What Shakira’s performance meant to this Lebanese lady!

On Superbowl Sunday, Shakira and JLo didn’t just set off a world-wide, female empowerment sensation, they did more than that for me and other women and young girls. This for me is especially true of Shakira. Shakira further validated my Lebanese culture and language of ethnic origin. She made us proud. Born in Canada, to Lebanese parents, I was so so happy and actually relieved to see the Lebanese inspired parts of that half time show, yes including the mistaken ‘social media branded Turkey call, which is really the Zarghouta.

Growing up, I remember friends and peers in grade school asking what the “weird” things were in my lunch; my stuffed grapeleaves looked like poo they’d say and laugh and my hummus looked like throw up. Okay I get it. Well they kinda do, not gonna lie in the mind of a 12 year old I guess. Kids are cruel or just blunt in their youth and innocence and ignorance due to our limited numbers and yes our, including our food’s rare representation in any media, restaurant ads, at that time. And I know it wasn’t just us from Lebanese heritage kids who felt it or experienced it. I think all cultures, heritages, which differ from the usual or majority in any given place and time, go through the same experiences at some point. So we all get it.

After that, I sadly stuck to plain white bread, and bologna, and a Coke for my school lunch and the occasional Ziploc bag of chips. But chips back then for us was a treat. No sooner did my mom and dad buy the bags with the 2 white smaller bags inside (remember that style of packaging in the 80’s! As though eating just one white bag inside the big bag was a weak form of portion control in my diet obsessed mind even back then!) Anyway, I stuck to bologna, coke, and white bread and potato chips. Because I wanted to fit in and I didn’t want to deal or have to educate my peers back then. I couldn’t be bothered. So I quit defending and explaining and inviting them to share.

Instead I accepted the fact that white bread and bologna would really make adolescent life easier for me. I was right. But isn’t it amazing how time and sharing and openness can lead to an evolution in thinking. Know better do better.

Now, as an adult I’m actually being asked for my Lebanese inspired recipes. What was out, and gross and not known, is now in and wanted. And en vogue. Amazing things can happen when doors open, thoughts shared, identities and cultures explored, tried, and out. Growth happens. Unity and harmony are born. Who ever would have thought? Not my 12 year old daughter of Lebanese immigrants self.

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A mentor text, a storybook, titled, Sandwich Swap, written by Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan soon became a valuable part of my instructional materials when I was a systems Teacher and Classroom Teacher. I love it. I used this book in my arsenal of materials for every grade, but for especially students in grades 6-8. That is the most important time, in my opinion, in a child’s impressionable life where identities are being examined, doubted, explored, teased, taunted, threatened, understood. I used it to exemplify the message of acceptance. I have a problem with the word “tolerance,” as I don’t just want to be tolerated. It implies being a bother, a burden to carry but not fully accept. I seek to be fully “embraced” and okay at the least “accepted.” Even today in my current role in education of leadership, as I plan along with my team, school wide events in a multicultural school, I am mindful students see themselves represented in our precious school, whether it be the word Welcome in every language representative of our population or reading materials featuring their backgrounds. I’m thankful for my experiences as they helped shape who I am today and who I am for others in my care. Again, language and words matter.

In this book, we discover, “the smallest things can pull us apart-until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference. In a glorious three-page gatefold at the end of the book, Salma, Lily, and all their classmates come together in the true spirit of tolerance and acceptance.” (Amazon.ca) I remember students would predict the book’s enduring message right off the hop. They got it. They understood. Thank you Queen Rania! Your Sandwich Swap book helped me articulate my 12 year old inner child’s feelings. As a teacher, I always was extra mindful of cultural identities, differences, and worked diligently to make sure my students saw themselves accurately reflected in the curriculum plans I planned and used to teach them. It was important to me and I know it was important to them. They matter. Their histories matter. Their identities matter. Just like I wish I knew I did back when I was 12.

So, fast forward to 2020, when Shakira, in front of a worldwide audience, contorted her tongue and coordinated her vocal cords into the Zarghouta, I threw my hands in the air and yelled, ‘Yes!!! She’s actually doing it!” Although social media, especially Twitter, erupted into crazy memes about Shakira’s supposed ‘Turkey Call,” she actually did something and created a sound we have heard all our lives during most milestones. At weddings, our respected moms and aunts would grab the microphones and give her fellow important women relatives a subtle nod which meant “you got me on back up eh?” meaning the other ladies would answer each poetic phrase relating to the celebration that our aunts would come up with off the cuff mind you, with a retorted ‘AYYYY”! before the lead woman and then the other back up women would chorally do the Zarghouta together. It’s the best sound, because for me and my fellow Lebanese it usually means happiness, and celebration. It is us. Chokran Shakira. What was even more amazing is that our culture was actually being written about not just on social media, but in actual news publications, like the Washington Post! Go us!

In O Magazine, Elena Nicolaou writes, “Arab America defines the zaghrouta as “a form of a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound representing trills of joy.” Typically, the sound is made by women, and performed during moments of emotional highs, both good and bad: Weddings, parties, celebration, funerals, and, yes–Super Bowl performances, suggests GQ Middle East. Shakira’s father is Lebanese. In this instant, she was likely paying homage to her culture, just as J.Lo shouted out her Puerto Rican heritage during her half of the performance.”

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So there you go! We are now actually being discussed in the mainstream. Amazing. In the same time frame, Disney Jr. actually produced a show, The Rocketeer, where the main character Kit, explores her Lebanese heritage and illustrates for the audience, but most most importantly for Lebanese heritage children, Lebanese words, foods, and song. It’s about time! Happy days.

When Shakira vocalized the Zarghouta, and the horn played its unmistaken sound, and the mijwiz and the derbeke, were visible, she really impacted younger children and people of Lebanese culture by saying through her call I see you. She showed us through her dance, we do have power and voice. We matter.

I’m thankful I came across ignorance in my youth because it motivated me along the way. It helped propel me further in roles responsibilities, career paths and professions where I can influence younger Lebanese children and all children of any background or ethnicity or culture. Just like my aunt, my older sister surely both did for me. I can show them I get it ….where I can validate their ethnic identity and hopefully I pray become a a role model for them in my current role. And outside it too.

Words matter. I know actions do but I’d venture to say words impact a person’s lasting development more so. Nobody ever physically abused me. But it’s the words I heard to describe me and mine, or used with / against me , whether out of pure innocence, ignorance or evil, that stick. So yes, when Shakira, whose father is Lebanese, when she shakes her hips to the drum, and gives us Lebanese inspired ANYTHING IN A SHOW, we, I’m sure, will all jump up off our couches and scream YES! Yulla, Go Habibte, and whatever else dances out from our overflowing hearts to our Zarghouta singing tongues and lips!


Mona xo