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We are happy today to have with us Professor Lakhdar. My name is Esam Alhadi and we are here in Mr. Richard Saltzburg It is now 09 : 45 AM Saturday March 26 th 2011. This interview is part of t he Arab immigrants Oral History project of the University of Florida digital library collection INTERVIEWER : Thank you Professor Lakhdar for being with us. Please go ahead and introduc e yourself by sharing whatever personal details you wish to share with us. L akhdar : My name in Algerian dialect is mentioned as Lakhdar, but I prefer the Arabic name AL Khidr Choudar I am from Algeria. I was born in the western part of Algeria, but I spent part of my childhood between the age of 5 and 10 in the Eastern pa rt of Algeria where I had my elementary education. I stayed there until I finished 5 th grade then I moved back to the Western part. INTERVIEWER : what city? LAKHDAR : it is called S i d i ban al Abbas I continued up to my high school education at the same city. After that I moved to Tlemcen to have my college education. INTERVIEWER : would you please tell us about your college education? What did you study and what was your field of specialty? LAKHDAR : During my early levels of education in the elementary middle and High school, I was a bilingual student because I was taking all my science courses in French. In my high school education, I chose to study Arabic literature. This is why when I went to the University in Tlemcen I chose to continue with my s tudy of Arabic Literature for 4 years until I earned my BA. A short period after my graduation, I joined the national service in Algeria which is a compulsory service that everyone has to do. INTERVIEWER : is it a military service? LAKHDAR : it is militar y service that requires every young civilian to enlist in the army and to be part of a military unit. After finishing my service which takes different names in the eastern part of the Arab world such as the national Service or Flag service I joined the U niversity of Wahran to obtain my degree in Arabic literature At that time, I was very interested in the writing style of the Sufi poe try INTERVIEWER : who of the Sufi poets did you focus your study on? LAKHDAR : ry text itse lf. It is known that all Sufi texts are poetic by nature because of the unlimited imaginary scope they imply. Poetic in this sense is an analogy that tend s to explore the text and its first inner nature. From reading many modern poe try texts from different cultures all over the world including the German, French and in Europe and the west in general, I found basis for this analogy between the Sufi poe try and the modern poe try in general. I tried to understand the aspects of agreement and disagreement betwee n them. I also tried to trace the attempts by the modern Arab poets to relate to these Sufi texts. In general, our Arabic poetry culture is basically an inherited
scholastic traditional culture that has led to a very unfair view of w going beyond any already demarked limits due to the fact that no aesthetic poet ic philosophy has yet been developed while the focus has been on the molded form of the poe m It is true that poetry has other important fields other than the form of a poem INTERVIEWER : we are still examining your life experience. What happened after you finished your MA study? LAKHDAR : I have always been thinking about immigration. My li fe was very settled. However, I always loved travelling and change. My social life was very stable. My wife was working as a teacher and I was also a high school teacher and a participant instructor in the university in the city of Bin Abbas. Life was going normal. In the late 90s, about 1998 or 1999, a relative of mine who was living i n Canada submitted an immigration form on my behalf through the American Lottery program. I never had the idea of migrating to America and it never crossed my mind. INTERVIEWER : Ha d you been thinking about going to France? LAKHDAR : I was thinking of mig rating to Europe, and specifically I was thinking of going to North ern Europe. One of the main destinations that I was thinking of was Austria. I never had France on my mind. INTERVIEWER : Why? LAKHDAR : because of the specific set of problems it has. Alth ough I have relatives there, I know very well the living conditions of the immigrants there. Th at is why I was thinking about North European countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and others, but never about central or southern Europ ean countries such as Italy or Spain or even France. I felt surprised when I got the news that my application to immigrate to America had been accepted. This is because it was never on my mind to immigrate to America. We filed the necessary paperwork and followed up with the rest of the immigration procedures up to the end. INTERVIEWER : And you came here LAKHDAR : I came to America in 2000, one year after we started our immigration procedures. The political and security situation in Algeria w as very bad during the 90s. In 2000, I was unable to get my visa from the Algerian Capital and, therefore, I had to go to Tunisia where the American Embassy was located. Such situations show the difficulties and troubles that any Algerian who was intending to immigrat e had to go through. INTERVIEWER : from the American Embassy in the capital city of Algeria? LAKHDAR : it was closed. The nearest one was in Tunisia. Therefore, I had to go to Tunisia to get my visa and with that to bear all the costs that come with the trip. INTERVIEWER : You had to go all this way from Western Algeria.
