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Arab American Heritage Month Resource Guide

In 2017, Arab Americans began a national initiative to coordinate and advocate for an Arab American Heritage Month. Governmental agencies throughout the United States responded and several cities and states have issued proclamations in recognition of their Arab American communities. TeachMideast curated this collection of resources to introduce students and educators to the history, culture, and stories of Arab Americans from the late 19th century to the present. While recognizing that it is impossible to provide an exhaustive overview of the history, people, culture, contributions and experiences of such a diverse population, we nonetheless we offer this this resource guide as a starting point.  

Arab American Origins

Arabs are ethnically, religiously and politically diverse but share a common linguistic and cultural heritage. The Arab world consists of 22 countries, but it has commonalities in religions and tradition with countless others as a result of trade, exploration, conquest and commercial links. As a result, Arab influence is vast and diffuse. Not all Arabs are Muslim and not all Muslims are Arab. Arab Americans began arriving in the United States during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Early migrants were predominantly from Christian communities in modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq. 

Arab Americans Today

Today there are over 3.7 million Arab Americans in the U.S. About one of every three Arab Americans lives in one of the nation’s six largest metropolitan areas, and about 90 percent live in urban areas. 66 percent of Arab Americans live in 10 states, but there are also significant communities in California, Michigan and New York/New Jersey. The cities with largest Arab American populations are Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Migration policies, social attitudes and international conflict have influenced the subsequent flows of migrants from the Arab world. [Source.]

 Recommended Topics to Discuss

  • The history of Arabs in America
  • Notable Arab Americans
  • Prejudice against Arabs and Muslims following 9/11 and War on Terror
  • The ways in which Arab and Muslim Americans embody American values while maintaining their cultures
  • Arab American civic, political and cultural engagement

Background Information

Past: Early Immigration and Settlement

“Selling cool drinks in Little Syria,” photographed in Little Syria, Manhattan (Credit: Bain News Service, 1916, via Library of Congress/Wikimedia)

Middle East Policy Council Resources

  • A Look at the Islamic Center of Washington The Islamic Center of Washington was “the first major congregational mosque” in America and remains one of the country’s most magnificent. From the outset, the mosque was a multinational effort between diverse Muslim groups living in the capital to construct a shared worship and cultural space.
  • An Interview with Professor Curtis A conversation with Professor Curtis, an expert on Arab American and Muslim American History, about his family’s past in the Midwest and current advocacy work to tell the stories of Arab Americans across the Midwest.
  • An Interview with Dr. Abouali MEPC talks with Dr. Diana Abouali, director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI and expert on cultural heritage, about representing the refugee experience, Arab American history, and what it means to run a community museum.

Past: Places

Present: Race, Identity and Representation

  • Arab American Immigration | Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes
  • Arab-American Representation and Identity in American Society
  • Are Arabs white?
    In this editorial, author and educator Khaled A. Beydoun discusses the early Arab Americans’ aspiration to whiteness as a means of assimilation and success. He argues that whiteness symbolized civilization and served as a gateway towards citizenship. “Since 1944, Arabs have been deemed white by law,” and although “many Arabs still embrace and defend that status today,” others are pushing for more than symbolic whiteness and want a separate categorization that will help secure needed resources.
  • Arab-Black relations: Floyd tragedy highlights ties and tensions
    Debate emerges about responsibilities of Arab American-owned businesses in mostly Black neighborhoods
  • As census approaches, many Arab Americans feel left out
    With the census going to printing presses later this year, Arab Americans are again feeling left out of a process that helps draw the nation’s political map and provide an accurate population count, which in turn can determine how much federal funding minority groups get for government programs and medical research. Population data is a key factor in political redistricting, researching human rights, monitoring government programs and antidiscrimination laws, meaning Arab Americans are subject to a lack of representation and health and social services.
  • Census Bureau explores new Middle East/North Africa ethnic category
  • ‘White’ Without The Privilege: An Arab American’s Quest To Be Counted
  • Why is there no MENA category on the 2020 US census?
    In a 2015 Census Bureau study, researchers concluded that “it is optimal to use a dedicated Middle Eastern or North African category” for the 2020 census. The researchers also wrote, “The inclusion of a MENA category significantly decreased the overall percentage of respondents reporting as White.” The administration of former President Barack Obama was considering adding a MENA category, but in 2018, officials said that a category would not be added, citing concerns that MENA was seen not as a race, but an ethnicity, which the bureau has not researched.

