Are Arab Americans Rising to Become the New Minority in America?
By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing Writer
Arab Americans are quickly rising to become America’s new minority class. Recent political developments in the middle east have forced many to migrate to the Western world which undoubtedly left its mark on the fabric of the American experience. The first wave of Arab immigrants was in the early 20th century following the fall of the Ottoman empire.
Such a decline in the economic situation, especially in the Levante region, has encouraged many Arabs, specifically in the Levant region, to pick up their bags and find a new home, here, in the US. An influx of families moving to a unique culture of this host country has caused them to adopt both: the Arab and American identities. It was during this time that Arab American cultural hubs rose to prominence. From Little Damascus in Boston to Little Arabia in Queens, it was apparent that these Arab communities were built to stay and contribute to all the wonders America had to offer.
These first immigrants faced many difficulties as the American public was reacting to their arrival. As the new minority group, many Arabs were subjected to harassment and discrimination when they first arrived. Also, Americans got confused; they didn’t know what to call the new Arab group of immigrants because the majority of them looked white-passing since they immigrated mainly from the Levant region.
However, even though these first immigrants have also immigrated from other Arab countries, they were all identified as Syrian, even the language, the food, the bread, and other things were also labeled Syrian because of convenience. That is why, to this day, there is no clear record of the first Arab arrivals because they were just all labeled as Syrian. One may also add that those early arrivals were predominantly Christians who were enticed by the idea of secularism, a concept not found during the Ottoman period. Their integration into American culture was fairly swift as the two cultures merged to become one unique amalgamated culture.
However, as the century progressed, Americans began attaching stereotypes to Arab identity. By the 70s, Arabs were associated with abroad acts of terrorism; however, this wasn’t the dominant perception of Arabs yet. The majority of the stereotypes at that time surrounded Arabs with simple-mindedness, stupidity, and out-dated thinking. This only grew when more Muslim Arabs began migrating to the US. In the latter portion of the 70s, there was a huge wave of migration from non-levant countries like Iraq, Yemen, and Egypt.
Because the majority of these immigrants were Muslim, they came with certain distinctions like the Hijab and beards, which were rare at the time. This effectively allowed the Arab diaspora to stand out in comparison with the American dominant culture. With this distinction, Arab Americans were easy targets to hate and bigotry as they became easily recognizable.
By the turn of the century, Arabs found themselves in a better position concerning race and bigotry as the children of the second wave of immigrants ascended the social ladder to become doctors, lawyers, and businessmen and women. Arabs were quickly rising through the ranks of achieving the American dream as each generation built upon the last.
This allowed many Arabs to rise to prominence in all sectors from professionals to the music industry. In the midst of all this progress came the horrendous 9/11 attacks. These terrorists diminished any progress Arabs have made in the past half-century. They confirmed the stereotype held by many Americans that Arabs are terrorists and violent and intolerant.
In the years following the attack, Arabs were subjected to some of the most extreme cases of bigotry from physical violence to defamation of Arab symbols. Although there were great progressions made following the election of Obama, it all seemed to come crashing back down with the election of Trump.
Despite all the hardships, Arab Americans continue to rise up in all aspects of American life. There’s been a huge increase in Arab Americans in pop culture like music icons and Hollywood stars. Arabs have also been excelling in college acceptances and graduate programs and other professions.
In conclusion, regardless of the hardships, there’s an increase of immigrants from Arab countries, especially the war-torn ones. There is also an increased awareness of combatting discrimination. On even more positive note, there are more Americans of Arab background that are rising through the ranks of the American experience in all fields, especially those who are intensely aspiring and winning seats in local and national public offices.
With attention focused on Arab Americans, there’s much hope that in the near future there will be room for Arab Americans to get a bigger part of the greater American Tale.
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