It is our pleasure to announce that October 27-29, IARP will partner with the Guthrie Theater to present Birds Sing Differently Here. In conjunction with the performance, audiences will be able to engage with the work from IARP’s Iraqi Voices program, a collaborative art lab that gives Iraqi immigrants and refugees in Minnesota a platform to share their stories through bookmaking, documentary filmmaking and visual art.
Birds Sing Differently Here is a theater piece based on the true stories of 12 Iraqi-Minnesotan refugees and immigrants, directed by Taous Claire Khazem and created by Dylan Fresco, Taous Claire Khazem and Iraqi Voices program participants. Birds Sing Differently Here weaves together tales of sweetness, sorrow, grief and discovery. Inventively performed in both English and Arabic, participants come together with a cast of professional actors to tell “the story of a thousand olive pits and seven thousand praises, tokens of love and a chilling escape from the desert of death.”
The Iraqi Voices participants and ensemble include: Nada Alabbasi, Sumaya Ameen, Ali Alshammaa, Hannaa Al-Azzawi, Abdullah Flaija, Salwa Mohialdeen, Adel Naji, Arwa Naji, Dhifaf Sarhan, Mazin Chilab, Ahmed Al Shaikhli, Bahaa Al Shaikhli, Rawan Al Shaikhli, with Mohammed Yabdri, Dylan Fresco, Aamera Siddiqui and Ashawnti Ford.
In early 2017, IARP established a women’s friendship group as a chance for the women to be hosted in each others’ homes, interact in a positive space, and engage with the diversity of each others’ cultures. This group has been a huge success; in fact, IARP has already received inquiries about starting new groups.
Group member and coordinator Sue Johnston touches on one of the goals of the group in her words below,
“Today I celebrated my 200th day of resisting Trump, with the Iraqi/American Women’s Friendship Group. Through the Iraqi American Reconciliation Project, I have the opportunity to spend time each month with these fun and interesting Iraqi-Minnesotans.
How is this resisting Trump? Trump said in Poland: “We (western civilization) write symphonies…..we reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success, We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. ” I resist this world view that denigrates the contributions of Iraqi and Middle Eastern culture. These women are educated, cultured, strong and funny. The more we open up to those who are different from us, the richer we and our culture becomes!”
The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project recently teamed up with The Good Girl’s Giving Club to hold a cooking class. The Good Girl’s Giving Club is a group of women who meet every month to discuss and donate to a worthy cause. Each month, the group is hosted at a different house, and the host is responsible for choosing an individual or an organization to receive the donation. On Tuesday, July 11, IARP met with eight of these women when we were invited to teach a cooking class.
Shaymaa Jakjook was our honorary Iraqi chef for the night. Shaymaa taught us all how to make an Iraqi version of Chicken Biryni. This is a multi-layered meal with chicken, rice, and a mixture of Arabic noodles, raisins, and almonds. We also had a lesson on how to make Iraqi bread. Shaymaa brought prepared dough that had already risen. She went through the process of stretching the dough, creating the shape, and her expert technique of flipping the dough onto a hot pan. Once Shaymaa had shown the steps a couple of times, some of the other women tried their hand at the art of making Iraqi bread.
While we cooked, the women in the giving group had an opportunity to hear Shaymaa’s story about coming to the United States as well as the story of her life in Iraq. As we sat down to dinner, Shaymaa’s phone began to play the call to prayer. This sparked a discussion on praying: how often Muslims pray, the routine of prayers, the differences between subject matter of prayers, etc. It is always refreshing to take part in conversations such as this one. All of the women in attendance were asking great questions and listening with open minds while also sharing their stories in a welcoming environment. This was my first Iraqi cooking class and it perfectly embodied the ideals behind out People to People project. This group of women helped us reach our goal of fostering cultural exchanges and intercultural understanding. I am so glad I was able to learn – and eat – with such an amazing group of women.
Chicken Biryni Recipe
Ingredients: (Enough for 12 people or more)
- 2 Whole chicken.
- 5lbs white rice.
- 1lb Arabic noodles.
- 1 small green peas.
- 1 cup corn oil.
- Rinse the rice then soak it in water for 15 minutes. Add suitable amount of water to cook the rice in a cook pot and leave it on the cooktop until it starts boiling. Drain the rice from the water and add it to the boiling water with continuous stirring for 5 to 10 minutes until the rice is half cooked. Rice is drained from water and put back in an empty cook pot on the cooktop on a low temperature until serving time.