INTERVIEWER : from the city of Sidi ban al Abbas and Wahran. We flew from Wahran to the capital city, then to the Tunisian capital. We stayed there for 13 days. INTERVIEWER : was this your first visit to Tunisia? LAKHDAR : it was my first visit to Tunisia. INTERVIEWER : was it also your first visit to any other Arab country other than Algeria ? LAKHDAR : I believe so. In spite of the fact that I came fr om an area that is geographically close to Morocco where many of my relatives lived, and also in spite of the rep e ated invitations that I received for a visit, I had never been there. I, however, love Morocco similarly to my love of Tunisia. INTERVIEWER : that means you have never been to any other Arab country. LAKHDAR : except Tunisia. INTERVIEWER : and that visit was only for the visa. LAKHDAR : yes, but I decided to stay there for some time. It was possible to finish all my paperwork procedures in two or three days. I spent the remaining period trying to get to know the city. INTERVIEWER : would you tell us about your early days in America? How did you manage to get yourself settled and used to a different culture and setting? How did you and your family manage to g et through that period? LAKHDAR : My family was supposed to come with me. brother (Mohammad); a graduate of the biological chemistry department of the Sorbonne University in France who was here i n Florida to do a Post Doctorate research at this university (University of Florida). He was, therefore, the only person who we thought could receive and help us get settled. I wanted to come one month early before my family arrive d to check on things he re, but I realized that one month accustomed to the new setting and to be able to move by myself and to become able to find my way around. INTERVIEWER : did you h ave a language barrier at that time ? LAKHDAR : certainly, although I ha d taken some English courses before during my middle and high school stud ies The English I studied was a school language style that focused on grammar. However, the language barrier w always used my French to get through to other cultures, and most of my readings were in fact in French more than Arabic. INTERVIEWER : how did you manage to get settled in Flori da?
LAKHDAR : I remained for some time with my relative Mohammad and I tried to find work here at the position in high schools. INTERVIEWER : What did y ou teach as a substitute teacher? LAKHDAR : happens to be absent and they just follow the check list of assignments prepared by the class teacher. This was very helpf ul for me during that period. I got into this work after a Sudanese fellow suggested it to me on the basis of my background in the field of education. INTERVIEWER : How about the family coming? LAKHDAR : my family joined me one month after I came here. Th ey were here when I was trying to get settled and find work with the help of my relative Mohammad. INTERVIEWER : and you remained here in Florida throughout this period up to now. LAKHDAR : we never moved out of Florida. We decided to stay here and never mo ve to give the children the feeling of getting settled. It was also important for me to be settled in one place while I was going through that transitional social and cultural phase. INTERVIEWER : I know that you later got the opportunity to join the Unive rsity of Florida. Would you please tell us about your relation with this university and what do you do here? LAKHDAR : I joined the Department of French Language at the University of Florida. I had in my mind to focus on the greater Moroccan culture and th e Francophone literature. I applied to join the PhD program. I was admitted on the department condition that I enroll in the MA program first. I started my study and focused mainly on the Francophone literature and made my MA dissertation on the poetic of the desert as seen in the Francophone novel writings. I focused on two basic writings of two authors. One of them is Malika Mokkeddem ; an Algerian writer who basically writes in French, but she is from an area close to the desert city of Baschar and the other one is Le a Nobel prize winner who also wrote about the desert. My MA study focused on two works of these two authors. Malika Mokkeddem working on novel because, when compared it to other works, I found that he was the closest to the true spirit of the desert. It appeared to me that he read many books, texts, magazines, documents and voyage narratives that helped him to capture the true image of the desert. When I, later, compared his work to other works, I found that he had a great impact on other novel works. INTERVIEWER : are you still working on the same topics? LAKHDAR : yes. I am doing my doctorate research in the same area but I hope to widen the topic a little bit I am going to add some poetic works such as the well known French Egyptian poet Edmund Javas and also some works of other novelists such as Mohamed Deep and others.
