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Diasporas, Cultures of Mobilities, ‘Race’ 1

 | 
Judith Misrahi-Barak
, 
Claudine Raynaud

Diasporic Negotiations and Passages

Homeland Imaginings among Diasporic Palestinian American Youth

Louise Cainkar

Résumé

This article examines the diasporic imaginations of Palestinian American teenagers, based on interviews conducted in 2011 while they were on temporary sojourns with their families attending high school in Palestine. When asked how the life they found in Palestine was different from or similar to what they had expected, interview data show that rather than holding the predicted idealized images of the homeland typical to diasporic populations, Palestinian American teens systematically held highly negative perceptions of their diasporic homeland. These perceptions were largely characterized by notions of backwardness and violence. The article argues that these perceptions were formed largely from media representations, both American and Arabic, which overpowered the traditional roles of family and community in creating narratives of the homeland. Explanations for why this is the case are grounded in changing political developments in Palestine/Israel, including the collapse of the PLO, the rise of Hamas, and the decreasing appeal of secular movements, each of these changes rooted in the failure to reach a just and peaceful solution to the conflict. The information voids and narrative confusion created by these developments opened the door for the power of global media to construct definitions of reality.

Texte intégral

’Some notion of home, collective memory and group history
must always be part of the conceptual and emotional discourse of the diasporic culture.’
Khachig Tölölyan, Rethinking Diaspora (s):
Stateless Power in the Transnational Moment.

1Shared conceptions of home and homeland are central features of the diasporic experience. Indeed, ’ [h] ome is the starting point for almost all diasporic communities’ (International Institute for Diaspora Studies). Safran’s delineation of the defining features of diasporas includes not only the fact that diasporic groups have been displaced from their homelands, but that they ’retain a collective memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland-its physical location, history, and achievements’, that they consider ’their ancestral homeland as their true, ideal home and as the place to which they or their descendants would (or should) eventually return-when conditions are appropriate’, and, that they continue to relate, personally or vicariously to that homeland (83-84). Collective consciousness and communal solidarity are defined not only by the existence of a relationship to the homeland, but also by a positive, even romantic, imaginary construction of it, even if ’forced dispersal and... subsequent unhappiness’ (Cohen 1997: 26) are part of the narrative. This paper looks at the homeland imaginings articulated by young Palestinian Americans (ages 16-18) who were raised in the United States but living in the West Bank (Palestine) on an extended sojourn to their parents’ homeland. The data for this analysis were elicited from interviews conducted by the author in 2011 as part of a larger sociological study of transnational Arab American youth whose parents brought them ’back home’ to Palestine, Jordan, and Yemen for high school. Overall, the data show that these Arab American youth held largely negative views of their parents’ homelands prior to moving there for school and that the views of Palestinian youth were especially negative because of their focus on violence. These findings are interpreted in light of what they tell us about the impacts of family, community, and media representations on youths’ diasporic imaginings in the context of the world of media communications and in the grounded dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

2Research on Palestinian Diaspora youth growing up in the United States has found that immigrant Palestinian parents promote an identification with Palestine that is as strong if not stronger (varying by family) than one with the United States (Cainkar 1988, 1994, 1996). They transmit stories, language, and daily cultural practices to their children with the hope of producing children who will identify with Palestine and, in the hope of a real or imagined return, fit into a Palestinian cultural milieu. Notwithstanding internal variations, the general notion is: ’The United States is where you live, and feel lucky to be able live here, but Palestinian is who you are’. As children grow, parents increasingly introduce values and behavior codes they view as appropriate to the Palestinian homeland, guiding their child’s cultural formation. During adolescence these codes require social boundary management, as children increasingly find discrepancies between being who their parents want them to be and fitting in with dominant American culture. Boundary management has gendered contours, as girls are normally subject to a different and wider set of rules than boys, although boys are not exempt from these processes (Ajrouche 2004). The cultural practices of difference ground the Palestinian identity and make ’being Palestinian’ feel real to children of the diaspora.

