I-AMM: Building a New American Community Bloc

This month we’re spotlighting one of our member organizations that is using a new way to share their story. We interviewed Dr. Banafsheh Madaninejad, the Founder and Executive Director of Interconnecting-Arabs, Muslims & Middle Easterners. I-AMM aims to establish a more unified community identity among Black, South Asian, Iranian, Turkish, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Baha’i… Arab, Muslim & Middle Eastern (AMM) folk and create the socio-political bloc they currently lack in the US. I-AMM has just launched a new podcast to share more about the conversations they’re having as they commit to this work.  

What are the origins of I-AMM?

After the 2016 presidential election and especially after the Muslim ban, we noticed that attempts to rally our AMM communities were only “slightly” easier than they used to be. That was a real surprise. We slowly realized that not feeling a sense of belonging might have something to do with the political disengagement we were picking up on. First generation immigrants especially, don’t feel confident enough as Americans to initiate political change or might not feel it’s their “place” to make political waves. AMM folk are prone to feeling like renters because they’ve been taught that this is a white country. 

At the same time, we recognized that as a very diverse body of peoples in the US, we are fractured and disconnected, and don’t have a gelled identity. AMM folk tend to associate with people from within their own communities: Arabs hang with Arabs, Iranians hang wtih Iranians and almost no one associates with Black Muslims–white supremacy anyone? 

Our fractured nature isn’t just do to nationalisms and racism. The census categories exacerbate the situation. The census categorizes folks from the MENA region (Middle East & North Africa) as white and those from South Asia as Asian. But many take issue with having to identify as White or Asian. Folks from the MENA region feel that this false aggregation doesn’t reflect their reality–not many white folk consider Osama Bin Laden as one of their own for instance. There have been murmurs of discontent among South Asians who feel they’ve just been lazily thrown into the East Asian pile. This sense of being haphazardly grouped shared by some Muslim South Asians stems from the reality that South Asians and East Asians have very little cultural commonality. 

We are a very diverse people who have been put into political community groupings that not only don’t make sense to us but also impede political organizing efforts. Political misaligments, further fractures an already divided community and makes having a national voice and a seat at the table even more difficult. I-AMM is a platform in which we engage with these issues.

Why a podcast? What is it about? 

As a first step towards finding and seeing the fuzzy boundaries around our community, we wanted to invite our loved ones into our conversations. A podcast felt appropriate. 

I-AMM: The Defining Moment is a platform where the silent and invisible majority of the AMM diaspora, finally join in conversation with mosqued Muslims to develop greater capacity. We invite AMM folk and non-AMM folk to come hear us tackle issues like internalized racism; living in the heart of empire; modesty; colorism; lacking an identity bloc; belonging; being mixed-race; being religiously mixed, ambiguous or searching; anti-Blackness; what ties us together; Palestine; US foreign policy; whiteness; our role in the greater progressive movement; the possibility of “cultural Muslim” as an identity marker; spirituality; definitions of Spirit/The Divine; connection/disconnection to Spirit/The Divine; our sheroes and heroes; our elders; our foods, what we love about being AMM and so much more… 

Who should listen?

The podcast is honestly set up as a buffet of options for all kinds of people at all stages of their journeys. We’re aimed at creating a space for those adjacent to the American Arab, Muslim, and Middle Eastern communities. We explicitly include our Baha’i, Desi, Black Muslim, mixed-race and religion sisters and brothers and all peoples with complicated relationships to this community. In addition, we invite our allies and co-conspirators in other communities to listen in and see what’s brewing. 

Why are you a member at Mission Capital? 

Madge Vásquez’s dedication to anti-racist work and the lens she uses in creating your organization’s message is what drew us to Mission Capital. We feel like we’ve found a true partner as far as missions go.  

We also love the relationships between the Mission Capital team; the work environment feels warm and the staff seems genuinely supported and supportive of each other, at ease and comfortable in their work-space. We were drawn to the healthy environment and the staff’s kindness and sense of camaraderie.  

Madge has personally helped me in the initial phases of our startup. We’ve attended some trainings and plan to do more and are looking forward to finding more board members and volunteers as we grow our organization.  

Tell us about your recent experience at Nonprofit Board Leadership. How has it impacted your organization?  

We are a startup and need as much help as we can get. The training we received through Nonprofit Board Leadership was invaluable. 

The relationship between myself the Founding ED and our Board members was not very clear before the training and we have a better understanding now. We now appreciate the importance of developing organizational culture – especially coming up with written versions of our guiding principles so it can outlast the initial crew.  

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