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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Performing Transnational Arab American Womanhood: Rosemary Hakim, US Orientalism, and Cold War Diplomacy

  • Author(s): Koegeler-Abdi, Martina
  • et al.

The first Miss Lebanon-America, Rosemary Hakim, landed at Beirut Airport in July 1955 to start a public diplomacy tour. As an American beauty queen from Detroit visiting Lebanon, her parents' homeland, she was greeted enthusiastically by the local press and closely monitored by US government representatives. After her return to the States, she documented her experiences abroad in an unpublished memoir, entitled "Arabian Antipodes." However, this 1955 account does not just chronicle her travels. Hakim performs here her own approach to Arab American womanhood. In this essay Koegeler-Abdi contextualizes her narrative performance within the histories of American orientalism, the emerging Cold War, and ethnic beauty pageants to provide a better understanding of the specific intersection in these 1950s hegemonic discourses that framed and enabled her public agency. Her analysis then looks at how Hakim herself strategically cites these discourses in her self-fashioning to claim her own subject position as a white Arab and American woman during the 1950s. She argues that, while most Arab American authors at this time avoid a serious Arab ethnic affiliation, Rosemary Hakim already proudly uses a transnational sense of Arab Americanness to negotiate her own gender and ethnic identity. This is significant because we currently lack a broader historical understanding of Arab American women’s public agency, particularly during the mid-twentieth century. Hakim’s memoir requires us to rethink the history of Arab American women’s strategies of self-representation in ways that acknowledge but are not confined within the terms of conventional orientalist discourses.

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