Arab America Hosts Community Leaders for Reception Celebrating National Arab American Heritage Month
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
On Wednesday, April 5, Arab America hosted a reception to kick-off National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM) with community leaders at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.
Distinguished guests included Andy Shallal, local restaurateur, activist, and former DC mayoral candidate, as well as Nick Hawatmeh, Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, and Arlington County Board Supervisors.
The event began with a fashion show presented by Arab American designer, Zach Sherif. Models wore traditional dresses from a variety of Arab countries, including Libya, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Morocoo, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. The event also included a display of Arab-inspired paintings from Arab American artist, Helen Zughaib.
Diverse guests enjoyed live Arab music performed by Wissam Banna and his band, while indulging in classic mezze dishes from Beirut Café and Haifa Grill. Food being passed around included hummus, zeit wa za’atar, fatayer, kibbeh, sfeeha, falafel, spicy meatballs, and grape leaves. Palestinian-made wine from Bethlehem provided by Terra Sancta Trading was also available for guests eager to taste grapes native to the Holy Land.
A flash mob of debke dancers helped gather attendees into the main room for the start of the program. Speaking first was Arab America president, Warren David, who gave a fiery speech, emphasizing that Arab Americans belong in this country. As a third generation Arab American, Mr. David used personal stories from his family to express pride for his heritage and a message of inclusion for all.
Mr. David then had the honor of introducing Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. The mayor read a proclamation declaring April 2017 as NAAHM, and stressed the importance of diversity throughout the US, and more specifically, the District of Columbia. She urged the audience to continue to make Washington, DC a safe space for communities of all backgrounds.
After Mayor Bowser’s proclamation, up-and-coming Arab American singer, Ashley Nemeh, performed her hit original song, Find Our Way, to the audience. The song addresses issues of prejudice and stereotypes found in society, and how they can affect those who are harmed by them. Her uplifting song encourages people to come together and get to know each other.
Helen Samhan, co-founder of the Arab American Institute, also spoke at the reception. She paid tribute to how far Arab Americans have come to gain recognition in this country, noting that 30 years ago, all the community had was Arab American Heritage Day. She pointed to educator Samira Hussain, who carried this mission at Montgomery County School District for years. Now, there’s an entire month dedicated to the community’s history, which continues to grow every year.
The new PLO Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Husam Zomlot, attended the reception as his first official public appearance in his position. Arab Americans were happy to meet him and welcome him into the District. He expressed his gratitude to the Arab American community for supporting Palestine, and welcoming Palestinians into their cities.
Afterwards, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), who represents the city of Dearborn, Michigan, stopped by to provide words of pride in representing the largest concentration of Arab Americans outside the Middle East. She also expressed her love and encouragement for the Arab American community. She spoke of how they are successful and integral members of her local city, Dearborn, and recognized NAAHM in Congress.
The celebrations resumed with more music, debke, and dancing. Many guests embraced the spirit of heritage month by wearing traditional Arab dresses and taking photos together to show solidarity with each other.
Arab America is incredibly pleased at the large turnout at the NAAHM reception, and wants to thank everyone who attended the event, including the sponsors: the Arab American Institute, Coca-Cola, Dr. Adel Korkor, Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, American Syrian Arab cultural Association, Issam and Jihan Andoni, Hamadeh Educational Services, ACCESS, Arab American National Museum, Lebanese American University, Qatar Foundation International, National Arab American Medical Association, Terra Sancta Trading, American Palestinian Women’s Association, National Arab American Women’s Association, Beirut Cafe, Haifa Grill, and the in-kind support we received from the Libyan, Tunisian, and Palestinian embassies.
From local public servants to business owners to journalists, Arab America was pleased to host those who share our admiration of the Arab culture and dedication to the Arab American community. We look forward to many more joyous occasions celebrating NAAHM in the years to come.
See full speeches of each speaker below: