CSUMB professor says Arab American Heritage Month provides educational opportunity

Amir Attia

Amir Attia is an associate professor of graphic design and director of the Communication Design Program for Cal State Monterey Bay. | Photo by Brent Dundore-Arias

March 29, 2024

By Mark Muckenfuss 

April is Arab American Heritage Month, and Amir Attia says it is a good time to explore and learn more about an important culture in our nation and our world. 

“This kind of recognition, of knowing who people are and what their backgrounds are, is important any time,” said Attia, an associate professor of graphic design and director of the Communication Design Program at Cal State Monterey Bay. “As an immigrant, feeling people want to know about where you are from and what your preferences are, this is important for anyone.”

Attia was born and raised in Egypt and identifies as Coptic, the culture and language that dominated the country before the Arabs conquered it in the 7th century. The modern-day Coptic culture is most often associated with the Coptic Christian religion, to which Attia belongs, while today's predominant language and culture in Egypt is Arabic. 

Having spent time in Nigeria and Europe before coming to the United States, he said his ties to Egypt and the Arab world are more associated with family than anything else.

“Whenever there is a type of celebration, I will miss the family,” he said. “I miss lots of things that I used to have when I was young.”

While Attia has been fortunate enough not to have had negative experiences in the United States based on his heritage, he knows others who have. 

“I know many people who have faced some challenges, especially after 9/11 when everyone who is an Arab was seen as a terrorist,” he said. “The past couple of decades, there has been a lot of polarization.”

He doesn’t believe most Americans have a clear picture of the Arab world and its people. 

“They will never know them through the mass media,” he said. “There is a lot of bias in the news.”

For that reason, he said, marking Arab American Heritage Month is a good thing. 

“Definitely, it will help people,” he said. “I think recognizing everyone is a good way to show openness and reflect and acknowledge the diversity in society, attesting that everyone is valuable and everyone is acceptable.”

Attia said there are some good sources for learning more about Arab and Arab American culture. He has the following suggestions:

  • Al Jazeera, BBC, and CNN Arabic: These respected news networks cover the Arab (Middle East) region.
  • Shahid Television: This movie channel features largely Arab programming. 
  • Netflix: The streaming system offers some Arab-produced movies. 
  • “Egypt: Land of the Pharaohs – Mediterranean journey:” A DW Documentary production.
  • “No One Sleeps in Alexandria” by Ibrahim Abdel Meguid: This novel, translated by Farouk Abdel Wahab, tells a sweeping story about diverse, yet intertwined lives in Egypt’s “second city” of Alexandria—often romanticized in the West but seen here from an authentically Egyptian perspective.
  • “The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street” by Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz: These three novels of colonial Egypt are contained in one volume, translated by William Maynard Hutchins, Olive E. Kenny, Lorne M. Kenny, and Angele Botros Samaan. The trilogy follows the story of a patriarch and his family from the time of the Egyptian Revolution in 1919 through World War II.