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Arab American National Museum Seeks to Dispel Stereotypes

There are scores of museums in the United States, to educate the public about specific ethnic groups, but not until two years ago was there one devoted to Arab Americans. That is when the Arab American National Museum opened in Dearborn, Michigan, near Detroit. VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi recently toured the museum and has this report.

The Arab American National Museum sits across the street from Dearborn City Hall, indicative of how Arab Americans are an integral part of American society.

Museum Director Anan Ameri told us, "When people come and visit the exhibits, they say, if they are Latin Americans or Italian Americans: 'Oh, this is like my father's story, my grandmother's story.' And in the bottom end of it, the Arab American story is really the American story, the story of immigrants coming to this country from all parts of the world to create better lives for themselves and for their children."

Muslim civilizations in medicine, architecture, science and music. Visitors then are introduced to the Arab world today before they start their tour of exhibits that tell the Arab American story.

Celine Taminian is the director of educational programs. "On the second floor we have three major exhibits or galleries: Coming to America, Living in America and Making an Impact,” she says. "Through these exhibits we teach students who live in America about the Arab culture and Arab Americans who live here in the U.S., about their lifestyle, about the work they do, how they came to the U.S. and what their impact is on this culture and on this country."

She says the most fascinating exhibit for most visitors is "Making an Impact." She says they are amazed by how many faces they know -- in politics, former Senator George Mitchell and former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham; in science, Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zowail; in sports, former football star Doug Flutie; and in entertainment, actors Kathy Najimy and Tony Shalhoub. Museum visitors often find it an eye-opener on Arab culture and Arab Americans.

Barbara Aswad is a professor of anthropology at University of California. "Americans absolutely do not know enough about Arabs, and certainly about Arab Americans. They do not know their history, and I hope eventually they will get more history in this museum."

And one young visitor finds something else. "I think it is nice because it has all these details you know, stuff about Muslims and all that."

Ralph Valdez is the museum's director of cultural programs. He says the museum organizes a multi-cultural music series to demonstrate the common ground that different cultures share. "They can see in the art, similarities of themes of love, family and devotion and very many things that people of all nationalities and ethnicities celebrate in their art,” he said. “They see the commonalities and that helps them to open their understanding and get away from the stereotypes."

Since its opening two years ago, more than 80,000 people have visited the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, and it has become a well known resource for documented information about Arabs and Arab Americans .