In her new book, Hannah Moushabeck aims to celebrate Palestine, pass on family stories
There has been devastating news in Israel and Gaza in recent days — with some areas now fully at war.
That was not the case over the summer, when Serenitee Graham, a Ludlow High School student in NEPM's Media Lab, interviewed Hannah Moushabeck about her new book, "Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine."
Serenitee Graham, Media Lab: I enjoyed reading your book because it reminded me of when my family used to read me bedtime stories. The story was heartwarming, and I wanted to know if "Homeland" is inspired by a true story.
Hannah Moushabeck, author: Yes, it is absolutely a true story about me and my sisters. And when I was a kid, my dad worked a lot, and so the time that we got to see him was like, right before we went to bed. He would get home from work and he couldn't sing, he couldn't do any of the things that my mom would do. So he would tell us stories.
My father emigrated here from Lebanon in the 1970s. But before that, my family was exiled from Palestine in 1947. So he's had a long journey with lots of stories along the way, and he really wanted to make sure that we really felt a connection to our homeland that we were exiled from. So, storytelling was sort of his way of giving us a look at the place where we're from, where we still can't return to to this day.
Reading your biography, I learned that you grew up with a family that loves books. Did you always know you wanted to be an author?
You know, my parents moved here in the 1970s when they fled the civil war in Lebanon. And when they got to this country, they were appalled by the lack of representation of Arab Americans, particularly in the book industry. You know, the only representation you saw was on violent headlines in the news when the Gulf War was going on. So my parents set about starting a publishing company so that they could publish more books by Arabs about Arabs.
So, after that, my uncle started a bookstore and my aunt started a bookstore. And almost every member of my family works in the publishing industry, in the book-making industry. So to say that it was something I always wanted to do is not exactly accurate. There was a lot of maybe pressure or inspiration to get into it. When we were kids, we would make jokes that we were going to rebel and become doctors, which of course never ended up happening. And to this day, we all are in the book industry.
Given that there's conflict in the Middle East, did you consider writing about that?
Yeah, you know, I think that there is a real, almost like a lust for trauma in stories. And there are so few books about Palestine. But as news watchers and listeners of TV, all we ever see is violence enacted upon Palestinians.
So I really wanted a book that actually celebrated Palestine, that celebrated my culture and all the beauty that it brings to the world. Which is why, in my book, I don't talk about the conflict. I don't talk about the trauma that my family went through. This is really a book to show what a beautiful place and a beautiful people Palestinians are.
I never visited my homeland, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. Have you had a chance to visit Palestine?
I have not. My family has attempted on several occasions and have been denied. Unfortunately, even if you're an American citizen, if you're of Palestinian descent, you can often be denied entry to our homeland. And that's one of the injustices that Palestinian Americans face. But I hope that that will change in the future.
Hannah, can you read a short portion of something in your book?
Of course. So I'm going to read part of my author's note:
My sisters and I grew up hearing stories of our homeland from our mother, father, aunts and uncles. Sometimes I learn my history at family gatherings. When the grown ups became nostalgic and argued about how we were related to various people. 'No, you're second cousins on both sides, not first cousins on one side." My family laughed about old stories between the hard times and during too. Sometimes stories were told to my mother by my father's mother. A bond between women, secrets meant to be passed like recipes to her daughters. Someday I hope to pass these stories on to my own children, just like I'm sharing this one with you.
Is there one family story you often share with others that's not mentioned in the book?
You know, there's so many family stories and and my dad is, you know, he's very descriptive and he's also a writer. So he can he can weave an incredible tale about our stories. But as a kid, the ones that got me the most excited were like the hilarious ones.
The ones about the farts or how, you know, my dad's apartment window looked out across the street on his neighbor's apartment who he didn't like. And he would roll up little pieces of paper and get them wet and put them in a straw and basically shoot spitballs at his neighbor's window. And one day he covered the entire window with spitballs, and he would always get into trouble whenever he would do that. And that was the story that I didn't want to include in here. I didn't want to encourage any bad behavior!