3Throughout these socialization processes, parents have options as to how they will code the values and practices they are transmitting. For example, they may say they are Palestinian, Arabic, Islamic, or Christian; they may adopt more localized language, saying this is the way we do things in the beled, in our village, or in our family. The presence of extended family, a Palestinian community, and Palestinian community institutions should lend support to these socializing processes by carrying similar messages and by providing a group of others with whom these Palestinian American children can identify. It is within this nexus of social relations-from family to community-that Palestinian diasporic identities and imaginations should be formed. The challenge of raising children to identify with and build dreams around a place they do not know, and to adopt a set of values and cultural practices that differ from the norms of the society in which they live, is even more challenging in the context of a society that is significantly hostile to Palestinian perspectives and homeland claims and is generally characterized by strong anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments (Abraham 1984; Suleiman 1989; Salaita 1996; Cainkar 2009).

4My prior research with the generation of Palestinian Americans who were young adults in the mid 1980s concluded that the project of creating Palestinian Diaspora subjectivities was largely successful (see esp. Cainkar 1988, 1994). This research was conducted in Chicago, which has one of the largest concentrations of Palestinians in the United States. Although in-depth interviews focused mainly on the lives of Palestinian Muslim women, field research showed that the combined efforts of family, ethnic community, and Palestinian community institutions forged strong and positive Palestinian identities among American-born Muslim and Christian Palestinians. Raised with a singular historical narrative of enduring physical presence on the beautiful land of Palestine, followed by mass expulsion, military occupation, and persistent attacks on diasporic communities, because a movement called Zionism supported by Great Britain had displaced them, Palestinians in the US felt a common bond with Palestinians across the globe (see e.g. Said 1988). Identifying themselves as either Palestinians or Palestinian Americans, these young adults had highly positive views of the Palestinian homeland, a place imagined as one of olive trees, orange groves, and verdant pastures, and of a Palestinian people who had been wronged yet who were strong, educated, and determined to hold on to and return to their land (Cainkar 1988).

5This research also showed that family and community efforts to forge identification with Palestine were not undermined but instead reinforced by elements of mainstream American culture that constructed and represented Palestinians and Arabs as Others: as persons who were morally flawed, inherently violent, and who did not share American values. Whether these messages were conveyed through the news media, films, talk shows, the schools, or everyday discourse, they conflicted with Palestinian American notions of who they were as a people, producing a sense of social exclusion and spinning cognitive wheels around the question ’who am I?’ Since these adolescents felt demeaned and pushed from belonging in one collectivity (’American’) and pulled in by another with a heroic narrative (’Palestinian’), it is not surprising that the Palestinian diasporic project scored mainly victories in the battle of identities.

6Data for this paper come from interviews conducted for a sociological study of transnational Arab American teenagers whose parents took them ’back home’ for high school. During the Winter and Spring of 2011, the author conducted ninety-three face to face qualitative interviews with 16-18 year old Arab Americans who were raised in the US but attending high schools in Palestine, Jordan, and Yemen. According to these youth, their parents took them ’back home’ in order for them to learn ’their language, culture, and religion.’ Some of the youth interviewed in the study had experienced prior visits to their parents’ homelands while for others this was their first encounter. The practice of bringing children ’back home’ for visits is not uncommon among Arab immigrants to the U.S. and is normative for a significant proportion of Palestinians who maintain residency rights in their historic homeland, mostly in the area now known as the West Bank. The practice of bringing children ’back home’ to attend high school is less common, but is done by a significant minority of Palestinians, especially those with residency rights. Since nearly all of the youth interviewed said they plan to return to the United States after high school, their time spent overseas is not a return migration but rather, a transnational sojourn. Here I distinguish between transnational as a social process, which is associated with maintaining social relationships across physical space and may include movement between places (Glick-Shiller, Basch, and Szanton Blanc 1995; Levitt and Waters 2007), and diasporic, which is both a physical and cognitive state-a sense of belonging or membership in a place where one is not but where one locates one’s roots (see above, Safran 1991; Cohen 1997).

