Food is often one of the ways people encounter new cultures, and you can learn a lot about a culture by learning how its people prepare, serve and consume meals.
This is the core idea behind the Arab American National Museum (AANM) Yalla Eat! program, which is an immersive foodie adventure spotlighting southeastern Michigan's Arabic American population though their groceries, bakeries, restaurants and other food-related businesses.
We loved experiencing the Yalla Eat! tour of food-related spots along Dearborn, Michigan's Warren Avenue last fall, and I'm glad to see the museum sponsoring another group of Yalla Eat! programs this spring by exploring the Arab American food scene on walking tours of Detroit's venerable Eastern Market.
Arab Americans began establishing themselves and their food-related businesses during the earliest days of Eastern Market, which, at 160-plus years old, is the largest historic public market district in the country.
The Yalla Eat! tours are just one of the innovative ways the AANM employs to expand how it tells the story of Arab American culture, interacting and engaging with the greater Detroit community beyond the walls of the museum as the museum celebrates its tenth anniversary.
In 2005, the AANM became the first museum devoted to sharing the story of Arab Americans, through their history, art and culture, and it still is the only one of the 17,500 museums in the United States to focus on Arab Americans.
The Smithsonian Institution acknowledged the museum's unique status by making the AANM a Smithsonian Affiliate (one of only 200 in the nation), with Smithsonian officials noting the AANM sets a model for community-oriented thinking and programming.
The museum's strong involvement with Detroit's annual Concert of Colors, a diversity and world music festival, is another example of AANM's community-oriented thinking that goes well beyond museum walls to interact and engage with the greater southeastern Michigan community.
Don Was, musician and uber record producer, returns to his hometown of Detroit every year to organize a show for the Concert of Colors because he views the event as one of the best ways of encouraging and spotlighting the city's unique spirit of unity and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Was further noted in an interview with me that the event "uses music as a metaphor for society" where "the whole is more than the sum of its parts."
The AANM celebrates its milestone tenth anniversary this month with a series of events that include perennial favorites like Yalla Eat! and the Concert of Colors as well as newer projects like traveling exhibits showing in Los Angeles and Washington D.C., continued cultural and artistic events in the museum's new annex and a new display due on December 4 dedicated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and its founder Danny Thomas, a Detroit native and a beloved Lebanese-American comedian and radio and television star from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Yalla Eat! tours of Eastern Market happen at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and 10 a.m. on Saturdays from May 30 through June 13 this spring.
Cost is $20 per person and $15 for AANM members. Ticket prices include a Yalla Eat! tote bag, map, food samples and a ticket for free admission to the AANM.
Trust me, you will not go away from this tour hungry!
The 23rd annual Concert of Colors happens in July. Check the Concert of Colors site for further details as they become available.
Check the AANM Web site for a schedule of events that include multicultural performances series, film festivals, book signings, conferences, lectures, art exhibits, craft classes and more.
© Dominique King 2015 All rights reserved