still I flounder most unromantically to deliver an answer to what is essentially my first marriage proposal. I think of the exotic durian fruit, that Southeast Asian delicacy known as the king of fruits—the fruit with such a pungent smell it offends the olfactory sensibility of non-natives. Many have such a visceral reaction to the odor. They describe it as a combined stench of vomit, well-seasoned stinky gym socks, and rotten flesh. Westerners, it seems, find the smell so repulsive the fruit has been banned from touristy market areas and hotels in countries like Malaysia and Singapore. Before having seen those reactions on YouTube, I seriously considered buying the large fruit, readily available in the freezer of some Asian stores. It looks like green-gray watermelon with spiky skin. What intrigued me was how some Westerners, after having lived in Southeast Asia for a year or more, reported diametrically opposed experiences when re-encountering the fruit. After their extended immersion in the culture, some recount how on a visit to a local market, they’ve come to be drawn by a complex and pleasant aroma only to discover it emanating from the previously malodorous fruit. Sounds drastic, but it’s really a striking anecdotal example of how people’s perceptions are often altered via some subconscious acculturation process. It’s similar to acquiring a palate for various wines, or absolutely loving UmKulthum in adulthood, having hated her whining wails as a youngster. Could it be that my paradoxical reaction to this longsought and now very real possibility of marriage is simply a product of ignorance and unfamiliarity—for instance, as in the case of sex or a first job, when one knows on some level what they entail, only to discover that in practice they present unprecedented levels of diverse commitment of one’s faculties? Luckily, the steak turns out great, and he doesn’t bring up the subject again that evening. Nonetheless, this leaves me with more questions to grapple with. Could my trepidation be better diagnosed as a case of “cold feet,” as it’s referred to in the straight world? I wonder if women might be, for better or worse, better acculturated to the concept of marriage. Or am I suffering a shock akin to what lifelong vegetarians experience when eating meat for the first time -38-
after their digestive system stops producing the proper enzymes to digest animal fat and protein? And what would Mama think? Only yesterday we had lunch at my parents’ house. She made stuffed grape leaves, b’zeit, my favorite. My normally carnivorous boyfriend loved the meatless dish. He was very proud of having picked the wild tender grape leaves. We had been on a bike ride and collected three pounds of them to his loud protests. Still, I made sure he got the credit for braving mosquitoes and harvesting the delectable bounty, the nice sour kind with minimal ribs and no lobes, forming ample pentagons to best hold the plumping rice and medley of onions, tomatoes, mint, and parsley. Mama layered them in neat rows on a bed of thick-cut potato slices to absorb flavors and thicken the broth. The leaves’ acidity shone through the dish, since she made sure to cook them with less than the usual amount of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, to better suit his American palate. The uniform small wraps swaddling their heavenly juicy concoction presented as if a new unit of food. They looked like a new vegetable with white insides dotted with red and green. More deliciously, they yielded like cream under pita bread that sopped up all the zestiness they surrendered. Mama enjoys when we eat heartily, and that we did. She smiled like usual and accepted his compliments for the great spread. I don’t think she dislikes him, but she definitely does not engage him like my dad does. He appreciates his playfulness and enjoys the garden talk they have together. Both my parents know we live in and own the same house a mile down the road from them. Yet, as they enter their late seventies, they are still the masters of the closet kabuki dance. They still pretend my thirteen-year relationship is a phase I’ll outgrow. To them, I’ve always been a foolish rebellious child, who someday will eventually mature. I had hoped the highly charged and public battle for gay marriage in Minnesota would provide an opening for discussion on the matter. But, if they’re not ready, then why upset their worldview? My brother thinks it would be cruel to upset the equilibrium of the small world they have made as they try to hold on to fleeting health and security. I used to spin hypotheses about the conditions necessary for Arabs in the Muslim world to accept gays. The biggest hurdle, aside from dogmatic religion, I theorized, was that we “deviants” represented a rejection of the very idea of family. Since family cohesion held the utmost importance, it followed that when gays were able to marry, the equilibrium would be restored. Gays would no longer be these lost individual salmon that stayed away from the breeding grounds. With marriage, family would be possible again. Different clans
could then unite in kinship when their daughters and sons wed in any combination necessary. However, now I realize, like an impetuous child, I forgot to account for what my mom can attest is the principle ingredient in cooking: Time. Time seems to be the constant one omits as a variable in equations. In reality, it will take time for ideas to marinate in this post-marriage-prohibition culture. I will need time to man-up and to acclimate to the new normal. Gay folks will need time to appreciate the new rights and responsibilities that have been thus far the domain of dreams and futuristic fiction. Who knows, maybe the next time the question of marriage comes up, it will be the right time. M
Shahé Mankerian For the Love of Bread We can’t hold hands in the ration line. Grandmother’s gypsy shawl cannot conceal our wedding band. We’re not husband and wife in West Beirut. Cover your corpulent lips with that godforsaken hijab. Your smile will make the invalid baker suspicious. He knows Christians love pitas baked in Muslim furnaces. We’ll lose the bread, four each, inflated with the breath of God if you cannot control your quivering eyelashes. If we succeed, think of the sliced tomatoes, the sprinkle of dried mint, and the spread of lebneh on the toasted bread, in our bed, in East Beirut, where our god resides. M
Mejdulene Shomali Elegy for Zahra I. her hands held mine the last time i saw her; her skin translucent above the veins and all but worn at the knuckles. her hands, which are my mother’s, taught us how to make lemonada from the abundance of lemons and not life’s lack, to take something which the earth granted and transform it to such sweetness; her hands, which are my sister’s, nipped and tucked the fabric around our waists and shoulders, darting our plainness into beauty, sealing us at the seams with quick stitches; these are the gifts of grandmothers. II. the four of us sisters descend upon my grandmother’s house carrying our kids and my parents along to find her sitting where she always sits, on the right corner of the couch facing the salon, where two of my mother’s six sisters await us with fresh-squeezed carrot juice and shai. my grandmother’s house remains the same but for her side porch which holds my grandfather’s favorite bed and daily resting place, until he went to rest beyond where any of us could see him. gone, too, is the table with scraps of cloth, needles, and a sewing machine where my sitti, a seamstress, would work for hours before her eyes betrayed her. she is hard pressed to recognize us when we come in to greet her, so as we stream in, i stand next to her ear and tell her loudly who is greeting her, like i have seen my own mother do, until she hears me in the commotion outside and inside her mind. here is my sister, here is my niece, here is my mother. two major senses gone, she spends most of our trip just sitting with her hands in her lap, calling out to my eldest aunt to bring us more refreshments. once i asked my mother what sitti might be thinking in her quiet, blurry world and she says she’s turning over all her little sensory losses, wondering if we are being properly attended to, hoping for more of us to come and see her so she can be assured of our safety. we sit a long time, taking turns next to her, holding her hands and running our fingers over her soft, wrinkled skin.