  • 1 Face to face interviewing using a protocol of open-ended questions is a widely accepted sociologica (...)

7Youth were asked during interviews a series of open-ended questions ranging from their family’s immigration history and their childhood in the U.S. through details of their transnational experience, including their experiences with culture, social life, schooling, language, religion, identity, and plans for the future.1 One question I asked was how the Palestine, Jordan, or Yemen they found upon moving there was different from or similar to what they had expected. Overwhelmingly, these youth had highly negative expectations of what they would find and wound up discovering that these places were much better than they had expected. In this paper I analyze only the responses of the forty-five Palestinian American youth (25 males, 20 females) who returned to Palestine (many Palestinians went to Jordan instead, their family having lost residency rights in Palestine). I interpret their expectations of what they would find in Palestine as indicative of their diasporic imaginings about Palestine, which were constructed while living in the United States. Their responses illuminate the social interactions and resources that were formative to their imagined understandings of the Palestinian homeland.

8I mentioned above some of the grounded ways parents develop their child’s diasporic affiliation with a homeland they have never experienced, by raising them to adopt a set of values and behavioral norms that are at variance with mainstream American society and coding them as ways of being Palestinian. These practices, however, do not in themselves help children learn what Palestine is or develop their sense of imagination about Palestine, a notion expressed in this quote from an interview with Hasheema, who knows being Palestinian mainly as being prevented from engaging in certain activities: ’Before I came here I didn’t like being Palestinian. Cause I did not know what it was. I just thought we were weird, and like we’re not allowed to do anything because I lived in America’.

9To develop a Palestinian imaginary, Palestinian narratives must be passed on. Parents have a range of options for doing so that include telling their children stories of their own past or their grandparents past in Palestine, raising their children with close ties to members of their larger Palestinian family (aunts, uncles, cousins) and to other Palestinians in diaspora, sending them to social institutions where they will learn about Palestine, exposing them to cultural, literary, educational, and cinematic material about Palestine, and taking them to Palestine for visits (if possible). Children, however, do not live in a bubble and may be exposed to other sources of information about their diasporic homeland. This is certainly the case for Palestinians living in the US and is far truer for them than for many other diasporic communities in the U.S. Palestinians are constant news matter in the United States, much of which casts them in a negative light. Research has shown consistently that negative portrayals of Palestinians, utilizing stereotypes and tropes emerging from historic Orientalism (Said 1978), are dominant in the American news media, which tends to frame the reporting of events according to the geo-political interests of the U.S. government, as well as in the social constructions of Palestinians produced by mainstream Zionist groups and the Christian right. All of these have been augmented in the past two decades by the heightened media visibility of Islamophobic persons and interests. Studies have also shown that many American elementary and high school teachers have no alternative information on Palestine and Palestinians and often reproduce stereotypic notions in the classroom (Chicago Council on Foreign Relations 2002). In school-based educational materials, Palestinians are either not mentioned at all or tend to be represented as people whose primary characteristic is the challenge they pose to Israel, rather than as a group possessing their own internal integrity. The general understanding in mainstream American culture is that Palestinians are at best a stateless people and at worse, a violent, anti-Semitic group that persists in making exaggerated and illegitimate claims on Israel and the world community. This perspective on Palestinians is voiced frequently in right wing conservative media outlets and gets extra play during presidential election periods. For example, widely reported across the U.S. media in December 2011:

Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said in a cable TV interview that Palestinians are an ’invented’ people with no apparent right to their own state, a rejection of a decade of bipartisan U.S. foreign policy. In the interview, which was taped Wednesday in Washington and will be broadcast Monday on The Jewish Channel, Gingrich spoke about his mistrust of Palestinian leaders, his admiration for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his view that the Obama administration is ’favoring the terrorists’ with its foreign policy. (Gardner and Rucker 2011)

10In light of the range of potential sources of information about Palestine, from positive to negative, from home to community to society, how do today’s Palestinian American youth imagine their Palestinian homeland? Here we examine the responses of a subset of Palestinian American youth, those whose parents were so committed to raising them as Palestinians that they brought them back to Palestine for high school.

