The 2019 HIA John Lewis Fellowship encouraged political participation through many mediums, including poetry. Yasmene Dergham shared her first poem during a public reading. She felt as though that moment was was the first time she had a chance to discuss important social justice issues in a non-academic format. In Yasmene’s words, “the thought of creating poetry that resonated with, and hopefully inspired, other Arab Americans to share their experiences, start discussions, and get involved with social and political issues, intrigued me.” She wanted to artistically help normalize discussing not only political issues, but also topics considered taboo in many Arab households, such as mental illness, fatphobia, religion, and more.
For her project, Yasmene created “Arabeze,” a collection of poems discussing Arab-American duel identity, social justice issues, modern day imperialism, and everything in between. Yasmene created photos for the poems and incorporated Arabic where possible as well. She then posted the poems on a designated Instagram account and shared them on her personal Instagram and Facebook pages. Other Fellows also helped spread her work on their personal pages.
“The thought of creating poetry that resonated with, and hopefully inspired, other Arab Americans to share their experiences, start discussions, and get involved with social and political issues, intrigued me”
Through her project, Yasmene aimed to address the normalization of stepping beyond academics to discuss important issues in political science, international relations, and social justice. She wanted to show different ways to educate and involve people in these topics that made them feel more accessible and personal.
Yasmene’s project not only discusses issues of social justice, international relations, and politics through a personal, artistic, and political lens, but also adds information and additional thoughts in the comments section to help readers understand the context behind the poems and to open up doors for discussion.