III. sitti asked about each of her children and grandchildren by name, taking the attendance of our accomplishments, seeking solace in words of our wellness, which after years was all she could really hear. sitti called me buttah, told me i was beautiful when i was not. she carried groceries up the stairs, proving her strength beyond my mother's, even when she could no longer see the steps she climbed. sitti made us knafa and kusa, hareesa and hilbah, tatreez and taffeta. her hands knew more about living than her body knew of dying, pushing past what every doctor predicted, stubborn in this as in all things. sitti slipped into a coma sometime over night, her body catching up with her ears and eyes all things quiet quiet while her family bustled around her preparing for what we always knew would come. sitti slipped into death last night, our world catching up with her body all things quiet quiet while the living bustle around us, unprepared for what we always knew would come.
Recipe for Mansaf You start with your Grandmother she makes laban in dry round briquettes that crumble easily and smell tangy like yogurt she sends them home to Amreeka with you in your suitcase amidst your zatar and your zait and your qahwa and so the whole thing smells like longing when you open it up back in your single bedroom apartment on your single bed, trying to remember the touch of her hands on your face like love You get lamb from the grocery store it’s packaged like Amreeka in plastic each piece perfect and processed in some plant the best you can do without your Baba as butcher and your Seedo’s livestock still it smells like Mama’s kitchen Between the ibhar lahmah straight from the iblad and the onions and the garlic you might be okay You wait for the lamb to get hallit fall off the bone tender and blend the briquettes that have been soaking in water and are mostly dissolved with more garlic until it is as smooth as you can get it You get grumpy because it’s not as smooth as your mother’s or grandmother’s but you don’t know their magics resist the urge to strain out the little bumps of flavor resist the urge to drink it straight from the blender
When the lahmah mostly melts add the laban and watch it swirls and bubbles along the broth takes a bit to come together but once it gets to boiling there’s no going back your store-bought lamb and Zahra’s laban are stuck together like second generation immigrant children Leave it on enough to cook the rice which is always too long even on the stovetop or if you are feeling sacrilegious want Sitti to sigh with disappointment and tell you “Ma fish feeha ishi ya sitti, sawwiiha ‘al gaz ahsan” you could try a rice cooker For the full show get some ‘shrak to layer the bottom of the plate or maybe you are too hungry for home so you skip that part along with the toasted pine nuts and almond halves sprinkled on top this operation was never as authentic as you dreamed but the taste, the taste is so right when you ladle the laban over rice and piece up the lamb for some in every bite and before long you are crying into your mansaf because Sitti passed out of this world just months ago and who will send home with you when you can’t go home anymore?
Sahouri Living I. There’s scandal in the ‘hosh which is what we call this family living on top of family that calls across the alley for breakfast, lunch, and coffee breaks Because my cousins are sometimes awful and my uncle is sometimes worse and he keeps hitting me up for cigarettes which I bought at the duty free of course nothing is free and everything is duty since I keep buying his tolerance with packs of camels the easiest of trades, which I think is what Kant meant when he proposed that the law of universals and the law of ends were never in conflict but don’t quote me, I think I got the names wrong, amidst many other things II. At the pool there was a group of boys 16 years old, jumping around in elaborate shows of bravado unaware of their audience, just enamored with besting one another My classmates and I, we were too conscious of each other’s lithe bodies to be so casually undressed As kids we crossed into the ‘48 for mar elias a bunch of us 14 and wanting— one of the boys tried to swim under me push his head between my legs hoist me on his shoulders I sealed my legs so tight he came up for air said to his buddies, “It’s like a safe down there and I couldn’t get in” III. We ate falafel sandwiches from Ifteem bright green interior, crisped brown exterior inside a pita with hummus and shuttah and salata and it takes up my whole mouth with the taste pushing down through me like a root -46-
into the cool ballat of the beranda beranda belcone belcone like my Baba used to sing and Mariam ‘al istooh’ il sha’er ‘am ilooh’ she is hanging the clothes from the laundry all my private things just there for the whole city to see and il qalib majrooh’ bedou . . . so much IV. My mom puts out ‘asha ‘Arabi which is Arab supper which is eggs pan-fried in the butter baladi my Sitti made and apricot jam we made with the fruit of my Seedo’s tree and pita bread from the bakery across the street there is also labneh which tangs on your tongue This one’s made from goat milk and drizzled with olive oil but that could be from anywhere because now that my Tayta is dead I don’t know who presses the olives from my family’s land or even if we still own it after bad uncle sold it out from under his brothers we drink shai il ghazaleen with mint from Baba’s garden V. I count all the things that died since I was a girl the other dahlia the askadinia the lemon tree the yasmeen three of my grandparents and my uncle Fouad whose name means heart but it’s hard to keep this heart beating when you are so sad you’re not even sure what or who else you could stand to lose, min ghair shar, I hope to god inshallah that the answer is khalas: you don’t have to let go of anything more but I think you all know me and we all know better M -47-
Dina El Dessouky First Food Before pizza fish sticks hamburgers chicken nuggets and tater tots before chocolate milk before warak einab and even before fuul mudammas bil aish baladi came Mamaâ€™s breasts Mamaâ€™s breasts were small before I took them from her mine are large now filling with colostrum soon to be milk machines When Mamaâ€™s breasts were full of milk I took them from her without realizing she had little support not yet conscious I turned her breasts to stone She could no longer pump the raw, tender pieces of dried meat and so she filled them with a hormone to make them stop hurting her