11In light of research conducted by the author two decades earlier, described above, and her ongoing interactions in the Palestinian American community, responses to the question ’how was the Palestine you found upon moving there different from or similar what you had expected?’ were quite unexpected. Palestinian American youth overwhelmingly responded with highly negative preexisting imaginings and expectations of Palestine. The most common response to the question of how the Palestine they found differed from what they had expected revolved not around romantic notions of the homeland, but around notions of violence. Indeed, not one of the 45 Palestinian American teenagers interviewed-who came from a wide range of American cities and regions, from places where there were Palestinian communities and where there were not, who were both Christian and Muslim, whose parents were both highly educated and not highly educated, and who attended a range of high schools in Palestine-had a positive view of Palestine before moving there. While we must bear in mind that they were young when they left the United States for Palestine (10-13 years old), their perceptions are still instructive about the resources available to inform the imaginings of young, American raised Palestinians in diaspora today.

12The four most common response clusters to the question were: expectations of violence, a place full of terrorists, a backward place, and did not know anything. These diasporic imaginings of Palestine were not only negative, they also did not inspire these youth to make the extended sojourn to Palestine planned by their parents. Quotes illustrative of each response cluster are presented below.

13A violent place:

I imagined tanks in front of my house, and people getting killed like every, every second.-Elias.
-
I imagined it before coming cause I used to watch the news a lot. Like, um, Al Jazeera. I imagined it to be like not like this. Not to have good schools, like American schools, and I imagined it bombs all over. Like if you say something you would just be shot. But it was totally different. Like it got better, it got a lot better.-Hadeel
-
I also thought it was a little more dangerous, cause you know when we watch the news-we got Jazeera channel in our, in our house in America, cause my parents you know ordered that. So when I, you know, what I saw on TV was like, you know, people bleeding and dying and you know, so obviously you have to come here to really know what the situation was... what the situation is, you know? Like, even my aunt when she visited, uh, a couple years ago, she’s like ’aren’t you guys scared? You know you’ll just walk out and you’ll just get shot?’-Diala
-
In America we used to see Palestine on TV, all the rocks getting thrown, and the big tanks, so I thought it would be like a scary place. And, you know, like war is going on, so I didn’t really want to come here. And then I came here and saw that it was different than what I imagined it to be.-Etedal (clarifies later in the interview that it is Arabic TV)

14A place full of terrorists:

I used to barely know about it, but from other people calling us terrorists, I thought that that’s how it was.-Aymen
-
Like, if I stayed in the States I would have kept thinking of Palestinians as, you know... I was starting to think them as like terrorists and stuff, cause of all of the stuff I heard over there. But when I came back here I realized all the stuff they were saying wasn’t exactly true. And I also realized that some of the stuff they say here about the Americans isn’t true.-Nadim

15A backward place:

In those five years that I lived over there (U.S.), I forgot everything about here (Palestine). So when coming back I thought I’d come back to a desert. From what I heard, like suicide bombers everywhere, and war going on everywhere, that’s pretty much what I imagined. But when I came back I saw it was peaceful and it was a lot better and people weren’t so... well I thought they were gonna be ignorant, and it turned out pretty good.-Nadim

16Did not know anything:

I didn’t know, I didn’t imagine like, I don’t, I had no idea what Palestine was. I didn’t know anything about it to imagine. I just thought it would be different, like I thought families were gonna be more closer and stuff.-Hasheema

17Other less common responses to this question were comments such as: ’I assumed there would be no freedom’; ’I thought it would be like Jordan or as in the Lebanese music videos, or like the U.S.’; ’I did not think people would judge you for being different’; ’I did not know how hard life would be’; ’I thought no one would speak English’; ’and I expected to find people struggling for their rights’. Although all of the youth interviewed had strong Palestinian identities, one may conclude from these data that before living in Palestine they had varying but largely negative imaginings about their Palestinian homeland.

