The Role of Collective Memory and Cultural Trauma in Arab American Identity Formation

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Virginia Tech


In this thesis, I explore the cultural traumas and memories that shape Arab American identity in the US, and how such events influence their interactions and relationships with other Arab and non-Arab Americans. Drawing on memory and trauma literature, this study highlights the impact of collective memory and cultural trauma on individual and collective Arab American identity formation. Through 11 in-depth interviews, I found that trauma affected the respondents in two particular ways, through enduring traumas from their countries of immigration and the continuing impact of 9/11.

Specifically, I found that the traumas of immigrating from a country where respondents had experienced direct violence through war or oppression, or where they lacked socio-economic stability, deeply impacted how they understand and utilize their Arab American identity as a tool to uplift the voices of other Arabs. Additionally, I found although the participants did not explicitly consider 9/11 as a personal trauma, they saw it as a significant cultural event that influenced their self-perception as Muslims and their sense of belonging in U.S. society. Specifically, the profiling of Arabs post-9/11 caused the respondents to constantly self-surveil as well as had negative effects on the community. 9/11 also resulted in the respondents becoming more supportive of Arab American organizations through intra-country donations, as well as becoming more accepting of alternative ways to practice and understand Islam.

This study contributes to the social science literature by examining how collective trauma affects the daily lives and identities of Arab Americans. It underscores the importance of inclusivity in research, recognizing the significance of Arab American voices and the need for a comprehensive understanding of the Arab American community.



Arab American, Collective memory, cultural trauma, Identity