National Arab Heritage Month officially takes place in April after the State Department declared it earlier this month. This month celebrates the Arab American heritage and culture while also paying tribute to the contributions of Arab Americans and Arabic-speaking Americans.
The origins of Arab Americans trace back to 22 Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa. According to the Migration Policy Institute in the late 1800s Arabs began to immigrate to the United States fleeing from war, persecution and economic hardships. The largest population of Arab American residents in the country were in California, New York, Michigan and Illinois.
For over two decades advocacy groups such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the Arab American Institute (AAI) have been advocating to get the month of April as a designated month to celebrate Arab Americans. And have been pushing for the US government to adopt Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as categorization in the ethnic and racial options, for decades.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the Department of State, commented on Arab American’s role in the United States in a video statement on April 1.
“The United States is home to more than 3.5 million Arab Americans representing a diverse array of cultures and traditions. Like their fellow citizens, Americans of Arab heritage are very much a part of the fabric of this nation,” Price said.
According to CNN, the Biden-Harris administration drafted a “plan for partnership” with the Arab American community prior to the 2020 election. The administration pledged to be supportive in the creation of the new Middle East North Africa (MENA) category.
This is the first time the State Department has designated a particular month for Arab American Heritage Month as told my CNN. The following states have acknowledged April as Arab American History Month in 2021, Arkansas, Hawaii, Michigan, New York, North Carolina and Virginia. There is hope that others will soon follow.
Samer Khalaf, president of the ADC, told CNN about the State Department’s move.
“This is a breath of fresh air,” Khalaf said. “It will give the community a sense of pride and it’s a chance to show what the community is all about, to educate people and dispel stereotypes.”
Maya Berry, executive director of AAI sees the recognition as an extraordinary opportunity to celebrate Arab American life.
“The formality of it coming from an agency at this level is fantastic,” Berry told CNN. “This month is about sharing our story with our fellow Americans.”
While the State Department made this declaration, according to CNN, Arab American History Month is not officially recognized by the entire US government. Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, introduced a bill in 2019 considering Arab American Heritage.
The bill is currently still pending.
While the month of April had been dedicated to the Arab American Community, the community does not yet have a racial or ethnic identifier on forms, which then forces members of the community to select either “White” or “other.”
However, this does not stop Arab Americans from celebrating their culture. According to ArabAmerica.com, this month is all about celebrations and recognizing the achievements of the Arab Americans. Cultural institutions, school districts, municipalities, state legislatures, public servants and Arab Americans across the country plane to engage in special events that celebrate the community’s rich heritage and their countless contributions to society. On April 30, Arab America, a digital platform with the purpose of reinforcing an accurate image of the Arab American community and the Arab World plan to host a cross-cultural event, National Arab American Heritage Month Commemoration 2019 in Washington DC. This event will feature Arab American leaders, government officials and talented natio