INTERVIEWER : because of your relation to the worl d of literature and poetry I assume that you may have developed some relations with some of the Arabs who live here in America who may also have some connection and interests in the same fields as you are in Who of those individuals are you in touch wit h and what benefits have they gained from their life experience s here in America that may have helped them to develop a better understanding of American and global literature and culture? LAKHDAR : This is a general topic that goes beyond my connection wi th the University of Florida. When I first came here on campus, I thought of creating some contacts with the Arabic section. I contacted those who were running the program and tried to understand how the program worked make an effort to communicate with the outside Arab social scene, because most of them were university students who came from different locations. As time passed, I got to know some of them. Talking about America in general, Arabic cultur al presence could easily be felt a nd the interest in this field is big. This could be seen either through some general academic activities, or the presence of some Arab American novelists. INTERVIEWER : would you please name some of them? LAKHDAR : They are too many and some names may hav e escape d my memory. For example, I got to know Khalid Mutawaa; a Libyan poet and translator who basically writes in English. He was born in Ben Ghazi in Libya and came here when he was between 11 15 years old. He has many great accomplishments in transla ting some of the modern Arabic poetry. There is also Diana Jabir, a university professor in the Washington or Seattle area. She is an Arab and she wrote a number of novels. INTERVIEWER : I know that you are now working for a university in the state of Mi chigan. What school do you work for and what do you teach there? LAKHDAR : before going to Wayne University, I was also teaching here at the University of Florida. I taught French and also I was an Arabic language instructor for one year. Then I moved to Wayne State. It is one among the big universities in the area of Detroit, Michigan. I joined the Arabic language program as a lecturer. The Arabic unit there is a little bit bigger than the Arabic program here in Florida, because of the big number of Arab ic students in the Arabic program at Wayne. There is also a department of O riental or Middle Eastern studies where a big number of O riental, Arab world and Persian related subjects are taught. INTERVIEWER : Do you teach in the field of language or literature? LAKHDAR : I teach courses in both areas. INTERVIEWER : what courses do you teach in the literature area? LAKHDAR : I teach courses in modern or old Arabic literature depending on which school semester it is There we offer courses in beginning, intermediate and advance language courses in addition to courses in the Greater Moroccan dialect.
INTERVIEWER : these is about your relation as an Arab immigrant with your country and family back home. Do you and your family visit your home country from time to time? LAKHDAR : I have a very ordinary relation with my home country. Nothing has changed except for being physically apart. I went back only one time in 2006. My family went there in 2005. INTERVIEWER : I assume you are keeping regular contacts with your family there. LAKHDAR : of course. My mother, uncles and the rest of my family still live there. I am in constant contact with them by phone and other mediu ms. I am also in touch with family members who live outside Algeria. INTERVIEWER : you mentioned earlier that you wished to travel to Europe. I want to know about your travel experiences. LAKHDAR : they are not that many. Because of my love of poetry, I l ove to travel via my imagination. I always have an internal feeling that I reside in a place that resides in a different place. I am constantly living with a feeling that whatever place I find myself in provokes me to move to another place. Internally, I am always moving, and getting to a different place is just a matter of time for me. INTERVIEWER : do you compose poetry? LAKHDAR : I, indeed, do. INTERVIEWER : do you have published works? LAKHDAR : yes. I am very interested in writing and poetry. I had m y first collection of poems published in 2000 in Algeria before coming to America. A group of friends published it for me. INTERVIEWER : is it available for purchase or check out ? LAKHDAR : it is available. INTERVIEWER : What is the title? LAKHDAR : Doubt s of the Meaning Followed by the Dew Book. It contains the first collection of poems that I composed. I have many manuscripts that I think of publishing now. INTERVIEWER : in this documentary project that we are currently running, we also collect memorabi lia items from those who are interviewed. Is it possible that you promise to provide us with a copy of your published collection of poems? LAKHDAR : that is possible. I was given 10 copies of this collection when it was first published and displayed at an international book fair in the capital city of Algeria. The publisher is a group called
nothing remained of them even for my own self. When I went to the library in the university in Michigan, I found a copy there. INTERVIEWER : LAKHDAR : I can give you whatever I have available. Saif Alrahbi, a close friend and a poet has re cently published some of my w orks in a very neat magazine called Nizwah which is distributed inside and probably outside the Arab world and also available online. I have some works published there and I can give you some of them. INTERVIEWER : my last question before we end this inte rview relates to what is going on in the Arab world these days. Do you think these are just random movements that will soon end or do you see them as events that will impact history and the area in general? LAKHDAR : the current political changes represent a natural result of what the Arab world has been going through for quite some time I think that the thinking structure among the new generations in the Arab world has grown completely different from the ones that dominated the past including even the fi rst near past. People are now no more unwilling to accept the status quo that has been prevailing for 40 or 60 years. The desire to change has been growing. This is the soul that the new generations are filled with. This force is irresistible. It is a nat ural change force that is recreating itself and pushing itself forward regardless of any oppression acts aimed to stop it. This is very natural. People always want to breathe in a free and healthy setting and will always try to break any cuffs and chains t hat were put to stop them from getting their basic rights that other people in other places such as Europe and America are taking for granted as natural rights. INTERVIEWER : So, you see this as a natural state of change in the social, political and cultura l structures? LAKHDAR : Of course. I strongly believe that the Arab people no longer accept such situations that do their best to keep then crippled forever. The change that we see happening now expresses the will to break away from these chains. I am he re talking generally, and not pointing to a specific country. I think that these movements may date back to 20 or 30 years ago. We have seen traces of these movements in Algeria in 1988 that le d to many negative reactions such as the situation similar to a civil war in Algeria. INTERVIEWER : this concludes our conversation with Professor Khidr. Thank you very much and we hope to see you again. LAKHDAR : You welcome.