And that was when I stole one from her lopped off the first slab of flesh several months after I came out of her body She found the lump She was sure it was from the pills never once blaming her carnivorous child My breasts mark my feminine ego I look at them with a smirk in the mirror and ripe cantaloupe stare back begging to be suckled Mama paid with her breasts first then paid for formula clothes a private room for my budding bosom college by sleeping on the closet floor by buying canned generic brand and frozen foods Mama went to work and gave me a fresh start M
My grandmother made khubz taboun bread baked on rocks in clay ovens in the middle of her Palestinian village Sinking her fingers into the dough there are no rocks in the middle of my motherâ€™s California kitchen but Tupperware bowls and a Bosch oven and stories of who we were But I can feel my motherâ€™s longing and I am longing too for what is lost in translation from mother to daughter when baking bread is not just baking and we become they M
Donya Tag-El-Din Learning to Cook Rice Do you remember when we learned to cook rice? In our apartment in Damascus, halfway up the mountainside In Rukn al Din. I had only ever used an electric stove. I didn’t know how to strike a match Or fill an empty gas tank. Add salt for taste. Or that you had to measure ratios—water to rice. “It can’t be any different from boiling pasta,” Boiling until soft. “Grab that colander. There’s still too much water!” Then giggling and adding spice to cover the taste of starch. The four of us, young girls, learning to be women alone in a country That was not ours. We dug our hands into that earth and tried to grow into it, to have it grow in us. Pressing our fingers deep into the soil at Tishreen Park Where we picnicked—ate American chocolates and ice cream. Why did we spend so much time looking for America in the Middle East? Turning our noses up at waxy Syrian chocolates or too-fizzy soda pop Drank from a plastic bag by the roadside. Five Lira. Now I can’t drink Coca-Cola without thinking it’s too flat. I am not sixteen anymore. My children watch television and my husband reads the news While I measure out the rice, and then the water. Bring to a boil. Turn down the gas and cover. It is cooked properly now, but it does not taste as good As rice strained in a colander by four witless girls Groping their way into womanhood On the side of a mountain in Damascus. M
Hiba Krisht Cooking Cajun-Style Brown Jambalaya as an Arab Lunch is Jambalaya, Cajun-style, brown. You know itâ€™s the real thing because you were gifted the recipe by a Louisiana Cajun whose family has been cooking it in heavy cast-iron skillets for generations. You were gifted this recipe that does not exist on the web or in the pages of anything glossy. You cannot buy it in a store; you will not see it cooked, sparking and popping in the smoky glass of a TV screen. Nobody whose apron is white and not spotted with jubilant grease is cooking jambalaya. And definitely, any jambalaya recipe found anywhere in the Midwest is, by default, most naturally, unobtrusively, undeniably, as inauthentic as cheesecake without cheese. Things are not things if you cut out the fat, because the fat is the meat and the whole and the curvature. And you. You are not Cajun. You are an Arab, displaced. You are a type of brown birthed from blazing buttes and bluffs of sand and scorch and time halfway across the world. The flavors you know are earthy in a milder, olive-based, cracked-and-tumbled-andbaked-wheat sort of way. You are closer to things that are cool and burst: grapes and figs and mulberries and citrus clumping up and down your tawny hills. Your tongue is unused to flavors that will bite and flame, and it cleaves to thick curdling sour things to wash down the closeness your wheat-y, meat-y, lemony-olive things bear to your torn-up earth. You used to swallow yogurt and salt like the salt of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf because it is teeming full of proliferating life-cultures, and it was cold and soothing against the sun which was enough spice for your homelands that have known too much fire. But since you have been away from your homelands you have longed for them and even for the merciless hammer of their heat on your skull with a hunger from the gut. You crave any rich, real, authentic thing of heat. So you long for jambalaya, Cajun-style, and you want it as real and rich and smoky and robust and fatty and scorching and knockyou-down-to-kiss-that-earth that only a Louisiana Cajun who pantomimes his own cooking process as he writes down the steps can give you. Only he can give you what you need to understand that which is not a part of yourself but is as authentic as every throbbing bursting part of you.
And even though nobody sells cast-iron skillets of the right sort anymore, what is real is always morphing quickly enough for substitutions to take on a flavor of their own. He tells you that is the key to jambalaya—a pound of sausage, as thick and fat and juicy as possible—Andouille if you can find it, or smoke-linked, but spicy is a must—types that did not exist years ago but are good and real now. It isn’t new brands and tools that are the problem to a jambalaya— after all, Boudin is authentically Cajun, and the storekeeper will tell you so, but you know the stuffing will fall apart from its casing and your jambalaya will lose the real depth and earth of togetherness and crumble. Togetherness is first, and giving, and love—make your own chicken stock and don’t buy that briny packaged kind. Words come free most of the time but flavors are hard work. Don’t skimp or cut corners with your chicken: have it fat and boneless and juicy and invest in its meat both white and dark, to let the white and dark exuberantly toss itself among itself, white and dark, meat colliding and resparking. This is jambalaya, Cajun-style, brown. And maybe it’s not true that only a Louisiana Cajun can give you this heat, because you can learn it too, with care, because you want this heat, and you want this warmth because it is so cold here across the Atlantic in dead January with rustled ice on cracked walks and frosted streetlights, and you miss the sands of the Arabian desert, the hills coasting the Mediterranean. And you eat your jambalaya, Cajun-style, brown, spicy, and homey. Cajun-Style Brown Jambalaya 1 lb. sausage, sliced 1 1/2 lb. boneless chicken (mix of white and dark), cut into small strips 1 bell pepper, chopped 3 ribs celery, chopped 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped 1–3 tbs. chopped garlic 2 cups chicken stock 2 1/2 cups rice thyme, parsley (about 1 four-fingertip pinch—a dash) Tabasco sauce Cajun seasoning (Tony Chachere’s if possible) Brown chicken in a large pot. Leave it sitting slightly longer than you would normally; it should stick slightly to the bottom of the pot. Make sure to thoroughly cook. Add sausage (which should be precooked). Brown it well. Don’t overstir. -53-
