Arab Fest boasts fun for whole family
Music, dance, food attract many to festival
There will be something for everyone at the sixth annual Arab Fest at Headwaters Park on June 4-5.
Along with Mediterranean food, musicians, dancers, artists, and caterers are coming in from Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and New York. The souk (or bazaar) will feature booths of local boutiques and artists, including henna painting, colorful clothing, beads, handcrafted soap, coffee, and tea.
For the kids, there will be camels to ride, and the Allen County Public Library will have a story tent with activities.
“This is a place for fun,” spokesperson Dr. Assem Nasr said of the festival, which began in 2015. “This is a place for just letting go and enjoying it, like we do back home with family.”
finding way to United states
So why have an Arab festival in Fort Wayne? According to Nasr, it’s about gratitude and giving back to a welcoming and supportive community.
At Purdue University Fort Wayne, Nasr, an associate professor, teaches media studies and international communication.
Originally from Lebanon, Nasr earned his doctorate at the University of Texas and has been a Fort Wayne resident since 2010. He is a member of the small committee that is putting on this year’s festival after the all-too-familiar two-year hiatus.
Key support also comes from the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace, a Fort Wayne nonprofit group.
“Their main function is education and bringing people together to understand issues regarding conflicts in Middle East: human rights and social justice,” Nasr said of the nonprofit.
“Arab communities have been in Fort Wayne since the early 1900s,” he added. “In my work, I do research on culture. I found that there were communities from Lebanon that moved here in the early 1900s, during the Ottoman rule. Fort Wayne happened to be the place where they landed. They worked as peddlers and merchants.
“Since that time you have generation upon generation. Yet the roots of the places from which they come are still there.”
Nasr happily points out that the Lebanese-to-New World connection is greater than just to the U.S. There is also a Lebanese tradition in Mexico.
“My Lebanese mother has a Mexican passport,” he said. “She was born in Mexico because my grandfather immigrated there in the 1930s, and his brother had been there before him.”
In Fort Wayne, most of the Arab community comes from the Levant: Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. There are also quite a few from Yemen.
“Here in Fort Wayne are three or four stores that sell Arabic foods, mostly owned by Yemenis,” Nasr said. “It’s becoming more diverse recently because the Yemenis came as part of the relocation resulting from the conflicts that were going on in Yemen from 20 or 30 years ago. I know that there are also people from Sudan and Libya.”
“There are professionals and academics who have contributed much to this city,” Nasr added. “I came here and looked for a primary care physician, and I realized, ‘Wow, I think I know where this person is from.’ I still find it fascinating that in almost every level of profession, you have this diversity. More recently, that’s probably because people move to the United States for higher education, then they find careers, like in my case.”
day of fun
Music and dance will be a large part of the festivities at Arab Fest as the Malley Family Band and the Thowra Dabke Troupe will be on hand.
Ronnie Malley, based in Chicago, is a singer and player of the oud, the 11-string fretless instrument that predates the Western guitar.
“Ronnie is an incredible musician,” Nasr said. “He has been coming to our festival, and performing in Fort Wayne beyond that, for the past six or seven years.”
The Thowra Dabke Troupe from Michigan will thrill the audience with colorful, energetic, and athletic traditional wedding and festival line dancing. Nasr explains this comes from the Levant and goes back to the 1700s.
And of course, there are the camel rides.
“People just love it because they’re exotic animals,” Nasr said. “The kids get to ride on them. And it’s like a laugh riot when they jiggle and wiggle on top of those beasts. But honestly, coming from Lebanon, I had never seen a camel before coming to the United States!
“I can say that among the various cultures who come to the United States, individuals find themselves in a place of fantastic opportunities. They take advantage of that and build their lives and careers and families.”
Speaking for the people putting on this festival, Nasr said, “It’s out of a sense of gratitude. For all of the contributions that we make, we also feel that we owe a payback to the community. It’s very humbling.
“The reception to our festivals has been outstanding, especially when good food is key. Our reputation has been growing. We have many returning patrons. It’s the fun of having it and the fun of seeing people enjoy what we grew up with.”