Embracing a Middle Eastern tradition

Hookah assimilates into Mason culture for those over 18…

Jordan Berger | Staff Writer

Smoking hookah, a traditional pastime and attribute of Middle Eastern culture, has begun its assimilation into American teenage society, affecting the relationships and viewpoints held by high school students, according to senior Ali Jamali, whose culture stems from India and the Middle East.

“People that are introducing hookah to the American lifestyle ultimately have some sort of connection to Arab nations,” Jamali said. “A lot of them are telling their [American] friends about hookah. It’s the incorporation of a different culture into American society.”

Sudden peaked interest of students in smoking hookah is reflected in the influx of business at restaurants such as TAZ, a Mason restaurant that serves Lebanese and Greek cuisine, and offers hookah, according to senior Maddie Slutsky, who now works at TAZ and a year ago had never heard of hookah.

“Hookah is just something to do, and we get a lot of money that way,” Slutsky said. “A lot of our sales come from teenagers, [many] of them American teenagers.”

A portion of students at Mason High School, whose families’ cultures trace back to countries and areas other than the Middle East, indulge in smoking hookah for various reasons. One main motive of these students is rooted in a desire to learn about outside cultures, according to senior Angela Slanova.

“Before I started going to TAZ, I didn’t know much about [Middle Eastern] culture,” Slanova said. “Hookah is a social thing, but it also helps us learn about other ways of life. [People] are always seeing our differences, but I saw [so many] similarities between us.”

An emphasis on education, acceptance and integration is necessary to most natives of the Middle East, just as American society feels about American values, according to Jamali.

“There’s always a type of defense mechanism between people who want to keep certain cultural beliefs within their own systems,” Jamali said. “So, if they see people who don’t know about their culture or religion, who are using these cultural outings to just have fun and not try to learn, I can see why they could be offended.”

While many students are searching to expand their minds regarding various traditions from different parts of the world, some believe American teenagers do not have valid reasoning and motivations for smoking hookah, according to senior Samuel Mizener.

“If you can honestly say you are experimenting with other cultures, and if that’s your reasoning for doing hookah, then that’s great,” Mizener said. “But, nobody I know that does hookah is doing it for that reason. They’re doing it because it’s fun.”

Disregarding the differing motives of high school students for smoking hookah, somewhat of a connection or a unity among these students has emerged as a result of the Middle Eastern pastime’s integration into American teenage society, said Jamali.

“Hookah has become pretty big in Mason because there are so many different types of people coming here . . . from all over the world,” Jamali said. “If you look at Cincinnati, there are so many different restaurants from different countries and cultures that are open to sharing their cultures and traditions with America.”

The various religions and mixing of diverse backgrounds have led to a general increase of open-mindedness and the embracing of differing cultures, according to Slanova.

“Mason, our whole school, is so diverse,” Slanova said. “Embracing other cultures is something many Mason kids do. Awhile ago, we probably would have seen hookah as bad. But, we’re embracing it; we’re not looking at it negatively. We’re making this part of our life. The sharing of cultures and acceptance and awareness helps [establish a connection.]”

The freedoms of America and cultural beliefs are currently presenting themselves in multitude, creating a tie between diverse bodies of students as a result of other cultures’ traditions assimilation into teenage society, according to Jamali.

“[Hookah] is more of a connection for [students] by incorporating other cultures into their lives,” Jamali said. “America is a melting pot and [it is] open to ideas.”