Remove meat and set aside. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Repeat process with veggies. Remember not to stir too early or too often. They will achieve a uniform brown color and stick slightly to the bottom of the pot. Add meat back to pot. Add chicken stock. Add rice. Stir everything. Add seasoning and Tabasco to taste. (Start slowly with those—you can always add more, but you can’t unseason). Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes or until rice is completely soft and liquid is absorbed. About 5 minutes before it’s finished, add parsley and thyme (if desired). Serve. Note on sausage: Andouille is the sausage typically used. You can replace with any smoked link sausage. Spicy sausage would be better. Do not use Boudin if the salesperson tries to push it off on you as “authentic,” as it does not work for this recipe. M
Robert Farid Karimi Questions from a Mixed Race Worker Who Cooks & Reads Ooooh. Don’t. No, Don’t. I mean don’t you just hate it when Palestinians try to cook Korean Food? Where do they get the nerve? To think. They Can make Korean Food? There’s no chickpeas in it. Or doesn’t it just stick in your craw the idea that an Iranian-Guatemalan makes Filipino Food? Can’t he just make yogurt burritos or something? Just because Filipinos clean houses & make up most of the lower classes of Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean he—they—can do this. We should boycott. Don’t get me started. People put kim chi with cheese to make quesadillas . . . Nasty. Kalbi and corn tortillas, okay. But kim chi and cheese? Going too far! Fuck fusion. This is too much. Like the Philippines exhibit in 1904. Largest attended. Everyone. Came from all around. wanted to see the dog-eaters. those exotic creatures! Brought pooches, some their own. Just to see the Filipinos eat the meat. No one cares it was the Igarots: Philippine indigenous roots proudly trying to make their place in the world. The barkers just announced: “Every dog has his day, and every man his meat!” Every culture can be sold, and every American is willing to buy. Coincidence that the “hot dog” was coined at the same World’s Fair because no one wanted to eat a German sausage, but they wanted a hot dog? -55-
Oooh . . . which food shall we lay out for the Americans to ooh and aah like at a World’s Fair exhibit? Yours? Yours. No, no, no. Mine? What’s mine again? The first place I ever ate a roast beef sandwich au jus it was cut by a Chinese man at a place called World’s Fare. A place where you could eat anything in the world. This was America. I thought everyone Asian was international because all the cooks were from Japan, China, and the Philippines. So I was eating Asian food, right? The glazed donut holes we finished our meal with, were made by Filipinas, Mexicanas, and Portuguese women, so the donuts were Filipino/Mexican/Portuguese fusion, right? And since I am a fusion of Asian/Indigenous Latin American/European cultures I am uniquely qualified to express the authentic authenticity of what is fusion, mixed or cross-sectional essential international; Puro expert soy! Don’t GET me started because I may never finish. Especially. About experts. Expert Bald Dudes who tell people who gets to decide what’s authentic Manifesting his pre-ordained destiny (because he is white? Who cares?) calls himself a worldly Expert because he has a Food Show that makes other cultures more Other than Brother, Sister, or Family. Easier to digest the world’s fare when it’s braised with a helping of Fear. He has the nerve to give a Minnesotan Palestinian chef a lesson in geography. Thinking he could teach Zionism or Denyism as if it was an exotic animal -56-
Then (coincidentally) Opens up a World’s Fair–type food truck at the State Fair around the same time? Who does he think he is? I state, is this fair that he gets to call people out on the state of the state just because he ate a tarantula? And now I see this bald dude on every billboard telling kids to be healthy? Next he will prescribe health foreign policy as people die in regions too shocking for Anthony Bourdain to eat a whole meal. He adds to the xenophobia by eating exotic foods and he is an expert on borders? Healthy living? Please . . . hook me up. Give me a million dollars To tell people what their boundaries are to get people to eat healthy. O wait. They only give that to folks who look less ethnic. Thinking people will listen to them. Trust them. My family mistrusts Western doctors, won’t go to the hospital because the American doctors don’t speak their language. These pharmaceuticals think that we’ll listen to Bobby Flay or Paula Deen or Zimmern? Please. Go fork yourself. Don’t get me started. If a white dude who makes brown food becomes a billionaire, is that more authentic than someone’s mom who cooks it at home? What are foodies, are they like goonies, and is Steven Spielberg going to make a movie?
I am getting tired of all these Mexicans and Ecuadorians cooking all these other people’s food! Where do they get off? This is the problem with food in America! All our food is handled by Latinos. They are not authentic! They didn’t go to Cooking School. They are not chefs! They don’t have shows on cable! We need to get rid of them, right? Why do we listen to chefs?
Cooks cook, chefs chef.
Why aren’t we listening to men from the Philippines who cooked for thousands during times of war, or Latina women weaving magical dishes to heal everyday colds, or the man from Egypt, from Alabama, from Palo Alto, you know, he makes that sauce for the ribs so good it makes you just want to slap yourself? I am hungry. We should go have the chicken and waffles made by Costa Ricans. Or Filipino-made Thai food. Or Ecuadoran hamburgers? Hmong Thai, Greek Italian, Ethiopian Italian, Filipino stroganoff Even better, Mexican Kansas City–style ribs And I know a place where the Lao butcher cows, the Guatemalans make bread, and the Salvadorans make your Vietnamese food. You’re not ready for this? Don’t get me started.
