As Rashida Tlaib Is Sworn In, Palestinian-Americans Respond With #TweetYourThobe

As Rashida Tlaib arrived on Capitol Hill to be sworn into the House of Representatives on Thursday, she was carrying a particular outfit: a conventional Palestinian thobe, or costume, adorned with the frilly, hand-stitched embroidery generally known as tatreez.

[Read stay updates from the opening of the 116th Congress.]

Ms. Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan who’s the primary Palestinian-American girl to serve in Congress, had posted a photograph of the costume on Instagram on Dec. 14, garnering 11,000 likes — but in addition criticisms, together with racist feedback.

In two weeks, it grew to 8,000 members. And on Thursday, they went public, sharing photos of themselves and loved ones wearing thobes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“I’ve just been tearing up all day looking at some of these pictures,” Ms. Darraj said on Thursday afternoon, speaking by phone from Baltimore.

“It’s especially moving when you see women wearing thobes that their great-grandmothers made by hand,” she added. “It’s just extraordinary, and it’s a visual testament to the relationships between mothers and daughters that we have in our culture, and I think other people can relate to that.”

Ms. Tlaib was also sworn in using a centuries-old English-language Quran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

The knowledge of how to do tatreez is often passed down from mother to daughter, said Wafa Ghnaim, a Brooklyn-based tatreez artist and educator. Looking closely at pictures of Ms. Tlaib’s dress, Ms. Ghnaim saw symbols and stories, not just designs: the cypress trees around the waist, for example, which signify resilience and are often used in celebratory garments. The intricate designs extend to nearly every inch of the dress, another sign that it was meant for a joyous occasion.

In her book, “Tatreez & Tea,” Ms. Ghnaim explains the symbolism of what she calls an endangered folk art. The commercialization of embroidery and the continuing displacement of Palestinian people have led to a decline in the practice of tatreez, she said.

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, a Palestinian-American poet from Redmond, Wash., noted that the designs often signify a particular village or area. And she said the virtual celebration on Thursday — with Palestinian-American women she knew, and with others she had never met in person — was a “beautiful festival atmosphere.”

“Women are often invisible in history,” she said. “This is a really powerful way of making women’s lives visible, especially Palestinian women who are often charged with keeping the culture alive, and they do it in the face of immense suffering.”

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