A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DATE PALM
By Samia Saliba
a professor tells me that the iconic california palm trees were brought over from iraq, not as seeds but saplings. to be so literally uprooted. i fact check this & only some of it is true. i will not say which parts. i prefer it this way. this, of course, a metaphor for colonialism. the professor, too, a metaphor.
in 2013 the arab american anti-discrimination committee circulates a petition for coachella valley high school to change their mascot. the coachella valley arabs are at this time represented by a racialized caricature. man with one tooth & a hook nose. this, to honor the history of the date palm. how the arab, indirectly, made the valley flourish. how the arab allowed the trees to be uprooted & sold. or perhaps the trees were smuggled & none of us were any the wiser.
in 1900 a white man goes to basra & behold,
america becomes beautiful & sugared
in 2014 coachella valley high school change the mascot with the blessing of the ADC to an elegant cartoon that could be any saudi prince. they become the mighty arabs. the ADC finds this a suitable solution. the real issue is that arabs need to be seen as beautiful & rich. this is very funny to me. to be honest i am not certain where the power differential lies between a population of mostly migrant farmworkers & a mascot celebrating arab wealth & power. to be honest in this country it almost feels like a privilege to be able to fixate on one racist mascot.
in 1921, the first international festival of dates is held. they have imported camels for the occasion. they crown a “queen scheherazade” in a pageant. in the photos everyone is white, obviously. i almost wish i could have been there. they certainly knew how to throw a theme party.
in 2018 an article declares dates a superfood. this means they will make you thin. now it is harder to find a recipe that uses normal sugar than one that substitutes dates. this means they are “guilt free.” a 32 oz. bag of superfood dates from walmart costs $45. if i spent that much on dates I think i would be riddled with guilt & diaspora angst, personally.
in 2021 an article is published detailing the decline of iraq’s date palm
production. this a product of colonialism. after the u.s. invasion in 2003 the
number of date palms in iraq plummeted, quartered from its peak. once,
the dates grew so sweet & abundant that they’d give away the shoots. they
could never root to new soil like they did when the earth began. the festival
of dates is still celebrated in riverside county, though they have updated
For Arabs, the date palm has occupied a special place in their collective soul, with poets and intellectuals composing verses of poetry and clever expressions about it across the ages.(1)
(1) Sharifah Alhinai, “How the date palm came to the U.S.,” Sekka Magazine.
to admit that i do not even like dates that much makes me a bad arab, i
think. but one must respect the date palm. imagine how it must be feeling.
to be so far from home, & yet so rooted (productive) in this country.