Yemeni-American Community in NYC organizes forums [Archives:2004/763/Community]

August 12 2004
Photo from archived article: photos/763/community1_1
Photo from archived article: photos/763/community1_1
By Shaker Alashwal
Yemen Times Staff

In an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, and increased bias and prejudice against the Muslim community in the United States, the Yemeni-American League (YAL) has chosen to promote the issue of higher education. The Yemeni-American League, along with the Arab American Family Support Center (AAFSC), the American Association of Yemeni Scientists and Professionals (, and the Yemeni American Association, organized a small conference to discuss higher education and the state of Yemeni-American organizations.
The event held on Saturday, July 31st attracted more than 70 Yemeni-American men, women and youth who were introduced to the Yemeni panel and pleasantly surprised by its members. Khaled Anasseri, one of the organizers, indicated that “this is a new experience for our community, we brought successful Yemeni-American professionals to highlight the role education can play in people's lives.” The Panel included Debbie Almontaser, a successful school administrator, Nasser Zawia, a college professor from the University of Rhode Island, Abdu Subai, an Information Technology consultant working for IBM, Khaled Alamerie, an Engineer working for the department of environmental protection, Dr. Hilal Lashuel, a Neurology Instructor from Harvard University, and Dr. Hamud Alsilwai, the director of the Bronx Muslim Center.
During the first forum, the speakers discussed their own success stories and described how they struggled to reach where they are today. The panelists who come from different backgrounds spoke about varying experiences. Yet, the audience related to all of their stories and understood the struggle they went through. In a community where business success is the focus of every conversation, seeing highly educated individuals who are making a difference in this society was an eye opener for many. The event was attended by other Arab Americans as well. Alaa Alfatian, an Arab American student who attended the forum, was impressed by the panelists; “the event was inspiring to me and I could relate to some of the stories that were told.”
The event became the first to welcome the participation of Yemeni-American women. The women who attended expressed their eagerness to get involved in community issues and organizations. They also expressed their frustration at the misunderstandings of and the mixing between cultural and religious norms. Many are proud of their Muslim heritage and are strong adherents to the faith, but want to maintain their freedom to pursue higher education and employment opportunities. The meeting was an opportunity to discuss many issues openly. In the second forum the attendees criticized the role of the Yemeni-American Association. The discussion revolved around figuring out a remedy to address the problems from a Yemeni-American perspective and not the traditional way of relying on the Ministry of Immigrants. The organizers of the event praised the participation of all individuals, especially the Yemeni American women. Abdulsalam Mubarez, the president of the Yemeni American Association invited the latter to become active members of the organization's board. The group agreed to meet and discuss plans to rewrite the bylaws and organize elections.
The Yemeni Americans who attended the event felt relieved that those educated and professional members of the community are finally taking charge of the community's affairs. There is a new generation of Yemeni Americans who are capable of addressing the issues of the day in an open, inviting, transparent way and all of that was evident during this event.

Dr. Hamud Alsilwi, Imam of Bronx Muslim Center
Dr. Hamud spoke about the importance of education. He explained how the community does not value education and instead focuses on small businesses. He shed some light on the importance of education for the Yemeni-American community, and how parents should play an important role in promoting higher education. He also stressed the role of the whole community in the process.

Dr. Nasser Zawia, College Professor, University of Rhode Island
“The value of education can not be overstressed. Education is an investment and not an expense. Our community in the U.S. can not measure the value of education because they are not familiar with it. They know how to plan for businesses, but are uncertain that education reaps great benefits. The most advanced and powerful countries have strong educational systems. Education raises the dignity and pride of people. As Arabs and Yemenis, we are falling behind in education and scientific research. We need to establish an association to promote education and science, so that young Yemenis who need guidance and assistance can come to us for help; other communities in the U.S. do this and help each other through networking. A Yemeni Association will have individuals in it that can identify with students at all different levels and could provide a unique support system for students, scientists, and professionals. We could also serve as a bridge to help aspiring students, scientists and professionals to tap into American resources. Given the political climate in the world, the access of Arabs to higher education and research has been restricted. We can help each other without any hesitation or fears.”

Abdu Alsubai, IBM consultant
“Parents play an important role in the success of there children. It is up to the parents to make sure that their children understand the significance of a good education. This lesson must be taught at an early age and then reinforced by the parents, by the actions they take towards their children. Parents must create an environment where learning is the norm and the activities that keep children away from focusing on school work (watching TV, playing video games, browsing the internet, and hanging out) are restricted until the work is done. Parents must reward their children for doing well in school, and provide constructive encouragement when they struggle. As children reach there teenager years, the parent must find activities for the children that will keep them preoccupied from all the negative influences in society. Whether it is work, religious activity, or any other positive influence, the parent must keep on top of what their children are doing and with whom they are doing it with. Growing up in an education friendly environment makes success all the more attainable and rewarding for the children.”

Debbie Alomontaser, School Administrator
Excerpt of Debbie's presentation – “Every woman has the equal right to education and the pursuit of personal happiness. I was also secure with my identity as a Muslim Yemenia, who knew who her father was, where she comes from, and the importance of maintaining a noble reputation that encompassed “Sharaf” above all. As the community got used to my working, havoc started again when folks heard I was driving. I recall one day, driving down Court St., where one Yemeni nearly tripped in the street because he was shocked to see a Yemenia driving. These were difficult growing pains our community had to go through to understand there's nothing wrong with education and driving. Because of the respect they had for my husband and I, many eventually began to let their daughters go to school and work.”

Dr. Hilal Lashuel, Instructor of Neurology, Harvard University
As a Yemeni American who started his journey on this same street we are gathering in today, I can relate to most of the problems and challenges facing the youth in our community. By sharing our success stories with the community, we hope that parents would recognize their children's potential and that they would be able to see their children in each one of us. Today, they gathered here to celebrate our success and tomorrow we hope to return to celebrate the success and achievements of their children.
I hope that this forum represents the beginning of a series of forums aimed at promoting education and empowering the youth in our community to reach their potential, and achieve educational success.
I am pleased to see members of our community engaged in serious debates aimed at addressing the cultural, social, and economical barriers preventing the educational, economical, and social advancement of our community. We have to work together as a community to create an environment that values and promotes education, by recognizing and promoting educational excellence among members of our community, especially the youth.

Khaled Alamerie, Deputy Chief of Mapping Unit, Department of Environmental Protection
Khaled Alamerie talked about his own experience as a young graduate, and shared with the audience his success story and climb through the ranks. His story, like the others, highlights the dedication, hard work, and perseverance of Yemeni-American professionals.
The second forum focused on the future of Yemeni American organizations.
Dr. Nasser Zawia introduced the American Association of Yemeni Scientists and Professionals and explained the role it will play. As an organization, its aim is to build a network of Yemeni American professionals who will unify their resources to help Yemeni-Americans in the U.S., and Yemeni institutions and academics in Yemen.
His presentation was followed by Abdulsalam Mubarez, the president of the Yemeni American Association who discussed the current state of the organization and the difficulties it is experiencing. In his speech, Mr. Mubarez invited the professionals in the community to join the organization's board. The invitation was extended for the first time to the Yemeni-American women in the audience, who accepted the invitation and expressed interest in joining the organization.