- Part the chicken into 4 or 8 pieces as preferred. Chicken pieces are rinsed with water. Cover all chicken pieces with water in a cook pot on the cooktop until it starts boiling, then add two spoons turmeric, cumin and the oregano spices and a big peeled onion. Leave on low temperature until the chicken is done. Chicken pieces are either served right away with rice or fried until red.
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into small chunks then put them in boiling water until they are half done. After that, drain them and leave them aside.
- Cook the Arabic noodles in the oil and keep on stirring until their color turns brown. After that, add water and leave them on the cooktop for 10 minutes until they are fully cooked, then drain them from the water.
- Onions are finely chopped and cooked in oil with continuous stirring until their color turns gold.
- Half of the onions are mixed with all of the potatoes with an addition of a little bit of oil. Keep stirring on a low temperature until the potatoes’ color turns brown, then add the noodles to the mix with the remaining of the spices.
- Add the rest of the onions to the green peas and raisins on a low temperature for couple of minutes with continuous stirring then take them of the cooktop and add them to the mix in point number (6), then put everything on a serving plate.
- Chicken and rice are served in the same serving plate or in separate ones as preferred.
Iraqi bread recipe
Ingredients: (Makes 10 pieces of bread)
- 3 cups all purpose flour.
- 5 – 2 cups of water depending on the flour used.
- Full tsp instant yeast.
- 2tbsp Or, add salt as preferred.
All ingredients are mixed together at once until a soft dough is formed. Place the dough ball in a bowl, cover and allow it to rise for a some time depending on the room temperature, or an hour as an average. Divide the dough into small pieces according to the desired bread size. Leave the pieces outside in open air for 10 minutes. Bake the bread in the oven until done and ready to serve.
At the beginning of June, and the beginning of Ramadan, we had the pleasure of celebrating an Iftar meal with 85 members of our community. This was our second time hosting the Iraqi and American Community Dinner, and the event more than doubled in size. Together, we raised $1,475 towards dignity projects for displaced Iraqis fleeing Mosul and our general mission.
The evening began with a wonderful presentation on Ramadan by Sumayah Ameen. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of prayer, fasting, and charity-giving to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the “five pillars” of Islam, and is performed to learn compassion, self-restraint, and generosity. Iftar is the evening meal at sunset when Muslims end their daily fast during Ramadan.
Next, several community members shared what Ramadan meant to them. As guests lined up to pile on plates (waiting until all could be served so that all could break fast together per tradition) the speaker played the “athan”, the traditional call to prayer. We broke fast together as a community at sunset on June 2nd, and with the large number in attendance, everyone worked together quickly to load up plates with dates, pita, kefta, and many other delicious dishes.
The night ended with a sneak preview of this year’s Iraqi Voices theater project, performed by Iraqi community members. We cannot wait until the full piece premieres this fall! Thank you for joining us for this year’s Iftar event, and if you were unable to attend we look forward to an even larger event next year. Ramadan Mubarak to all!
This May, we had the honor of participating in the Festival of Nations for the third consecutive year. The Festival of Nations, which has been held annually for over 80 years, inspires individuals “to discover more about our wonderful world and embrace its rich cultural diversity.” This rich diversity was celebrated with 35 cafes, over 40 international bazaars, over 100 music and dance performances, and the cultural booths.
This year’s theme was Rites and Rituals, and the Iraqi cultural booth chose to showcase wedding traditions from around Iraq. With the help of an amazing group of volunteers from the Iraqi community, our booth had many traditional elements of an Iraqi wedding. On display, there was a beautiful wedding dress, candles to bring passion and energy to the couple, a tray of seven white objects, such as sugar, symbolizing purity, a Qur’an so the couple may receive God’s blessing, and a mirror to bring light and brightness to the couple’s future. The scene was set with lights, lanterns, cushions, and curtains, as well Iraqi music. On Saturday, Iraqi volunteers and friends gathered to dance the traditional chobi for visitors.
We had a lot of fun stamping passports, writing visitors’ names in Arabic, and celebrating the traditions of Iraq. We would like to give a special thank you to all of the volunteers who made this possible by decorating the booth and interacting with the visitors to ensure everyone had a fun and educational experience. We hope to see everyone there next year!
In January of 2017, scholars, in association with the Immigration History Research Center and the Immigration and Ethnic History Society at the University of Minnesota, published a public syllabus on immigration. The syllabus is based on “Essential topics, readings, and multimedia that provide historical context to current debates over immigration reform, integration, and citizenship.”
There is no specific class following this syllabus, rather it is geared toward educators and any individual interested in learning more about immigration issues and history.
