Sunday, March 7, 2010

Arab in America, by Toufic El Rassi.

Arab in America, by Toufic El Rassi. San Franscisco: Last Gasp of San Francisco, 2007. ISBN-10: 0867196734; ISBN-13: 978-0867196733. 117 p.

Plot Summary
In this autobiographical graphic novel, Toufic El Rassi illustrates the prejudice and discrimination faced by Arab-Americans in the wake of 9/11. As an immigrant from Lebanon, he feels he doesn't have a place in American society as anything but a token Arab-American in classes and activities. It's only after the aftermath of 9/11 that he realizes that he must work to fight prejudice against Arabic immigrants. He shows, through events in his own personal history as well as anecdotes from friends, how difficult it can be to retain one's Arabic identity in an America saturated with anti-Arab propaganda.

Critical Evaluation
Less a graphic novel than an illustrated biography, the story of El Rassi's life in America as an immigrant born in Beirut is sincere and heartfelt. This work looks at the role of media and pop culture in the wake of 2 Gulf Wars, 9/11, and U.S. involvement in the Middle East. Some may quibble that there is too much text, that it is too didactic, and that the pictures are sidelined by the story, but I feel that the fantastic summary of recent events in the Middle East is worth it--I found it fascinating as a reader. While it demonstrates a fairly obvious liberal slant, Arab in America is a must read for any high school student interested in international relations, politics, or journalism.

Reader’s Annotation
Toufic El Rassi is an Arab living in America. Through his own personal experiences, he illustrates the prejudice faced by Arabs in their everyday lives.

Author Information
Toufic El Rassi was born in Beirut, Lebanon and immigrated to the Chicago area with his parents in 1979. He graduated from DePaul university with a bachelor's in communication and a master's in modern Middle Eastern history, and is a lecturer in social sciences at Oakton Community College and Harold Washington City College in Illinois. He blogs at

Arab in America describes Rassi's life experiences living in America. After the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, he first felt the desire to conceal his identity as an Arab. Before the real culprit (a white, clean-cut, Gulf War veteran) was found, his neighbors and co-workers complained about the Arabs they thought committed this act of terrorism. He describes that he has never felt like he fit in in America. Arab in America does a lot to inform and teach about what American life feels like to one who feels "other".

Memoir, graphic novel

Curriculum Ties
Middle East relations, public policy, politics, race relations

Booktalking Ideas
Have you ever felt like an outsider?
Arab-American view of the events of 9/11 (fear of deportation, etc.)

Reading Level/Interest Age
High school

Challenge Issues
Possible censorship issues for political views, especially in more conservative areas.

I included this book because it caught my eye as I was browsing the graphic novels in the teen area of my local library.


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