18The interviews also point out that these negative imaginings were constructed mainly from observing and listening to the media, both American and Arabic, and from the comments of others who do so. Al-Jazeera played an important role in configuring Palestine as a violent place for these youth. Indeed, based on interviews I conducted for a separate post 9/11 study (Cainkar 2009), a significant proportion of Arabs living in the U.S. viewed Al-Jazeera as the media source that tells the truth about what is happening in the world, as compared to Western media. (However, another significant proportion felt that one must take multiple sources into account to approach ’the truth.’) Al-Jazeera is widely known for its on site reporting, rather than talking heads, thus making it appear to represent the truth, and for images that are vivid, often bloody, and highly decontextualized. On the other hand, children’s notions that Palestine was a place characterized by terrorists, deserts, and backwardness came from exposure to American popular culture and pedagogy, as well as from American adults and peers who consume it. This quote from a young Palestinian woman describes a school experience that is unfortunately a typical finding in social research on Palestinian Americans:

But I got along with everybody and I didn’t really have a problem with anybody, but sometimes it would be hard because they would always categorize Muslims or Arabs as terrorists, especially in classes where we would talk about stuff and they would have debates. It would be like-I would want to argue with them, but all they could say is, ’oh no, you guys are bad. Everything that happens...’ like you know the points that they make. They’re not valid, but to them they are valid, so like that’s the only thing that we ever got into arguments about. Then I felt uncomfortable.
Yeah like I had a class. It was a history class, but it was advanced placement, so we would have debates. And in the debates there was one kid that was insistent that we lived in tents and that we’re like not educated and stuff like that and I’m like ’what are you talking about? My parents are educated.’ Like even if my dad didn’t finish high school, I consider him an educated person. Like he built a whole business. He has a house. Like we built up ourselves. Like we are business people. We might not have a degree to prove it, but we still have the businesses and the houses to show it. And he was like insistent like no were not up to the standards that he thinks a person should be or whatever. So I just-that annoyed me. And he said that everybody was a terrorist that was from the Middle East.- Jumana

19The study also found that very few Palestinian American youth had consulted any external source of information about Palestine while living in the U.S. Apart from information about Palestine transmitted by their parents, extended family, popular culture, and the Arabic and American media, only a handful of youth responded in the affirmative when asked if they had ever read a book or a poem, seen a film, studied in school, done research on, or searched the internet for information on Palestine. Even while recognizing that these Palestinians were young, these indications of limited contact with figurative, literary, pedagogical or other resources providing alternative narratives to mainstream accounts suggest that today’s children and youth of the Palestinian diaspora in the U.S. lack significant enough exposure to efforts to develop positive understandings about Palestine, whether through family, schools, community organizations, or religious institutions.

20These negative imaginings of Palestine were largely proven wrong to these youth once they lived there for a while. Most said that they would return to the U.S. with greater knowledge about and pride in being Palestinian. Indeed, the study reveals that among the most positive outcomes of the sojourn to Palestine, which otherwise posed many challenges of language and adjustment, was increased pride in being Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim, and a new courage to stand up for themselves once back in the US.