AFTERWORD If I Eat Lebneh, I Must Be Lebanese, Right? (food for your head about food) Food is yogurt. Food is CIA infiltrating bananas. Food is. I re-read bell hooks’s “Eating the Other,” one of the essays from her book Black Looks, for this issue. I first devoured it, in 1993, as an angry young Iranian-Guatemalan in my Women of Color in the U.S. class at UCLA. It embodied the late ’80s and early ’90s for me. It gave me language to discuss my bitter irritation with being Otherized. Reading it now, as a less angry man, more jester, more cook, I marveled how hooks’s text damned the entire foodie world—the Disneyland of Food Pleasure, where each “authentic” cultural experience creates a higher high, a new Eater Scouts badge of Foodie Honor. I wrote down some quotations that fed my fire to set the stove for what we have consumed in this issue: Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture. (p. 21) When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups, as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders, sexual practices affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the Other. (p. 23) Concurrently, marginalized groups, deemed Other, who have been ignored, rendered invisible, can be seduced by the emphasis on Otherness, by its commodification, because it offers the promise of recognition and reconciliation. When the dominant culture demands that the other be offered as sign that progressive political change is taking place, that the American Dream can indeed be inclusive of difference, it invites the resurgence of essentialist cultural nationalism. The acknowledged Other must assume recognizable forms. (p. 26)
The cook tells her that black foods are desired because they remind those who eat them of death, and that this is why they cost so much . . . White racism, imperialism, and sexist domination prevail by courageous consumption. It is by eating the Other (in this case, death) that one asserts power and privilege. (p. 36) The over-riding fear is that cultural, ethnic, and racial differences will be continually commodified and offered up as new dishes to enhance the white palate—that the Other will be eaten, consumed, and forgotten. (p. 39) Hooks nourished my anger again. I needed to remind myself of what truths I held self-evident when it came to food, so I penned this: Food is
grandmother that one Authentic thing you remember your grandmother making calling your mother/father for the recipe knowing you can’t cook it (because they don’t know it or you don’t have time), so you write a poem about it to make up for your sense of loss. ***
Food is that way to encounter the Other. At one level, it is how the “White Bread culture” (hooks’s term) gets its jam, its hummus, its whatever-it-needs-to-make-a-colonial-sandwich. At another level, it is how we, the displaced, the exiled, the newly arrived, the members of the non-dominant culture reconnect our lost connection and/or sell it to those in power. We create “authentic” recipes as absolute value representations of how something should be prepared, eaten, so we do not lose our sense of self to be either swept into whiteness or dominant culture–defined Otherness (which is as restricting). The entire foodie movement is based on this principle of cultural cannibalism, whereby eating at various venues offers those a way to feel like they are part of the culture, always seeking a more authentic experience than before. *** Food is food is food is not just a form of fuel to maintain the body. It is a metaphor, a symbol, an avatar. -60-
The person who controls the metaphor, controls the conversation. That control extends to our bodies, our definition of our bodies, and our interpretation of our cultures. I spoke to a bartender at a famed Rick Bayless Mexican restaurant in Chicago, who served me one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had in my life, and I asked him what he thought about the food. He said, “[Rick Bayless] has taken the best recipes of our grandmothers and made a lot of money off of them. He has served us back our own culture, and made it better.” *** Food is
my father’s weekend barbecues of garlic chicken and seared charcoaled green onions in olive oil. how I learned to be American—I measured my manhood by how much I could eat at McDonald’s. Cheeseburgers were for kids, Big Macs for men. ***
My original idea about Arab identity comes from food. Not the media; I am talking the people I encountered. My friend Husain, owner of Ali Baba’s Cave in San Francisco, taught me his secret falafel recipe, and always took the time to tell me a story or just be human with me. In Paris, all the North African crêpe and shwarma sellers would not accept that I was from the United States. “You are not American, no, no. You are Arab!” indicating that my nose revealed my identity. Or the shwarma joint in Grenada where the Bedouin guy tells me, “You Iranian? Hey my cousin loves you guys, he was in Lebanon training with—” Shhhh, let's not go there. We’re talking food, right? There’s no politics in food. *** Food is
the reason the Spanish gave an Italian money they recently took from conquered Muslims. the reason Britain had an empire that never went sunless. a lie Israelis tell when they colonize couscous’s true heritage. ***
The phrase “you are what you eat” pisses me off. I am not Taco Bell or plantains and gallo pinto or fesenjoon and tortillas. Please! I am -61-
not a melting pot. These metaphors reduce me to something easily consumable to be placed in a microwavable TV dinner, whose plate is divided into 5 pieces. *** Food is
the story told at the table the elders dancing in front of me, laughing, reminding me that life is too short to wait to define all their ethnicities—just dance with us they say. to mi mama: “Anything I put on that table, you eat.” ***
I call this the reflexive property of culture (RPC): I am of X culture, thus all things X culture I shall be/consume. Conversely: I shall be/consume all things X culture, thus I am X culture. I see it everywhere. Especially when I tell people I cook. “What cuisine?” The interrogator then constructs one for an Iranian-Guatemalan: “You make plantains? Or do you eat a lot of rice? I love koobideh. You know how to make that?” I respond: “I make authentic IranianGuatemalan food, which means I cook whatever I want.” RPC proves that if I eat enough lebneh, I can become Lebanese. With RPC, before I go to Brazil, I’ll stuff myself at Fogo de Chao, and presto mάgico I will be an authentic Brazilian and not pay the reciprocity fee at the border. Yes! *** Food is
on a journey—farm, boat, distribution center, market, kitchen, plate, nose, mouth— then it hits our system (a part of us) it transmogrifies into a flavor, smell, taste, memory, experience, moment. We can’t fight it. Even in the act of non-eating, you acknowledge the system.
like culture, never stays in one state—from ingredient to dish to energy (unless you cook like my cousin, who’s food was in one state—inedible). ***
An Iranian friend tells me I offend him by my gormeh sabzi recipe I make for the Cooking Show. I make it without beef, since it is called gormeh sabzi (vegetable stew!). His remark, as he exudes his Persian pride: “It is no longer gormeh sabzi without the meat. It can’t be gormeh sabzi. Why don’t you give it another name?” I imagine the foodie police with paddles on motorcycles, circling me, screaming: “YOUR! SABZI! MUST! HAVE! MEAT!” I cringe; I reach for a green armband to defend myself, but what can I really do against culinary theocracy—vote in a new tradition? I do what other exiles do, I call other friends over and invite them for plant-based Persian food. *** Food is
Guatemalans cooking chicken and waffles, a Syrian woman concocting a pasta with tomato sauce & béchamel, my mother, making Filipino pancit, texting me her creation with a :) ***
In this issue, the poem “Salted Moon” caught my stomach and heart’s attention. It made me wonder: If we are born in the United States to immigrant parents of the Levant region or another west Asian region, what is our food? Lumpia? Tacos? Burritos? Big Macs? Sandwiches? Mashed potatoes? When our parents tell us to eat lamb, and we say no, what happens? I refused lamb every time my father put it on the table. It smells, I’d protest. Moving my nose away as if it oppressed me. A few years ago, I ate lamb. How? A Vietnamese chef in the Mission strolled by our table with a new twist on his mother’s recipe—a lamb shank—that he wanted to try out on his customers. Free, he said. I did not refuse his kindness. Now, I am a lamb lover. If an Arab child chooses to eat only quesadillas, is the child no longer Arab? If an Iranian child born in San Francisco eats black beans for breakfast, is he tainted, an outlier that should be removed? In the world of border crossings, changing homes, food grounds us to our notions of home. There’s a thin line between honoring our traditions and delusional nationalist nostalgia. At what point are we treating ourselves and our children like ducks readied to become foie gras—stuffed with cultural foods until they die? Are we refusing our parents? When is it culture; when is it a battle of wills? -63-
