America’s melting pot doesn’t always do the best job of highlighting each ingredient. While national propaganda frequently asks us to fear the “other,” common sense leads us to educate one another about traditions and cultures of our neighbors and friends.
The Arab Cultural and Community Center — ACCC — is one such organization that is providing a free opportunity to learn about the arts, entertainment, cuisine, traditions and spirit of Arab Americans and the Arab world at the Arab Cultural Festival on Oct. 6 in Union Square.
Celebrating its 18th year, the festival is a staple for the ACCC as they work to foster Arab community involvement, empowerment and services. Last year, about 15,000 people came to Union Square for the event and organizers expect that number to increase to 17,000 this year.
With support from the San Francisco Recreation and Parks, Alliance for California Traditional Arts and other sponsors, the ACCC features artists, musicians, businesses and organizations from the Arab community. “This year, the ACCC has a stellar lineup of the most innovative Arab artists committing their life’s work to the cultivation of a stronger public appreciation for the arts,” said ACCC Executive Director Loubna Qutami.
Qutami added, “With delicious sweet and savory treats, and a bazaar that ranges in products for sale from T-shirts to spices, art, calligraphy and traditional embroidery, we are confident this year continues on the years’ past legacy of the cultural festival with a contemporary twist! We do have some surprise performances in store for the day and some thrilling children’s activities.”
Among the performers will be the North African fusion band, The Dunes; Palestinian Emcee Excentrik; singer and songwriter, Naima Shalhoub; a traditional Palestinian dabke dance troupe, Al-Juthoor; a Sudanese dance group, Shabbal; classical virtuoso and singer, Naser Musa; popular Egyptian singer, Maram Roma; and derbakki master, Faisal Zedan. Booths and vendors will be on hand to display cuisine, jewelry, paintings and textiles by businesses and organizations involved in the Arab community.
Qutami said that events such as the Arab Cultural Festival create a change in perception and foster a better understanding of the Arab community. The festival is a chance to participate in the rich and diverse cultural landscape of San Francisco and the Bay Area at large. A
ttendees will “expand their knowledge and appreciation for Arab communities, histories, narratives, cultures and art through a multifaceted approach to Arab diversity and culture,” according to Qutami. “Sharing the diverse and beautiful history of Arab people through the arts allows narratives that are self-determined to be shared in the public sphere,” Qutami said, as he continued explaining how the arts can help bridge the gap between cultures.
In this respect, Qutami added, “In and of itself, these narratives and the opportunity for intercultural understanding and exchange cultivates a stronger appreciation for our greater community and allows us to collectively participate in confronting racially motivated stereotypes and attacks on those vulnerable in the midst of heightened levels of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in society today.”
The ACCC has played a pivotal role in providing services to the Arab community since its beginnings in 1973. In addition to offering social services, youth programming and cultural programming, the ACCC is the only organization in Northern California to provide domestic violence and sexual assault education programs to Arab and Muslim survivors of domestic violence.
“The ACCC has in many ways been a forerunner of Arab community empowerment and services,” said Qutami. “We have engaged many generations and a diversity of Arab and non-Arab communities as part of our community building work and believe we have achieved monumental victories and milestones in centuries past. “Approaching our 40th year, we are looking to continue growing our programs, membership base, reach and impact in the community, and hopefully even our facilities. Our community has outgrown our location, and they are in need of new facilities!
“We hope to do all this, while being grounded in community, thoughtful, reflective and critical about the changes our community is experiencing, the needs that are most pervasive, and the struggles that we are facing as an Arab community in the Bay Area,” Qutami concluded.
To get involved in the ACCC, or to learn more about the Arab Cultural Festival, go online at www.arabculturalcenter.org, check the Facebook page at www.facebook.com>www.facebook.com/ArabCulturalandCommunityCenter, or call 415.664.2200.
As we learn about each other and accept both our differences and similarities, the melting pot delivers the fullest flavor. Experience some of that flavor at the Arab Cultural Festival on Oct. 6.