Humanities Café Showcases Middle Eastern Life and Culture Through the Eyes of ISU Faculty and Students to Celebrate Diversity
The College of Arts & Letters held its first Humanities Café of the year on Sept. 15 aligning with the year-long theme of diversity. The focus of this event was the diversity of Middle Eastern life, and brought together four speakers who spoke on topics ranging from literature to life experiences to art. The attendees were able to listen to the life stories of Tirazeh Eslami, a graduate student in art. Azza Abugharsa, an instructor at the Intensive English Institute at ISU and Vice President of the Islamic society of Southeastern Idaho, Noran Amin, Egyptian novelist and ISU graduate student instructor and Dr. Zack Heern, assistant professor of history.
Although the experiences of these different individuals varied they also had a common thread. All three women spoke of the importance of the lessons they have learned between the difference in the life they lived in the Middle East to the life they live now.
“Being from Iran and listening to the presentation about Islamic arts and Persian arts was very unique,” Eslami said. “I felt like I was home.”
Amin shared details about a novel she is writing that focuses on the life of an Egyptian woman living in New York City who owns a coffee shop. The novel tells the stories of different individuals that her main character has been presented with. She chose to write her novel in Arabic so that she could more easily express the ways in which she wanted to present her characters and their lives. She spoke about how writing this novel has helped her find her own voice as a Middle Eastern woman and how she feels she is giving Middle Eastern women a voice as well.
Next, Eslami showcased her artwork and the comparison between the art that she had developed from the customs and norms that she learned in her home country of Iran and her work now. Since living in the United States, she said her art has been translated into a new form that portrays how she sees herself as a warrior in her own artwork rather than the warriors that were depicted in her home country.
Heern focused his discussion on the importance the Middle East plays in the lives of Americans today and spoke about the different ways in which writing was presented within the Quran. He also pointed to different pieces of literature, architecture and calligraphy and showed how it was used to beautify buildings while still spreading a message. He also gave advice on how to understand how influential Middle Eastern writing is today in the United States.
Last, Abugharsa spoke about her experiences coming to ISU to teach English as a second language for individuals whose native language is not English. She also spoke about her home of Libya where she had a much different life, where she wasn’t forced to work and had fewer responsibilities. She now works and raises her daughter in traditional Libyan customs that she lives every day. She showed an example of this through her daughter participating in fencing that will allow her to wear the traditional hijab.
“I have learned how to depend on myself and how to enjoy hard work,” Abugharsa said. “I have learned that diversity is what gives color to our life. Humans are like a puzzle; no two pieces are the same yet every piece is needed to complete the full picture.”
Kathleen Kole de Peralta, assistant history professor and co-coordinator of the event, sees this year’s Humanities Café as a way to build bridges between the ISU campus and the city of Pocatello.
“Last year there were a number of unfortunate events that targeted and intimidated the community, especially the international student population on campus,” Kole de Peralta said. “We want to take proactive measures to send the opposite message to celebrate the great things our diverse community has to offer.”
The next Humanities Café will be held on Nov. 3 at the Westside Players Pocatello Warehouse (1009 S. 2nd Ave in Pocatello) with the continued theme of diversity.
Written by Nicholas Tarbet, College of Arts & Letters Intern