Palestinians Tell Their Stories at Alameda Library

Everyone has a life story, and many are being told at Alameda’s Main Library at 1550 Oak Street.  An exhibit that combines black-and-white portraits of 26 Bay Area Palestinians with audio recordings is on display.  The library’s largest meeting room was filled to capacity with well over one hundred people for the opening reception on February 11.

The multimedia storytelling project “Home Away from Home:  Little Palestine by the Bay” showcases recorded interviews with Palestinian-Americans that reveal the complexities of living with hopes for Palestine in a country that is often hostile to those aspirations.

The reception kicked off the month-long multimedia exhibit at the library.  It featured tables of Middle Eastern food catered by Oakland’s Bacheesos Restaurant.  A musical duo from Oakland, Birana di Mara on violin and Faisal on percussion, added ambience with their authentic Arabic selections.

“Alameda is a tapestry of many cultures, races, ethnicities and religions that make us a vibrant, diverse community,” stated Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who is of Lebanese and Syrian descent, as she welcomed the crowd.  “Alameda has a rich history of Palestinian residents and businesses.”

The overall theme of the exhibit draws on the immigrant experience and the importance of belonging, weaving together experiences from both Palestine and the Bay Area.  As evidenced in print and on our airwaves, fear and distrust often get in the way of understanding that human experience.  The library exhibit attempts to break down stereotypes, offering an all-too-rare opportunity for Palestinian-Americans to have a voice of their own.

The exhibit features the work of Bay Area documentary photographer Najib Joe Hakim.  Hakim is an award-winning San Francisco–based freelance photographer and photojournalist whose work has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines.  “The concept of ‘home’ transcends national allegiances and other barriers people erect,” says Hakim.  “Home is a place where past, present, and future reside.”

Stories include ones from a Catholic priest, a police chief, a student, a mathematics professor, an evangelical Christian, and a structural engineer, to name a few.  One man was proud to point out that his U.S. passport showed his 1938 place of birth as Palestine.

“America is home,” said Elias Tuma who emigrated from the town of Kafr Yassif in Palestine in 1955.  “The people and institutions here have been very nice to me, so I would like to acknowledge that. That doesn’t mean that I will forget Kafr Yassif.”

The original funding for “Home Away from Home” came from a San Francisco Arts Commission’s Cultural Equity Grant and the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (Beirut).  Friends of Wadi Foquin and the Arab Cultural and Community Center, San Francisco are co-sponsoring the exhibit, which will run through Sunday, March 11.

The exhibit is primarily on the second floor of the library with some photos on the first floor.  Interviews in the subjects’ own voices can be listened to with smart phones.  Use the phone camera to scan QR codes next to the portraits and texts.  Be sure to use ear buds when listening in the library.

Originally published in Alameda Sun.

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