Present: Arab American Civic Society and Advocacy Organizations 

Present: Contemporary Communities

Arab American Expression: Arts, Music, Media, and Literature

Music

Culture

  • Mizna: Film, Literature, and Art Exploring Arab America
    Mizna promotes contemporary expressions of Arab American culture. The non-profit organization publishes the literary journal Mizna: Prose, Poetry and Art Exploring Arab America, produces the Twin Cities Arab Film Festival, and supports a local, national, and international Arab American artists.
  •  Turath, curated by the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at North Carolina State University, is a path-breaking virtual exhibit that maps the rich mosaic of early Arab American culture through music, literature, poetry, art, performance, and journalism.

Media

  • Arab America
    Arab America is dedicated to bring Arab World resources, news and events to Arab Americans and Arab Heritage and individuals interested in Arabic culture.
  • The Arab American News
    Established in 1984 and based in Detroit, The Arab American News offers “news, views and interviews from the Arab world and the Arab American community”.
  • Arab Latin American Publications (in Spanish)
    • Diario Sirio Libanés This is a magazine of the Syrian-Lebanese community in Argentina. It includes resources related to this community, as well as events and news of interest from other parts of the world.
    • Revista Al Damir This magazine is a publication of the Palestinian community in Chile. Its name comes from the Arabic word for “awareness.” It covers a variety of topics of interest to this community, such as interviews and regular columnists.

Literature: Non-Fiction 

Memoir

  • Arab in America by Toufic El Rassi, 2008. (Graphic novel)
  • The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria, 2012. With poignancy and humor, Al-Maria shares the struggles of being raised by an American mother and Bedouin father while shuttling between homes in the Pacific Northwest and the Middle East. Part family saga and part personal quest, The Girl Who Fell to Earth traces Al-Maria’s journey to make a place for herself in two different worlds.
  • Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family by Najla Said, 2014
    The daughter of prominent Palestinian cultural critic and author, Edward Said, and a Lebanese mother, Najla Said grew up in New York City, conflicted about her cultural background and identity.

Television and Film

  • American Arab — “Filmmaker Usama Alshaibi sheds light on the multifaceted Arab-American experience in post-9/11 America” (1h 3m; available on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes)
  • Amreeka (2009, United States)
    A Palestinian single mom moves to Illinois with her teenaged son just at the outbreak of the 2003 war in Iraq. They struggle against anti-Muslim feeling, high school bullies, and culture shock to make a new home for themselves here. The story is told with warmth and gentle humor. See the trailer here. DVD format, 97 minutes.
  • Arab American Stories is an Emmy Award-winning 13-part series presented by Detroit Public Television that explores the diversity of the Arab-American experience. Each half hour features three short, character-driven documentaries produced by a variety of independent filmmakers which profile Arab Americans making an impact in their community, their profession, their family or the world at large. Each story is juxtaposed around a particular theme, including: Unexpected Paths, Bridge Builders, Entrepreneurs, Art & Life, Innovators, Traditions, Creating a Community, Serving the Nation, Expressions, Civic Leaders, Artists, and Lasting Contributions. 
  • The Arab Americans — “paints a portrait of the Arab-American immigrant experience through the stories of people who, like all Americans, immigrated in pursuit of the American Dream”
  • In My Own Skin: The Complexity of Living as an Arab in America (2001)
    This short film sheds light on the complexities of the Arab American experience through candid interviews with five young Arab women living in New York in the months after September 11th. DVD

Beyond the United States: The Arab Diaspora in Latin America
Latin America has the largest number of Arabs outside of the Middle East, with anywhere between 17 to 30 million people.

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