U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib watched the flow of bright reds and deep blues as UF students strutted in garments from various Middle Eastern cultures on campus this weekend.
UF Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the second annual Middle Eastern Fashion Show at the Health Professions, Nursing & Pharmacy Auditorium Sunday afternoon. More than 100 people came out to the event, which consisted of a fashion show, Middle Eastern cuisine and the congresswoman speaker.
About 20 models were introduced, along with what they were wearing and each piece’s cultural significance. Traditional garments, ranging from cotton to colorful silk and chiffon dresses came from places like Bangladesh, as well as Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Six current and future executive board members of the organization spoke about the importance of incorporating cultural events into the activism and organizing often associated with SJP’s work.
“The fashion show was meant to show the culture and humanity of the Palestinian people,” said Saja Hussein, a 19-year-old UF political science freshman and SJP treasurer-elect. “I think it’s also important to know the people you’re fighting for.”
The models, all UF students, walked onstage from behind billowy white curtains as high tempo Arabic music played from a speaker offstage. Men’s and women’s fashion were both shown as they walked across the stage.
After the fashion show, Tlaib, a Michigan representative, spoke on her experiences growing up Palestinian. The representative was not paid, Hussein said.
She said her recent election as a congresswoman was bigger than herself.
Tlaib recalled drawing inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She said she applied Chisholm’s do-it-yourself, unapologetic way that Chisholm carried herself in the government despite the sociopolitical circumstances.
“It’s unbelievable the things they want to do with us,” Tlaib said, “But we have the truth with us.”
Bull’s Dabke, a dance team from the University of South Florida specializing in a Middle Eastern dance, then gave a short performance.
At the end, the executive board invited everyone for kanafeh, a traditional Palestinian dessert, and homemade tea prepared by the mother of an executive board member.
Grace Cope, a 21-year-old UF visual arts and entomology and nematology senior who is Jewish, enjoyed the event’s cultural focus in the conversation of Palestinian activism.
“I think in activist spaces, things get hot a lot of the time, and there’s so much passion,” Cope said. “I think it’s important to balance it out with the softness of culture and connecting with people because people really make movements.”