When I came here I really learned what being Palestinian means and it’s a really good thing actually and I am very proud now and I wish I could take this back to America and like tell everyone how, like, what it is like to know who you are.-Hasheema
-
I became more proud to be Arab. I don’t know if it’s because I had more Arab kids around me. I just felt like I could say out loud more easily and maybe when I go back to college, I’ll still keep that with me. I’ll still have that courage and ability to speak out and say, ’Yeah I’m Arab American.’... I’m looking forward to using these skills that I’ve been taught. To go back to the States and you know, reliving the first couple years of my life, but this time being more courageous and being able to stand up on my own two feet rather than staying quiet about things.-Kamilla

21These findings beg the questions: what happened to the role of the parents, family, and community institutions in the U.S. in developing a collective and positive image of the Palestinian homeland? Why are the media and peers more potent? What happened between the 1990’s and now that helps to explain why earlier diasporic generations held shared and romantic images of Palestine whereas today’s youth do not evidence such imaginings? Even the fact that a small number of these youth said they did not know anything about Palestine is particularly perplexing, given that they were raised to see themselves as Palestinians, and that their parents made the extra effort to bring them back to Palestine to learn more about their homeland.

  • 2 This mixing of language, religion, and culture is similar to the Hebrew school/Zionism pattern, whe (...)

22My attempt to interpret these findings begins with recognizing that significant global and local political changes have occurred over the past 20 years within the largely unchanging macro context of sixty plus years of organized efforts to silence Palestinian voices and deny Palestinian claims to a homeland. Primary among these more recent changes was the demise of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which followed the 1990-91 Gulf War and was further catapulted after the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. The demise of the PLO resulted in the closure of hundreds of Palestinian diaspora community organizations that had hosted cultural and educational programs, weekend schools, and summer camps, and had produced cultural matter intended for the Palestinian diaspora, such as posters, children’s and adult books, musical performances, and dance troupes. The institutional gap created by the demise of Palestinian secular nationalist community organizations was filled among diasporic Palestinians searching for community by extended family, friendship groups, and religious institutions, including churches, mosques, and Islamic schools (Cainkar 2004; Bakalian and Bozorgmehr 2005). Palestinians who were living outside the Arab world and who wanted their children to learn Arabic would now send them to churches and mosques instead of Palestinian community centers for language learning, places where the participants and the message were decidedly different. The participants were multicultural of varying national origins and the message was religious instead of secular Palestinian nationalist.2 In a similar turn, the values and behavioral repertoires taught by Palestinian parents to their children were increasingly explained to Palestinian Muslim children as Muslim rather than as Arab or Palestinian. The following quote demonstrates a number of these points:

When I came here when I was little I knew this place was not developed and did not have everything like America, but I did not know that it had all of this occupation and stuff like that. I did not know that. [So how did you learn in the States about being Palestinian?] Like I said, I went to Arabi school, but they did not really tell us about being Palestinian, but mostly taught us about being Muslim. Because there were people over, there were, I don’t even remember meeting people from Palestine. I remember meeting people from Misr (Egypt), Saudia, and stuff like that, except for my cousins and grandparents... [So who told you that you were Palestinian?] My parents, actually I never used to call it Palestine in America. I used to call it the beled (roughly translated as village or town but meaning similar to homeland-author). That is what we used to call it. And then when I came here, I learned that it is called Palestine and I started calling it Falastine.-Diana

23These institutional changes had a major impact on transmission of a common narrative and imagination of the Palestinian homeland among the diaspora. Simply put, there was no longer a dominant, globally active Palestinian diaspora institution able to produce the material to maintain and reproduce shared and positive homeland imaginings. Access to these cultural products is most important for communities living in social contexts where the mainstream culture portrays Palestinian culture and national identity in denigrating ways.

