I vividly remember the time I went looking for stuffed grape leaves in Chicago. I had just moved to Evanston for graduate school, and I wanted to make sure my fridge was stocked with my usual staples of hummus, grape leaves and tabblouleh.
The staff at the Evanston Whole Foods stared at me blankly as I asked them, one after another, if they could point me toward the store’s grape leaves. Finally, I found someone who knew. He led me to an interior aisle and then handed me a tin of what I suppose was some sort of grape-leaf-like product. I can’t be sure, because I put it back on the shelf and gave up.
That was the first time I realized that metro Detroit’s large Middle Eastern community and its influence on our local culture was unique. Food is perhaps the easiest way to see that influence; I’m not sure what I would do without regular take-out from Anita’s Kitchen or the ability to include fresh hummus in my son’s lunch.
But food, of course, is a relatively surface way to interact with another culture. In metro Detroit, we have numerous opportunities for engaging with Arab history and culture in much richer ways. I was reminded of that the other night while attending an event at the Arab American National Museum. I was there in my capacity as a member of the advisory council of Inforum, a women’s professional association; we held a joint event with the Arab American Woman’s Business Council.
The museum, which opened in 2005 and was the first museum in the country devoted to telling the story of Arab people in America, is a compelling and engaging venue. It features beautiful architecture and interior design, interesting and surprising exhibits, and events such as its Global Fridays concerts, which host musicians from around the world.
I encourage you to check it out and consider it as a distinctive experience to offer your meeting attendees. It’s easy to take for granted the Arab influence on our local area. But for most visitors, a visit to the nation’s only Arab history museum is an exciting opportunity. You might even consider holding a meeting or event at the museum—when I was there, the food was catered by Byblos, which reminded why I love stuffed grape leaves.