'Dearborn Girl' podcasters 'reclaim the mic' for community

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Rima Fadlallah, left, and Yasmeen Kadouh talk about their new podcast show called Dearborn Girl, at the Foundation Hotel studio, in Detroit, May 17, 2019.

Dearborn — Growing up in Dearborn, Yasmeen Kadouh heard stories about her city — with the nation's largest concentration of Arab Americans. But she said the accounts rarely were told from the perspective of women like her.

Kadouh and her friend, Rima Fadlallah, decided it was time to hand over the microphone.

"Dearborn Girl," a podcast for Arab and or Muslim women in Dearborn to share their stories and "inspire courageous conversation in the community," launched Thursday.

They chose the name because the term "Dearborn girl" has come to mean a heavily cultured Middle Eastern girl who doesn't venture beyond the walls of her community. They're hoping to redefine that image, Kadouh and Fadlallah said.

"If you're from Dearborn, you know when you say 'Dearborn girl,' it kind of has a negative connotation. There's a whole slew of negative adjectives that people would use to describe it," said Fadlallah, a MBA student at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. 

"We want to create a space that showcases all of the overwhelmingly positive stories to combat that connotation," she said. 

It's not your average podcast. It's a raw telling of personal stories from girls or women from a familiar, tight-knit community.

The women have already completed the first season of 12 podcasts and celebrated with a launch party at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn on Wednesday, where they debuted their first episode for the audience. Each episode is an average of 30 minutes, with a new shows released Mondays on Apple Podcast, Spotify and Stitcher.

About 100 people gathered at the Arab American National Museum Wednesday in Dearborn to watch the first episode of Dearborn Girl.

"Dearborn Girl" is filmed during recordings and uploaded its YouTube channel and Facebook page. In their search to find stories, the hosts met Malak Wazne, a 19-year filmmaker, who shares her story on the show. Wazne also partnered with them to create a docu-series about the guests.

"Some people when they listen to music or podcasts are more in touch with their empathy, and others are more in touch with watching visually, so by expanding to a visual experience, we're able to reach more people to build those conversations we need," said Wazne, who is in her first year at Henry Ford College. 

Their first episode, released online Thursday, features a Mariam Jalloul, a hometown favorite lauded as the first hijab-wearing woman from Dearborn accepted into Harvard University in 2012.

In the podcast, Jalloul describes her senior year at Fordson High School as a montage from the movie "Legally Blonde," in which she studies endlessly at Dearborn libraries to retake her ACT and SAT to be accepted into the prestigious Ivy League school. 

In 2016, Jalloul gave the commencement speech for her graduating class at Harvard. While it was the proudest moment for her family, she said she returned to the Dearborn community to typical questions: " 'When will you marry? What about having kids?' as if none of what I accomplished mattered," she said.

"I think being back in Dearborn was difficult but it really grounded me in the impact that I want to have on the world," said Jalloul, who is heading to Washington, D.C., to work on Capitol Hill. "Figure out who you are outside the walls of the community."

In upcoming episodes, the podcast hosts interview some women about the culture shock of leaving the Dearborn community and others trying to grow within it.

Other guests include Batoul Aoun, a doctor who fled the 2006 war in Lebanon and resettled in Dearborn only to learn there were two Dearborns (east side versus west side); Hanadi Fahs, a clinical social worker; Rana Elhusseini, a basketball player from Fordson heading to Edinboro University in Pennsylvania; and Fatma Wutwut, a mental health advocate.

Yasmeen Kadouh talks about her new podcast show called Dearborn Girl.

"We have Zara Makki, who talks about being a makeup artist in Dearborn. We have a Muslim woman who is a firefighter in training; people like Mariam Doudi, who talks about being Sudanese but also being black and wearing a hijab and how her identities are confusing to people," Kadouh said. "It's a show to showcase our pride, but also a raw show to talk about the ways in which we're all individuals."

Kadouh, 24, said she wants others to see Muslim women through the lens they're looking through.

"In addition to the beautiful stories, we want the community to see the value in itself," Kadouh said. "Internally, we can see how amazing the community is. It's growing, thriving, and there are small businesses popping up every single day, but from an outsider's perspective, Dearborn is always told from everyone else's perspective except for our own so, we wanted to reclaim the mic."

While their audience is primarily Dearborn residents, Fadlallah and Kadouh say they hope the show will reach the Arab and Muslim community on a global scale. 

"My favorite part about being a Dearborn girl is fitting in in a place that no one fits in," Kadouh said. "There's not a single definition of what a Dearborn girl is, and we've definitely been able to capture that throughout the season."

After watching the first episode at the Arab American Museum at the podcast's launch party, Dana Mohammad, 23, said she felt empowered. 

"To see women at the forefront of the conversation and to see it on a wide platform is a proud moment for me," Mohammad said. "Being ashamed about being from Dearborn and people always dying to leave is something I hear all the time, but to hear them being excited about their 'Dearborn accent' and family dynamics that are like mine is refreshing to see."

Watch the first episode here:

Episodes are released on YouTube, Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher and the team is on Instagram @dearborn.girl and Facebook.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_