Arab American Heritage Month
This Arab American Heritage Month in the U.S., we’re highlighting a few of the many exceptional Arab-Spanish voices in Spain. With nearly one million Spanish residents born in Arab countries, Arab immigrants and the Spanish-born generations that have followed them have made an indelible impact on our country.
Mina el Hammani
Born in 1993 in Madrid to a Moroccan family, Spanish actress Mina el Hammani is best known for her roles as Nadia in the Netflix hit, Elite, and Elvira in The Boarding School: Las Cumbres on Amazon Prime.
Interview (with English, Spanish, and Arabic subtitles) between Mina El Hammani and Saufeeya Goodson
El Hammani decided at seven years old that she wanted to be an actress, but struggled to find someone with whom she could identify on screen at that time. Nadia, her character in Elite, is the role she says she had been waiting for her entire life, allowing her to play someone in whom she can see herself reflected and who will give girls of Arab heritage in Spain, and around the world, a familiar face on TV and a sense of representation.
Photo Credit: aramalikian.com/directo/
Born in Lebanon to an Armenian family, and living in Spain since 1998, world-renowned violinist Ara Malikian has lived in a multicultural environment his entire life. Growing up during the Lebanese Civil War, his talent, dedication, and passion for music were clear from a young age. The War may have forced him to study in air-raid shelters, but it also showed him the strength his music could have in lifting spirits and bringing hope to its listeners. At 15, he received a scholarship to study at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany, from the German Ministry of Culture, and so his time in Europe began.
Malikian may not be the image you expect when you think of a violinist, with his tattooed ams and mid-performance leaps. He says that earlier in his career, he tried to “fit in” in the classical music scene, and later realized that he needed to be himself and created his own path. Now, his music is a representation of his own mixed heritage and the places he’s been along the way, taking inspiration from his Armenian background, as well as his Middle Eastern and Mediterranean upbringing and his adopted Spanish home.
Photo by Guillem Medina, 2017 Sitges Film Festival
Spanish actress Hiba Abouk’s career skyrocketed after her breakout role of Fátima in El Príncipe (The Prince), an action-crime drama that takes place in the Príncipe Alfonso neighborhood of the Spanish autonomous city of Ceuta, near the border with Morocco. Mina el Hammani (see first section), who played the character of Nur in the second season of El Príncipe, said the show, with a majority of Arab actors in lead roles, and specifically Abouk, let her not only feel represented on TV, but showed her that there were Arab women in Spain that came before her and fought for a place as actresses.
Born and raised in Madrid to Tunisian parents, Abouk cites her multicultural upbringing as part of her inspiration for becoming an actress:
“When I was 16 or 17 years old, I discovered that there were so many stories to tell, especially being an Arab woman. I wanted to talk about the clash of cultures I experienced as a teenager. Things happened in my house and in the street, but they were two separate worlds. I always dreamed of being an actress so I could play women like me” (2018, El País).
Najat el Hachmi
Photo credit: Fundación Tres Culturas
At age 8, Morrocan-Spanish author Najat el Hachmi moved from Nador, Morocco, to Vic, a city about an hour north of Barcelona where she would spend the rest of her childhood. She started writing at age 11; what began as simply as a mode of entertainment would soon transform into a way for her to channel her thoughts about her dual-identity, and to bring her two homes closer together. Identity and the immigrant experience in Spain, and Catolonia more specifically, would go on to be a central theme in her work.
El Hachmi studied Arabic Philology at the University of Barcelona and, in 2008, she earned the Ramon Llull Award for her book El último patriarca (The Last Patriarch). In 2014, she published her autobiography, Jo també sóc catalana (I, Too, am Catalan / Yo también soy catalana), and in 2020, she received the 77th Nadal Award, the oldest literary prize in Spain, for El lunes nos querrán (On Monday They’ll Want Us), a novel about the importance of women taking control of their own lives and facing gender, class, and ethnic battles to do so.
Photo credit: alramliarabic.blogspot.com
Iraqi writer, translator, and academic Muhsin Al-Ramli has lived in Spain since 1995. He left Iraq for Jordan after his brother, poet Hassan Mutlak, was executed in 1990. Working as a journalist in Jordan, he decided to learn Spanish over English, drawn to the language’s great literature. This allowed him to later study in Spain, obtaining his PhD in Philosophy from the Autonomous University of Madrid in 2003.
While earning his PhD and working as a translator, Dr. al-Ramli established Alwah, one of the first Arab magazines in Madrid, in 1997, wanting to give his brother the voice that was taken away from him. Now, much of his work serves as a link between his two homes, having translated countless Spanish classics into Arabic, and vice versa. His novels, The President’s Gardens and Dates on My Fingers, were long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2010 and 2013, and Yasmeen Hanoosh’s English translation of his novel, Scattered Crumbs, won the 2003 University of Arkansas Press’ Arabic Translation Award. Al-Ramli is also a professor at Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus.
Magdy Martínez Solimán
Magdy Martínez Solimán was named Director of AECID, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, in July of 2021. Born in Madrid to an Egyptian mother, Martínez Solimán has had a decades-long international career that has taken him throughout the world in his work in high offices of the United Nations. From 2014 to 2017 he was the UN Assistant Secretary General under Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
This story was written with the help of Casa Árabe, a public institution under the umbrella of Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union, and Cooperation and the strategic center for Spain’s relations with the Arab world.