24The 1993 Oslo Accords ushered in not only institutional transformations that would alter the availability of Palestinian cultural matter for the diaspora, narratives about the future of Palestine changed. In place of a single narrative of the Palestinian homeland, supported materially by the PLO (although with internal political differences on solutions), and a single political voice (although again with internal variations), a range of narratives of Palestine emerged among Palestinians, sometimes in conflict with each other, and all promoted in a context of incessant pressures to be silent and give up. The PLO as an institutional organizer of Palestinians living inside Palestine as well as a diaspora-serving institution was replaced by the new Palestinian Authority (Sulta), a mainly administrative and policing body with limited self-rule authority over two weak and non-coterminous Palestinian jurisdictional areas (parts of the West Bank and Gaza), an outcome of Oslo from which some Palestinians gained a little and most gained nothing. Since then, Palestinians have been pressured to relinquish any further claims to Palestine, by Israel, by Western powers, and by some of their own representatives. Disappointment with the deal they were cut, with the Palestinian Sulta’s weakness in pursuing justice for the Palestinians, as well as the Sulta’s internal corruption, led to rising popular support for alternatives, including Islamist Hamas (initially supported by the Israeli government as a weakening force on the PLO), and supporters of a secular single, bi-national state (Abunimah 2007). Each of these political alternatives has its own vision of Palestine, while those who continue to support a compromise at the 1967 borders have another. Relentless pressure to give up amidst a competing array of political ideologies may have left Palestinian families in diaspora without the cultural matter for promoting Palestine as an ideal place to which one aspires to return. Continuous throughout these changes has been the close watch of Palestinian-affiliated institutions in the US by government agencies (American and Israeli), often described by them and interested others as terrorist-supporting organizations, with their leadership frequently treated in a criminalized manner (Suleiman 1999; Bassiouni 1974; Hagopian 1974, 2004). Without a coherent guide for instilling Palestinian-ness in their children, and in the context of ongoing and severe violence, Palestinian families in diaspora have been left largely to their own devices. Filling the interstitial gaps for young Palestinian children are powerful and vivid messages delivered by the media, both American and Arab, which appear to be more influential on children than the messages of their parents.

25These data reveal that although young diasporic Palestinian Americans identify with Palestine, their imaginings of the Palestinian homeland are quite negative, crafted as they are largely out of a mix of media messages and interactions in American schools. This outcome, which differs significantly from the findings of earlier research, comes on the heels of the demise of the PLO as a diaspora serving institution, the parallel weakening of secular Palestinian national institutions among exiled communities, and the subsequent absence of a singular vision of where and to what Palestinians might aspire to return. These outcomes were a result of the political pressures on the Palestinian people, whose national institutions entered the post Gulf War (1990-1991) period in a substantially weakened state. The informational void created by the significant loss of diaspora community institutions was substantially filled by the English and Arabic language media Palestinian families viewed at home, which carried violent images (Arabic media) and anti-Palestinian narratives (mainstream American media), notions that were reinforced when youth interacted with the prejudices of mainstream American media consumers. In sum, the media, directly and indirectly, became an inordinately influential source of information for Palestinian American children raised in the diaspora. The youth interviewed in this study were quite young when they formed these imaginings of Palestine in the United States. It is possible that as Palestinian American youth reach young adulthood and have access to other, less graphic, less negative, and more complex sources of information, such as books, college classes, social media, and public speakers, their imaginings of Palestine take a positive turn, indicating the need for further research. Nonetheless, this study reinforces the argument of Shohat and Stam 1) that ’in a transnational world... the media impact complexly on national identity and communal belonging.’

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Notes

1 Face to face interviewing using a protocol of open-ended questions is a widely accepted sociological research method. Its validity and reliability as a research method is enhanced relative to the representativeness of the sample and sample size. Properly constructed questions that do not skew responses one way or another or ’lead’ the interview subject are essential. Responses to questions are followed up with further questions to determine meanings. At the outset of the interview, respect and mutual trust must be established and anonymity must be promised to the interviewee. In this study of interviews conducted with minors, U.S. human subjects policy requires a priori parental permission. This methodology is considered by many sociologists as superior to survey research, where response choices are often pre-determined and the meaning of responses cannot be pursued.

2 This mixing of language, religion, and culture is similar to the Hebrew school/Zionism pattern, where language learning is combined with religion, culture, and politics, except that political messaging in American mosques concerning matters overseas was increasingly criminalized after the mid-1990’s and is only very cautiously approached as a charitable concern since 9/11.

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Marquette University

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