Salma Abumeeiz, Information Professional
Despite the fact that we share the same Canadian hometown, I first discovered Salma Abumeeiz on Instagram when I was living in Lorraine, France. I was captivated by the 23 year old's fresh new vision of Windsor, Ontario, a city in which I spent over 20 years. Salma tells me she loves "sightseeing, even in places she's familiar with," and it shows. Her pictures are sharp and vibrant. They made me miss Detroit, too.
We started chatting on Facebook. She informs me she acquired her Canon EOS M10 three years ago but "it is just about her favourite thing" as it remains user-friendly. "What scenes do you gravitate towards?" I ask. "A lot of vertical lines," she replies. "I'm trying to photograph more landscapes. Moving to Vancouver really gave me an opportunity to practice that. It's tricky; finding the right setting to compliment the lighting/environment is challenging, but I'm learning."
As someone who worked in a public library for five years, I was delighted to discover that Salma was pursuing a Master of Library and Information Studies in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia. I must say her attention to detail is remarkable. I read a blog post of hers in which she details an inconsistency pertaining to an old copy of Tour of the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.
[Hot air balloons are not actually present in the text yet the books have a hot air balloon on the cover. Discover why here.]
The process of researching Tour of the World, she writes, "reminded me of the joys that books bring, not just in terms of their contents, but through the actual mystery their physical presence commands."
Although I've never been in Salma's physical presence, I can tell she is incredibly perspicacious. She completed her Master of Arts in History at the University of Windsor where she studied the 20th century Arab-Canadian diaspora. She tells me she's working on a couple of journal articles right now, but is somewhat self-conscious about her writing so "it is taking some time."
She was kind enough to message me from Washington, DC to answer some of my questions about her research interests.
RS: You grew up in a culturally pluralist, multi-faith household.
SA: My mom is a Canadian-born daughter of Greek-immigrants, and my dad is a former Libyan refugee who arrived to Canada in the early-1980s. Our family blended Greek and Arab influence which, in retrospect, taught me a lot about identifying human commonalities while celebrating differences.
RS: You conducted many oral interviews with local Arabs during your masters degree. What's the role of language to you?
SA: My parents' native tongues are different - my mom's first language is Greek and my dad's is Arabic - they spoke English between themselves and with my brother and me because that was the shared language between them. English is the only language I speak fluently, while my Arabic and Greek are very broken (but improving, I hope?). However, being exposed to bits and pieces of these languages while growing up - overhearing my mom speak to my yiayia on the phone, for instance - demonstrated to me how words can accomplish a communicative purpose beyond their literal meanings.
RS: What did you learn to pay attention to?
SA: Things like intonation and facial expressions that tended to accompany words and phrases. This, generally, allowed me to understand my relatives when they spoke to me, even though I could not formulate statements in return. The experience of paying attention to the ornaments of language follows me to this day.
RS: Tell me about the classical Arabic music you recently heard in concert.
SA: I found myself feeling deeply emotional during a cover of a Fairouz song, despite not fully understanding the meaning of the lyrics. After the song concluded, I found out from my relative - who is fluent in Arabic - that the song is a lament describing how the singer longs for her estranged homeland. While I had not fully understood the words, the sadness that accompanied them still translated.
RS: So language is a cultural performance of sorts.
SA: One that is capable of both demonstrating and transmitting identity. I believe this is a very common experience among first, second, and third generation people.
RS: Do you believe that spoken word is the most powerful form of communication?
SA: Wholeheartedly. While I am a sucker for social media, I much prefer expressing myself in person by speaking to people and, more importantly, learning from what they say and how they say it.
RS: For your MA in history, you were expected to produce a major research paper on the Arab-Canadian diaspora. What did you discover?
SA: Multi-platform, peer reviewed, accessible information written on and by Arab-Canadians - and non-Western subjects in general - is presently lacking in academic institutions. I believe this gap speaks to a larger trend among dominant research cultures, wherein non-Western subjects and ways of knowing are not given adequate attention and funding. This makes the work of librarians and information professionals essential in supporting the acquisition, access, production, and dissemination of diverse bodies of information.
RS: That's such important work. What did you do last summer (as an intern in Washington)?
SA: I was given the responsibility of determining how the Smithsonian Libraries could better support smaller, underserved units at the Smithsonian Institution [Read about Salma's environmental surveys for the Asian Pacific American Center and the Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage here].
RS: What's your career goal?
SA: To work as an information professional committed to accumulating and securing more diverse collections, materials, and scholarship on the Middle East, North American diasporas, and non-Western topics in general. I am passionate about helping support more complete bodies of knowledge that responsibly and effectively reflect the multiplicity of experiences that exist in Canada and beyond.