The Iraqi Student Association aims to promote and raise awareness of Iraqi, Mesopotamian, and Middle Eastern culture. The association is open to everyone, as the goal of ISA is to add to the diversity on campus. We strive to unite the Iraqi students of the campus through cultural appreciation and celebration. We also strive to educate the broader campus about the history and culture of this country by inviting all community members to participate and celebrate with us. Our goal is to celebrate what makes Iraqi-identifying students on this campus unique while also highlighting how we are part of the greater campus community and that our similarities unite us into the tight-knit community that makes this school great.
Our project was our first-annual Chai & Chobi: Iraqi Culture Night. Chai refers to the traditional tea (or chai) that is served at Iraqi events or gatherings, and chobi is the name of the traditional dance performed at public events and at weddings. This event was important because it allowed us to highlight Iraqi culture and celebrate the diversity that makes it beautiful. Not only is Iraq a mix of ethnicities, religions, and languages, but it is also home of Mespotomia and the first civilizations with groups including the Sumerians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. These cultures are still alive today and continue to contribute to what makes Iraq unique.
The night consisted of Iraqi pastries and chai, as well as catering from one of the best Iraqi and Mesopotamian restaurants in Michigan: Ishtar Restaurant. We played music, and members of the Iraqi Student Association performed choreographed Iraqi chobi and Assyrian bagiya routines together for the audience. They then opened the floor to perform a chobi line where everyone was able to join in while the board members taught them how to do the dance. The dance itself stems all the way back to Mesopotamia, and Iraqi communities alike are struggling to keep the dance and culture from becoming extinct. (Click here to enjoy a video of the dance and the culture night) There are not many spaces for Iraqis to freely share their culture due to the political and social issues that have occurred in the past three decades.
Even before the turn of the century, Iraq has only even been portrayed in a negative light in Western media. There has never been space to express the beautiful culture, history, and people that originate from Iraq. So few people know of the melting pot that the Ancient Mesopotamian region is religiously, linguistically, culturally, and academically. In today’s society, only negative ideas and stereotypes are brought up at the mention of Iraq. It is as people have forgotten that civilization started right there and that the Mesopotamian people still exist (many of us are even on this campus!).
It is more vital than ever that the campus hears the Iraqi narrative. Iraqis are forgotten refugees; Iraqis are targeted for hate crimes; Iraqis are facing a diaspora; the once-rich culture and country is disintegrating under imperialism and extremism. Soon, the entire area will collapse, and centuries of history, art, culture, and academia will fall with the country. This is why it is so important for the campus community to understand what is occurring on the other side of the world and the beautiful culture that comes from it.
By Mays AlBayati