*** Food is
Guilt: what we did eat; what we didn’t eat. Magic: chicken marrow that blends into broth so it can heal me. * * *
If we stop to think too much, we will never eat. That’s the difficulty with applying hooks’s theory to food—in the end, we must eat. * * * Without food, there is no Occupy Movement. Without tea being served, Tahrir Square does not exist. The United Farm Workers made me not eat food, grapes, for almost 10 years. * * * As I finalize this piece, the Mixed Remixed Festival e-mails me what at face value seems like a joyous innocuous request—they ask me to go on Twitter and give my #mixedfoodiename. They rationalized: “We thought it was fun when L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti referred to himself as a kosher burrito because of his Mexican and Jewish background.” I imagine hashtagging #wearenotwhatweeat #rememberbellhooks #internalizedracism. I balk. Not wanting to be the angry mixed kid that I used to be, I bite my lip and imagine playing the game: jujeh kebab taco fesenjoon platano abgushte burrito Silliness takes over; the game becomes a daydream of all these specialized ethnic mixed foods dancing together on a drive-in movie screen, enticing the world to eat them. The soundtrack: Pharrell or some cool Avicii remix. My mind’s camera turns away from the screen, to focus on the hungry crowd: those foodies—the courageous consumers—licking their lips with their glowing Facebook statuses waiting to be filled. I wake up, sweating, afraid. Is this my epitaph? Is this my future? Am I just waiting to be consumed and packaged? How do we reach our interrelated subjective relationship with food and our culture, so that we are not eating the Other? How do we make honoring our culture central to our nourishment? How can we enjoy and eat? -64-
* * * My steps: 1. Honor (yourself, your culture, your elders’ wisdom, your community’s wisdom) 2. Listen 3. Absolve yourself (and others) for anything that keeps you from nourishing yourself 4. Remove the expert by doing #1 5. Choose freedom and medicine 6. Understand we are in a capitalist culture; food makes food companies profit 7. Laugh (together) 8. Cook (together) 9. Eat (together) 10. Storytell (before, after, and during eating) 11. Share your recipes (with your family and anyone you consider family) 12. Noosh-e-jaan. Buen Provecho. Sahtein. These and my entire list of quotations at we.kaoticgood.com—great to have while you analyze this issue and the worldwide foodie phenomenon. Remember, food, like our cultures, can be as constricting as freeing, as poisonous as medicinal, as we make it. Robert Farid Karimi, Guest Editor
Robert Karimi, public engagement specialist, multimedia humorist, foodie troublemaker, cook. Most Persians frown upon his Persian food because his Guatemalan mother taught him his Iranian grandmother’s recipes. Karimi started cooking for people as a token of gratitude, then turned it into a comedy cooking experience that has fed tens of thousands. Recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, he’s working on a TV version of his cooking show. More? ThePeoplesCook.org -65-
CONTRIBUTORS R. Abusahan is a resident of Minneapolis–St. Paul, Minnesota. He works in health care, serves on his profession’s state board, and volunteers for local arts organizations. Yasmine Anderson was born in Egypt and moved to the United States as a child. She is an English major at the University of Virginia and her interests include film, theater, and creative writing. Timothy K. August is a PhD candidate in comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. His research examines how cuisine and colonialism shape debates about nationality in ethnic American culture. Mary Barghout lives and writes in south Minneapolis. She recently earned a bachelor’s degree from the Institute of Global Studies at the University of Minnesota. Dina El Dessouky was born in Hamburg to parents from Cairo and immigrated to the United States at the age of 3. She teaches writing at the University of California–Santa Cruz, where she completed her doctorate in literature. She is a 2013 VONA/Voices alumnus, and her work has appeared in Arabesques Review and Kurungabaa. Lana Habash is a Palestinian mother and organizer. She recently completed her first play, Ramani Il Hawa: The Wind of (Love), which premiered May 2013 at Green Street Studios in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her writing and organizing focus on the struggle for Palestinian liberation and other anti-racist, anti-colonial struggles. Hedy Habra is the author of a poetry collection, Tea in Heliopolis, a short story collection, Flying Carpets, and a scholarly book, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa. She has an MA and MFA in English, and an MA and PhD in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University. Her website is HedyHabra.com. Aida Hasan is a child of Palestinian immigrants. Her maternal grandfather came to the United States in 1912. Her writing has been published in My Jerusalem: Essays, Reminiscences, and Poems, The World Healing Book, the Journal of Islamic Studies, Mizna, and on-line and local print publications. Randa Jarrar is the author of the novel A Map of Home. Hiba Krisht is an MFA candidate at Indiana University. She has served as fiction editor for the Beirut-based Rusted Radishes. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, 580 Split, and Evergreen Review. She is a recipient of the Jane Foulkes Malone fellowship from Indiana University and the 2013 JoAnn Athanas Memorial Award in literature from the National Society of Arts and Letters.
Christina Najla LaRose’s work has appeared in Humanity & Society, Third Coast, Live Science, Staccato Fiction, Flashquake, and Mizna. She holds an MFA in creative writing and is currently working on her PhD in English literature at the University of Michigan. Shahé Mankerian’s most rencent manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at two prestigious contests: the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition and the Bibby First Book Competition. His poems have appeard in Mizna. William Nour was born in Nazareth, Palestine, and attended Catholic school in Haifa. He completed high school in South Dakota and graduated with an English education degree from Augustana College. He is inspired by stories from childhood and family life. Micaela Kaibni Raen is an Arab American author, community organizer, and longtime advocate for issues affecting the LGBT and HIV+ communities. Her work has been featured in Tagg Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, A Kiss is Just a Kiss, A Different Path, and The Poetry of Arab Women: A Contemporary Anthology. Michelle Ramadan is a Lebanese American who teaches Middle Eastern literature and creative writing at a small independent day school in Massachusetts. She received a degree in comparative literature from Brown University, where she studied Arabic and Chinese literature. Joseph Rathgeber is a writer and high school English teacher from Clifton, New Jersey. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Fourteen Hills, J Journal, North Dakota Quarterly, Main Street Rag, Aethlon, The Literary Review, Ellipsis, Assaracus, Hiram Poetry Review, Blue Collar Review, and Spillway. He has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Mejdulene B. Shomali is a PhD candidate in the American Culture Department at the University of Michigan. She is a writer, teacher, and popular culture enthusiast. Donya Tag-El-Din is a Canadian poet and writer of Egyptian and English descent and is completing her PhD in literature at York University in Toronto. Her work has been featured in various zines as well as in Spirit, and the poetry collections Whiskey Sour City and Homebound: Muslim Women’s Poetry Collection. Priscilla Wathington is a Palestinian American poet whose work has previously appeared in Rosebud Magazine and The Baltimore Review. She holds an MA in Arab studies from Georgetown University. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two young boys.
