American Arab pushes for voter empowerment. Building on the #YallaVote branding for Arab American get-out-the-vote efforts, the Arab American Institute has updated its campaign with “Ammu Sam” the brainchild of one design-savvy Arab American. Rawan Elbaba talks about the inspiration behind the new image which adorns t-shirts, totes and buttons for 2016.
By Rawan Elbaba
Growing up in the shadow of 9/11 was not easy, especially as a young Arab American and an American Muslim. Popular culture, the news media and the like all told me that my existence as an Arab American was a discrepancy, an oxymoron.
How could I be an Arab and an American? An American and a Muslim? These questions often dizzied my young head as a I struggled to understand what it means to be an American of non-European descent.
As I began my digital media work with the Arab American Institute, my familiarity with the Arab American community grew, helping me define myself as Arab and American. Whether that meant having stuffed grape leaves on the side of my turkey at Thanksgiving or spending weekends in front of the White House, fighting for the rights of other communities, being Arab American suddenly meant something different.
I was no longer confused about where I fit in this country, my country because I found communities of people who embrace the essence of my dichotomous identity.
For the last year, AAI has been preparing for the 2016 election and as I became acquainted with AAI’s #YallaVote campaign to mobilize and educate voters, I knew I wanted to create something that would showcase my duality, and resonate with my fellow Arab Americans.
So I asked myself what is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of “American,” and instantly the image of Uncle Sam and his wagging finger refused to leave my head. With the American symbolism down, I knew I needed to accessorize Uncle Sam with something that was inherently Arab, something that symbolized all that it means to Arab.
The keffiyeh was the perfect addition to the already powerful Uncle Sam image. Historically worn to provide protection from the blazing Middle Eastern sun, the woven checkered pattern scarf became a powerful symbol of Arab nationalism. And thus, Ammu (simply the Arabic word for “uncle”) Sam was born.
With a keffiyeh draped along his chest, Uncle Sam’s stern look and pointed finger has a whole new meaning. Ammu Sam wants us to make a difference; he wants us to be at the forefront of the conversation; to join him at the polls to make the Arab American community’s voice heard—loud and clear.