An Ode to Palestine: Reflections on a Night of Resilience and Hope at UK

By Ronald Delgado, Photo credit @agoubsphotos

December will always be a magical month. December gifts us the opportunity to remember the
good, the bad, and the ugly of the last year. In the warm embraces of our loved ones, December
is – and will always be – a time for reflection. But more than that – December will always be the
time to look forward to the future; to hope for a better future.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being invited to a dinner hosted by the University of
Kentucky’s Muslim Association (UKYMSA). The theme for this soirée was A Journey for the
Soul: Celebrating a Living Palestine. The night featured a banquet of Living Palestinian culture;
food, art, and music were all displayed with the hope of humanizing a people so often
dehumanized. I arrived that evening as a confused, (at times) unsettled outsider – skeptical of
rhetoric and sentiments I could not understand. I left a fully committed ally to the children of
Palestine, their cause, and a greater movement for freedom.

As I have observed the rhetoric and framing of recent events, I now understand that there is an
active dehumanization of Palestinians across the board. I do not wish to speculate on intent –
however – I would be remiss not to acknowledge a systemic dehumanization of Palestinians,
Arabs, and Muslims in our media, in our pop culture, and in our homes. Whether accidental or
malicious, this makes it necessary for allies to amplify these voices and re-humanize these
groups. Only then can serious and meaningful action on behalf of Palestine and its diaspora

As I describe my most meaningful memories of UKYMSA’s dinner, please remember these are
real humans; these are the sons and daughters of real parents; these are the fathers and mothers
of real children. My recollection of this event involves real humans worthy of freedom, love,
happiness, and a home.

Now, I take you along as I recount my experience of A Journey for the Soul: Celebrating a
Living Palestine.

The night began with a reading from the Surah Al-Fatiha, an introductory passage in the Qur’an
used to kick-off many Islamic gatherings. While it was being read in Arabic, I followed along as
the text was displayed in English. As I listened, I was reminded of my childhood, attending Mass
with my parents, and asking for guidance through an opening prayer in Latin with the Spanish
translation provided to us. Here, this Surah served the same purpose: to ask for God’s guidance
along the right path. The closing lines could not have made it clearer:

Guide us to the Straight Way
The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace –
Not of those who earned Your Anger, not of those who went astray.

As the night rolled along, I kept these words in mind. Though my religion is different, I could
empathize with the life-long search for guidance and clarity. That is a universal human desire, no
matter what you believe. With the call for guidance made, we were ready to begin our Ode to

Iman Hassan, President of UKYMSA, was the event’s first speaker. Her opening remarks –
eloquent and elegant – stated the night’s theme of “a commitment to kindness, generosity, beauty,
compassion… and resilience.”. She emphasized that a joyous celebration of Palestinian culture
was not a betrayal of those suffering in Palestine, but rather a demonstration of resilience and
undying commitment to her heritage. Hassan stated her connection to Palestine by stating she is a
daughter of Shuqba, Palestine – a town that has been occupied by the IDF since 1967. She
continued by acknowledging her Lexington upbringing, having been educated at Lexington
Universal Academy and later Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS). In her words, I reflected on
my own journey, also having been a product of FCPS – even going to the same high school as
Hassan, though our paths never crossed. In seeing the similarities, one painful distinction
surfaced. Because Shuqba has been occupied for decades, it could be that Hassan has never seen
her family’s home in Shuqba. At the very least, it is unlikely that she and her family visit with
the frequency they would like. I mention this as someone who values family above all things,
and as someone who knows that Arabs and Palestinians value family (and community) above
many things. As someone with their roots in México and Ecuador, and as someone who has the
freedom to visit whenever they chose, I could not imagine the resilience needed to live through
seeing my loved ones in constant anguish – and to live in indefinite estrangement from my
homeland. This remarkable resilience persisted throughout the evening and manifested itself in
the stories of every single Palestinian speaker.
Among these speakers, a duo of poem readers stood out to me. The first, a woman named Laila
Abu Taha, presented a poem written by her Palestinian mother. I share with you the following

As she grew, she roamed the Arab Domain,
Bearing the burden of sorrow and pain.
Her dream lost amidst perpetual plight,
Lines turned to walls, an endless fight.