DONORS As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, Mizna depends largely on donor contributions for our operating costs. If you enjoy this publication and would like to support Mizna, please consider a tax-deductible donation. Mizna Donor ($5–$49)
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SUBMISSION GUIDELINES Mizna continuously seeks original writing for upcoming publications. Contributors do not have to be of Arab descent provided their work is of relevance to the Arab-American community. If you would like your work to be considered for publication, please send your submission and a short biography (maximum 50 words) via e-mail as attachments to firstname.lastname@example.org, with â€œsubmissionâ€? in the subject line. Please include your name, mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number. The attachments should be standard word-processing program files. Prose should be double-spaced and limited to 2500 words. Kindly limit poetry submissions to four poems per submission. Verses exceeding our page width will be treated with a runover indent. Proofs can be made available for author approval before publication. Writers whose work is published in Mizna will receive a stipend and complimentary copies of the journal. Due to the volume of submissions received, those not conforming to the above guidelines, as well as material previously published in any other English-language forum, will not be considered.
BACK ISSUES Volume 1, Issue 1, 1999: Saleh Abudayyeh, Saladdin Ahmed, Mohammed Almosa, Ahimsa T. Bodhrán, Kathryn Haddad, Nathalie Handal, Nadia Higgins, Joanna Kadi, Lisa Suheir Majaj, and visual art by Adnan Shati.
Volume 1, Issue 2, 1999: Suheir Hammad, Annemarie Jacir, Ziad Shakir el-Jishi, Pauline Kaldas, Nahid Khan, Abd al-Hayy Moore, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Williams, and visual art by Fawzia Reda.
Volume 1, Issue 3, 1999: Elmaz Abinader, Sadida Athaulla, Najib Ghadbian, Lisa Gizzi, Mohja Kahf, Susan Bassam Muaddi, Anna Reckin, Nasser Yanbeiy, Alia Yunis, and visual art by Cathy Camper.
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2000: Jalaa’ Anwar Abdelwahab, Ibtisam Barakat, Edith Dunn, Lorie Haddad, Rawi Hage, Dima Hilal, Mark Riad Mikhael, Shareef Riad, Steven Salaita, and visual art by Hend Al-Mansour.
Volume 2, Issue 2, 2000: Esam Abdel Aal, Kazim Ali, Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Issa J. Boullata, Aida Hassan, Joanna Kadi, Nahid Khan, Hassan Mekouar, Youssef Rakha, and visual art by Natalia Yatsukhina.
Volume 2, Issue 3, 2000: Kareem Aal, Amani Elkassabani, Lisa Gizzi, Yussef El Guindi, Mark Hage, Rouane Itani, Graydon Kouri, Dunya Mikhail, Zahera Saed, Stan West, and visual art by Jen Camper.
Volume 3, Issue 1, 2001: Kitty Aal, Saladin Ahmed, Sidi Benzahra, Ralph Hajj, Noor Hanna, Nadia Higgins, Ziad Shaker el-Jishi, G.T. Khouri, Alix Kolar, Gary Paul Nabhan, Nigel Parry, Dahlia Petrus, Betty Shamieh, Helga Tawil, and visual art by Rawi Hage.
Volume 3, Issue 2, 2001: Kazim Ali, Ibtisam Barakat, Edith Dunn, Eva Elias, Chris Ellery, Annemarie Jacir, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Rima Najjar Kapitan, D.H. Melhem, Susan Muaddi, Pamela Nice, Steven Salaita, Lubna Warawra, and visual art by Lucien Samaha.
Volume 3, Issue 3, 2001: Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Cathy Camper, Cherien Dabis, Yussef El Guindi, Dima Hilal, Mohja Kahf, Sinan Khatib, Khaled Mattawa, Corey Wade, Layla El-Wafi, David Williams, and visual art by Emily Jacir.
Volume 4, Issue 1, 2002: Esam Aal, Rae’d Abu-Ghazaleh, Hannah Allam, Nabila Assaf, Kathryn Buck, Shaw J. Dallal, Rasha Ghappour, Rawi Hage, Marwa Hassoun, Zahie El Kouri, Lisa Suhair Majaj, A.Y. May, David Mura, Ruba Sadi, Sarah Hope Zogby, and visual art by Yasser Aggour.
Volume 4, Issue 2, 2002: R. Abusahan, Nadeen Al-Jijakli, Jennifer Molina Balbuena, Sidi Benzahra, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Deana El-Farouki Dueno, Angele Ellis, Sura Faraj, Ghassan Ghraizi, Katherine Glover, Leah Ida Harris, Edward Bok Lee, Robyne Robinson, Ahmed Tharwat, and visual art by Marwan Sahmarani. Volume 5, Issue 1, 2003: Stephen Ajay, Evelyn Alsultany, Ibtisam S. Barakat, Lamya el-Chidiac, Amani Elkassabani, Nahid Khan, D.H. Melhem, Nasreen Mohamed, Gregory Orfalea, Sachin B. Patel, Juliana Pegues, Wade Savitt, and visual art by Zena el-Khalil.
