Anaheim’s Recognition of “Little Arabia” is Historic for Arab Americans
By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer
On August 23, 2022, the Anaheim City Council in California voted to declare a region of Brookhurst Street as “Little Arabia.” The “Little Arabia” designation is historic because this declaration created the “first Arab American cultural district in the United States.” “Little Arabia” is well-known for its Arab restaurants, bakeries, hookah lounges, churches, mosques, social service organizations, and other businesses.
The official recognition will allow for increased commerce and representation of Arab Americans within the city of Anaheim. It also creates opportunities to engage diversity through food, festivities, fellowship, education, business, cultural awareness, and fun.
Origins of “Little Arabia” Activism and Recognition:
The movement’s origins to recognize Anaheim’s Brookhurst Street as “Little Arabia” started with a few dedicated Arab American activists. Eventually, it grew to include other non-Arabs in the community who saw this as an opportunity to engage in local activism and intercultural connections. It is now time to meet those heroes who led the charge to have Anaheim declared as “Little Arabia.”
The concept of creating “Little Arabia” began almost thirty years ago when “various Arab American entrepreneurs in the late 1990s turned [Brookhurst Street] into a beloved cultural destination and place of belonging for Arab Americans.” There were many attempts to have Anaheim designated as “Little Arabia,” but it often ended in pushback from the local government and city council.
So, if there was all this pushback, who reenergized the movement, and were there any other mitigating factors that allowed for a different spin to focus on representation and maintenance of the Arab American community in Anaheim? The short answers are: yes and yes.
Eventually, the Arab American Civic Council (AACC) was founded by legendary Arab American activist Rashad Al-Dabbagh. Through his activism, community engagement, and capacity-building, he reorganized the movement to fight for “Little Arabia” to be officially recognized and designated. In a press release, the AACC described the vote to designate “Little Arabia” as:
“a historic moment for our community. Over the years, Arab Americans have transformed Brookhurst Street into a thriving cultural and business destination. Our contributions to the city of Anaheim are finally being recognized with a formal designation of Little Arabia. This is the beginning of a partnership with the City of Anaheim to work together on expanding and improving Little Arabia,” said Al-Dabbagh, regarding the momentous occasion of approval by the city government in Anaheim.Rashad Al-Dabbagh, Founder and Executive Director of the Arab American Civil Council
What other factors besides Al-Dabbagh’s tireless activism led to this historic moment? In a stressful turn of events, the COVID-19 Pandemic also illustrated the need for economic recovery, primarily due to lost commerce and business during the virus lockdowns. In a video produced by Now This News, the local Arab American activists, including Al-Dabbagh, described how “some businesses lost 60-70% of their profit due to the pandemic.” The community wanted to help them rebuild, so the movement for “Little Arabia” was also reenergized as a mode of economic recovery.
The efforts of these dedicated activists eventually became a reality when the issue of recognizing “Little Arabia” was announced as part of the City Council of Anaheim’s meeting in July 2022. Then on August 23, 2022, history was made when the City Council voted 5-0-1 to recognize “Little Arabia officially.” As they say, the rest is history!
For more detailed information on the fight for “Little Arabia’s” recognition, please read my colleague Riley Bryant’s piece titled “‘Little Arabia’ May Finally Be a Reality for Anaheim, CA,” published on July 20, 2022, on Arab America’s website.
Significance of “Little Arabia” Designation:
The recognition of “Little Arabia” is essential for many reasons. First, the city of Anaheim is known for a few things; Disneyland, the Los Angeles Angels, the Anaheim Ducks, and many other luscious natural spaces. For the first time, an Arab American enclave full of beautiful shops, businesses, and restaurants will also be considered a tourist attraction. This recognition will hopefully bring more people as tourists to explore the US’s first Arab American cultural district. After the city of Anaheim completes districting to draw the borders of “Little Arabia,” one can only hope that tourists driving on the highways into Anaheim see billboards of attractions for the Anaheim Ducks and Angels, Disneyland, and of course, “Little Arabia!” One can only dream!
Conclusion: Importance of Representation in the Arab American Community:
Perhaps the most crucial thing that will come out of this official recognition of “Little Arabia” is how it highlights the vital aspect of representation of Arab Americans within their local community. For years, Arab Americans have been marginalized due to racism, discrimination, orientalism, and this declaration will hopefully dispel the hateful narratives toward Arabs in the United States. The opportunity to highlight Arab American successes and the fact that the community has a place of honor in Anaheim will hopefully open up discussions to increase their representation in government, businesses, and civil rights and to celebrate their beautiful heritage and identity. Finally, this recognition also allows for increased education and respect for Arab Americans in Anaheim and the United States of America as a whole.
Arab America congratulates the efforts of Rashad Al-Dabbagh, the Arab American Civic Council, Arab American community of Anaheim, and their fellow local activists on this landmark achievement! We are so proud of you all!! Congratulations on the official “Little Arabia” recognition by the City of Anaheim, California!
Claire Boyle is a contributing writer for Arab America. From January to June 2021, she was a senior intern for Arab America. Claire is a(n) historian, having earned a(n) MA in History, With Distinction, from DePaul University and a BA in Global Studies, Magna Cum Laude, with a Minor in Arabic, and an Emphasis in Interfaith Studies from Benedictine University. Claire enjoys writing about Arab World history and culture, particularly about Morocco, where she studied abroad many years ago, and the stories of Arab Americans.
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