The syllabus follows the basic semester long structure and has weekly topics. The topics are in chronological order beginning in colonial America and covering through present day. Each week has a list of readings, primary sources, and multimedia links such as documentary films. The syllabus gives instructions on how to view all of these materials.
The University of Minnesota hopes that making this syllabus open to the public will help educators, activists, and concerned citizens learn more about the issues. They also hope that these resources will “assist policymakers who seek to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
Anyone interested in learning more about immigration and citizenship can view the syllabus here.
Written by IARP intern Nicole Rash
The Iraqi Voices’ film, Our Iraq, was screened at the University of Minnesota and hosted by he Immigration History Research Center. There were about 60 students and faculty present at the event.
The 20-minute documentary was followed by a discussion with audience members. The discussion was led by Assistant Professor Joseph Farag, an expert of Arabic Literature and Culture at the University of Minnesota. The discussion started with him describing his reactions and the process of developing this film. The producers of the film wanted to showcase the Iraq’s rich culture and history, not the Iraq portrayed in today’s media. Next, the students were able to ask questions. Students were curious about the size of the Iraqi community here in Minneapolis as well as the location of the biggest Iraqi community in the United States. In addition, people wanted further elaboration on the intentions of the filmmakers because the process was so passionate.
While I was walking around the room taking a few pictures, I was noticing that everyone seemed engaged and interested in this topic and the community. Students asked for more information about where to find the video to show their friends. This showed that people wanted to spread the word about Iraqi culture and wanted to be involved locally.
We ended the discussion with reactions. Students were surprised with the depth and richness of Iraq’s history and culture. While some students thought that some of this culture has been lost due to the wars, others believed that the Iraqi culture has been resilient and continues to thrive.
I was so happy to be a part of an event that highlighted the beauty of Iraqi culture, and to be able to share that understanding with my peers.It was clear to me that people enjoyed the film, especially the grocery store scene.
This blog post was written by IARP intern Allie Harris.
On an unseasonably warm winter day in Minneapolis, over 5000 people gathered to show love. The MN Caravan of Love was a march in solidarity with immigrants, refugees, and all those impacted by the new travel restrictions.
I am honored to have been a part of this event. We marched, we chanted, we wrote love letters, but most importantly we loved one another as neighbors, friends, and family. Along the two mile route, flowers, balloons, and letters were handed to local immigrants. The streets echoed with “No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here.” Halfway through the route, the group stopped to hear speeches by inspirational individuals from countries affected by the executive order. They told stories of tragedy and of hope. The march concluded on the University of Minnesota campus with a celebration including more speeches, singers, and dancers.
IARP has been grateful to partner with the Critical Needs Support Foundation (CNSF) on a Humanitarian Project for Peace to bring hygiene kits and sanitation products to IDP’s in Iraq. The recent kits were for the people of Mosul who have fled from IS (Daesh). The CNSF team are working tirelessly on the ground to identify and respond to those in need.
The most recent distribution consisted of:
68 hygiene kits in Al Haj Ali Village, south of Mosul, Ninewa Province
60 hygiene kits in Hamam Al Alil, south of Mosul near Al Qayyarah, Ninewa Province
270 Dignity Baskets in Alkhazer Camp, for displaced Iraqis feeling from Mosul (this distribution was funded in part by IARP and other humanitarian organizations).
The Dignity Baskets contained feminine hygiene products. The Hygiene Kits distributed in the villages each contained:
1x baby shampoo
1x lice shampoo
1x feminine hygiene kit
1x sponge pack for dish-washing
1x dish-washing liquid
1x plastic box
Here is a note from our partners at CNSF:
“Again, we thank you so much for your incredible support. You have helped us reduce risks to people’s health in a very simple but effective way. Disease can spread quickly, making an already difficult situation even more so. Most importantly, you are helping us protect their dignity.”
Thank you to EVERYONE for making the premiere of OUR IRAQ a success!
OUR IRAQ is the 14th film in the Iraqi Voices series. A team of 10 local Iraqis created this film with Nathan Fisher and IARP. OUR IRAQ begins with a sweeping overview of thousands of years of ethnic and religious coexistence in the cradle of civilization. The film then dismantles caricatures of Iraqis and Muslims in the United States — an Iraqi-American sculptor rebuilds what extremists have destroyed, Muslims pray at a Catholic church in Minneapolis, refugees own a St. Paul neighborhood grocery, and a public school administrator becomes the first Muslim woman to win an election in Minnesota.
This event was organized in collaboration with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. It is part of their year-long series of public programming, “Global Minnesota: Immigrants Past and Present”, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.