Volume 5, Issue 2, 2003: Assef Al-Jundi, Sidi Benzahra, Tammi Mohamed Brown, Cathy Camper, Leila Darabi, Raff Ellis, Noura Erakat, Morad Fareed, Yussef El Guindi, Laila Halaby, Suheir Hammad, Amira Jarmakani, Nadeen Al-Jijakli, Joanna Kadi, Pauline Kaldas, Sahar Kayyal, Naomi Shihab Nye, and visual art by Nida Sinnokrot. Volume 6, Issue 1, 2004 (Edward Said Memorial): Mazher Al-Zo‘by, Naseer H. Aruri, John Asfour, Ibtisam Barakat, Paul Barrows, Brian Cronwall, Susan Muaddi Darraj, Nathalie Handal, Jennifer Min Hong, Iron Sheik, Raúl Gómez Jattin, Joanna Kadi, Mohja Kahf, Myung-Hee Kim, Ramzi Moufarej, Najla Said, Junichi P. Semitsu, Laila Shereen, and visual art by Aissa Deebi. Volume 6, Issue 2, 2004: R. Abusahan, Anwar F. Accawi, Mariam Alsharif, Barbara Bedway, D. Daryoush, Shelley Ettinger, Mahmoud Kaabour, Ismail Khalidi, Laila Lalami, Gregory Orfalea, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Ziana Qaiser-Raza, Manel Saddique, Anaïs Alexandra Tekerian, David Williams, Alia Yunis, and visual art by Marya Kazoun. Volume 7, Issue 1, 2005 (Humor and Satire): Ibtisam S. Barakat, Jennifer Camper, Yussef El Guindi, Kathryn Haddad, Rosina Hassoun, Jason Makansi, D.H. Melhem, Santiago Nasar, Samir M. Nassar, William Nour, Dean Obeidallah, Bushra Rehman, Ahmed Tharwat, Patricia S. Ward, and visual art by Nic Barbeln. Volume 7, Issue 2, 2005: Rana Abdul-Aziz, Stephen Ajay, Bushra Azzouz, Paul Kaidy Barrows, Tami Mohamed Brown, Kay Hardy Campbell, Angele Ellis, Hedy Habra, Ali Hazzah, Assef Al-Jundi, Mahmoud Kaabour, Pauline Kaldas, Kathryn Kysar, Amy E. Levine, Shahé Mankerian, Rasha Salti, Zeina Azzam Seikaly, and visual art by Bashar Azzouz. Volume 8, Issue 1, 2006: R. Abusahan, Habib Albi, Brooke Anthony, Robert Booras, Annie Chuang, Brian Cronwall, D. Daryoush, Amani Elkassabani, Mazen Halabi, Ismail Khalidi, Philip Metres, P.A. Pashibin, Patricia Sarrafian Ward, Sophia Michelle Yohannes, Ahmed Ismail Yusuf, and visual art by Hamdi Attia.
Volume 8, Issue 2, 2006 (Lebanon): John Asfour, Tamiko Beyer, Rewa Z. Choueiri, Rhonda W. Chiodo, Faye George, H. Palmer Hall, Dima Hilal, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Yahia S. Lababidi, Amy E. Levine, Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, William Nour, Bushra Rehman, Junichi P. Semitsu, Fouzi Slisli, Mary Tabakow, Ahmed Tharwat, David Williams, Andy Young, Alia Yunis, Claire Zoghb. Visual art by Mazen Kerbaj, Zena el-Khalil, Randa Mirza, and Jana Traboulsi. Volume 9, Issue 1, 2007 (Latitudes 2007): Ibrahim N. Abusharif, Rewa Zeinati Choueiri, D. Daryoush, Layla Dowlatshahi, Nouri Gana, Sarah Husain, Ismail Khalidi, Nadine Khalil, Taous Khazem, Yahia Lababidi, Jen March, Philip Metres, Cécile Oumhani, Sherene Seikaly, Sophia Michelle Yohannes, and visual art by Sharif Waked. Volume 9, Issue 2, 2007 (Family): R. Abusahan, Lisa Adwan, John Asfour, Layla Dowlatshahi, Hedy Habra, Marian Haddad, Laila Halaby, Badria Jazairi, Pauline Kaldas, Taous Khazem, Kathryn Kysar, Jen March, Weam Namou-Yatooma, William Nour, Mary Taddia, Teresa Whitman, and visual art by Athir Shayota. Volume 10, 2008: Charlotte Albrecht, Niebal Atiyeh, Mary Barghout, Wendy Brown-Baez, Robert Caisley, Catherine Coray, Lorena Duarte, Yussef El Guindi, Randy Holland, Gordon Hon, Sham-e-Ali al-Jamil, Assef Al-Jundi, Beverly Monestier, Mike Rollin, Nadine Sinno, and visual art by Bashir Makhoul. Volume 11, 2009: Anya Achtenberg, Hannah Lillith Assadi, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Richard Broderick, Mahmoud Darwish, May Hawas, Fady Joudah, Taous Claire Khazem, D.H. Melhem, Philip Metres, David Mura, Gregory Orfalea, and visual art by Walid Raad.
Volume 12, 2011: Faisal Alahmad, Niebal Atiyeh, Mary Barghout, Susan Muaddi Darraj, D. Daryoush, Benjamin Arda Doty, Yussef El Guindi, David Jalajel, Nahid Khan, Bayan Khatib, Yahia Lababidi, Abdifatah Shafat, Mejdulene Shomali, Helga Tawil-Souri, and visual art by Oraib Toukan.
Volume 13, Issue 1, 2012 (Literature in Revolution): R. Abusahan, Maimouna Alammar, Andrea Assaf, John Asfour, Mohammed A. Bamyeh, Mary Barghout, Angele Ellis, Hedy Habra, Mohja Kahf, Remi Kanazi, Hassan Mekouar, Shady El Noshokaty, Dina Omar, Tasnim Qutait, Burt Ritchie, Khaldoun Samman, Leila Tayeb, Andy Young, and visual art by Ahmed Basiony. Volume 13, Issue 2, 2012: Andrea Assaf, Zeina Hashem Beck, Tami Mohamed Brown, Yahya Frederickson, Amir Hussain, Lameece Issaq, Jacob Kader, Lola Koundakjian, Yahia Lababidi, Christina Najla LaRose, ShahĂŠ Mankerian, Philip Metres, Amy Patrick Mossman, Sahar Mustafah, Glenn Shaheen, Nadine Sinno, and visual art by Ismail Al Rifai. Volume 14, 2013: Bilal Alkatout, Hala Alyan, Marguerite Dabaie, Shokry Eldaly, Yahya Frederickson, Catherine Fletcher, Layla Azmi Goushey, Yussef El Guindi, Hedy Habra, Joe Kadi, Ismail Khalidi, ShahĂŠ Mankerian, Shannon O'Neill, Joseph Rathgeber, Sagirah Shahid, and visual art by Osama Esid.
SUBSCRIPTIONS Annual subscriptions: U.S./Canada: $20/year or $35/two years International: $35/year or $65/two years Institutional: $60/year or $100/two years Individual issues (add $1.50 each for postage): U.S./Canada: $10 International: $17.50 Subscribe on our website at mizna.org. Or, send check or money order to: Mizna 2446 University Ave. W. Suite 115 St. Paul, MN 55114
Visit mizna.org to order a hardcopy of this issue and to subscribe to the journal. Featuring: Special Theme: EATING THE OTHER. Guest Editors...
Published on Sep 1, 2014
Visit mizna.org to order a hardcopy of this issue and to subscribe to the journal. Featuring: Special Theme: EATING THE OTHER. Guest Editors...