By Lamia Labello, Freedom Learning Group Subject Matter Expert
In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, we hear from a member of Freedom Learning Group’s expert community as she tells about her Arab American heritage, and offers tips on being an ally in a global workplace.
My name is Lamia Labello! I was born and raised in the capital of Morocco Rabat.
I grew up as an only child in a very modest family. My mom is Arab. My dad is Amazigh. When most people think of Morocco, they think of an Arabic country. But the native people are Amazigh. And then there are the Arab populations. So I am Arab and Amazigh.
Neither of my parents finished their elementary education; actually, my father started working in a textile factory in Morocco at the age of eight, and my mom joined the same factory seven years later at the age of eleven. Fast forward thirty years when they had me, they promised each other to always put my education first. I remember both saying, “Education is the one weapon no one will ever be able to take from you.”
When I was young, the Amazigh people didn’t have access to things like educational scholarships that Arabs had in Morocco. And I remember as a young child, my father taking me to the protests. And by the time I turned 18, I had the same access to these scholarships. I remember waving the banners and fighting alongside my father for my education.
That was my motivation my whole life, when it comes to school I worked really hard, I studied to honor my mom and dad’s blood sweat, and tears in a textile factory with absolutely no chance for them to get promoted or to even sit on a chair for fifty hours a week. Their tears of joy on the day I defended my bachelor’s thesis and the day I received my first job offer are some of the memories I will forever cherish.
I remember the day I called them to inform them I started working with Freedom Learning Group. My father was very adamant that I understood the responsibility and honor that comes with being an instructor. My work allows me the opportunity to share my passion for knowledge and to work alongside others who are committed to enrichment and development.
Ways You Can Be an Ally for Your Arab American Colleagues
Working for global companies, I am honored to be able to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. For Arab-American Heritage month, I want to share some tips for those who want to know more about mine.
1. Be respectful of cultural practices and perspectives.
For myself and many Arab Americans, I celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is when Muslims around the world fast from twelve to eighteen hours, pre-sunrise to sunset for thirty days. The time of fasting is dedicated to prayer and spirituality. Since the Islamic calendar is based on lunar cycles, the exact dates of Ramadan change every year. This year, Ramadan 2023 began on Thursday 23 March, and ends on 21 April 2023.
During this time, you can be an ally to your work colleagues by being aware of the time when you schedule meetings. Avoid lunch and learns and talk about food during meetings. And if you are planning an event, try to avoid it being very late. Regardless, this is good courtesy in my opinion. But when you are fasting, by 3:00 p.m. or later, you can get really tired. Your energy is very low, and it’s hard to maintain focus and be engaged in meetings around that time. So my recommendation is to plan meetings in the morning and be gracious to your Muslim friends during this month.
2) Think about how you ask questions.
When you’re talking to someone about their culture or traditions like Ramadan, it’s okay to ask questions, just kind of check your bias before. Every year during the holy month, someone will inevitably ask about my fasting, but they focus on the food. Instead of asking, “Can you drink water?” which is once again, reminding us of food; a better approach would be to ask “Why are you fasting?” “Why is it so important?” “What does Ramadan mean to you spiritually?” Take the opportunity to learn more about it. And you can always say that you are coming from a place of wanting to learn and to be a better ally. I will always respect your boundaries and share as much as you feel comfortable.
Learn more about Arab American culture at https://arabamericafoundation.org/.
Lamia Labello is a valued contributor to FLG projects with extensive skill sets in project management and multilingual media and communications in the Middle East, North African, and North American regions. Her background includes work in marketing production, program development, events, and education. She holds a degree in cultural management from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts and Cultural Management and was among the first in her family to graduate from university. Lamia is a proud U.S. Navy spouse and resides with her husband in Louisiana.