As Abu Taha continued with her mother’s words, the imagery of lines turning into walls
reappeared again and again in my mind. Given my heritage, the immediate connection to the
constant villainization of immigration to the United States was made. However, a stronger –
clearer – evil eventually came to mind. Those, like Laila and her mother, have been reduced by
the world to mere strangers within their homeland. It is not even a question of being denied
access to another’s country but to be alienated from your own country; to be reduced to nomads,
wandering the earth endlessly, living a hell on Earth.
Next, a woman named Laian Alkesi read a poem about reoccurring dreams:

… What is death and what is life?
What is terror and what is a fair fight?
When do bullets kill the shooter
After their soul is taken by a followed order?
I’ve had these dreams before…

These words further describe this hell that was illustrated in the last poem. The Palestinian plight
involves a constant oscillation between life and death, hope and fear, peace and war. Although
most of these words capture fear and pain felt by the oppressed, it would be wrong of me not to
share this poem’s optimistic conclusion:

I’ve had these dreams before.

I’ve dreamed of peace before.
But the dreams have shown –
Peace is not given, it’s grown.

But Alhamdulillah our roots run deep.
To our home we will return.
To tell our land we have been freed.

No re-telling of the Palestinian story would be complete without the pervasive hope that endures
within. In every speech, poem, book, and painting resilience is met with hope. Even as their
estrangement continues, and even as light appears to fade, there is an omnipresent hope
engrained into the fabric of every Palestinian. It is the same hope I see in my immigrant parents;
the same hope I see within anyone that is away from their homeland. And it is a hope that
everyone should admire.

Photo credit @agoubsphotos

As the speakers finished their poems, crescendoing towards the conclusions, and fighting back
tears, it became lucidly clear to me that it was an honor to share company with a people so
resilient and hopeful for their homeland. It became crystal clear to me: the only sensible thing to
do is to stand with them in their quest for freedom.

Following a dinner featuring Palestinian cuisine (delectable in a way that I cannot capture
coherently into words) and musical performances by a choir of students from Lexington
Universal Academy, Iman Hassan returned to the stage to offer closing remarks. No words of mine could do her passion justice, so I share with you a few lines that beautifully capture the
evening’s message:

… I implore each of you to carry with you the essence of this experience – the culture, the
shared moments, and the spirit that defines us… tonight, every person present, every person in
this room, serves as a living testament to the indomitable nature of Palestine. It lives within us, and it will forever endure, Insha’Allah.

The indomitable nature of Palestine, as she phrases it, is the same nature I described throughout
as one of resilience and hope. As the dinner ended and post-event cleanup commenced, I stayed
back and thought about how the opening prayer (the Surah Al-Fatiha) called for guidance
towards the right path. As I came in tonight, in all earnest, I was apprehensive about some of the
rhetoric and sentiments I had seen over the preceding months. However, I could not possibly
know the full extent of anger, fear, and pain exerted on the Palestinian people. I needed to
witness these displays of Palestinian culture to understand. In a way, everything following the
Surah, gave me guidance. It guided me, firmly, on a path to vehemently support the freedom of
Palestine, her children, and all her people around the world. No matter how small my reach, I
now know that if my words reach one person, if they guide one person towards solidarity, it’s as
if they guided everyone.

As we enjoy the company of our loved ones in reflecting the past year, let us all look forward to
next year. Let us look forward to amplifying resilience and hope. And let us look forward to
doing our part in helping the Palestinians in our community fight for their home.

Ronald Delgado is a resident of Lexington, a reader of the Lexington Times, and an emerging graduate from Northern Kentucky University.