Celebrating Arab American Heritage Month in the Midst of Increased Bigotry
BY: Warren David/Arab America President
WASHINGTON, DC – Ellis Island holds a special place in our history as the symbol of hope for immigrants entering the U.S. Many of those immigrants were of Arab origin, including my grandparents who came from Syria and Lebanon at the turn of the last century. Since then, millions of Arab Americans have migrated, making significant contributions to the diversity, economy, and politics of America, which brings us to this month of April.
Since the early 80s, April has been designated as National Arab American Heritage Month. With the month coming to an end, it is time to reflect on the contributions of Arab Americans to American society.
This year, Arab America committed to making this recognition grow and building a foundation for years to come. In our pledge to honor Arab American heritage for the entire month, we’ve been featuring a new article each day in April that exemplifies some of the most notable Arab Americans in a variety of fields, as well as insights into Arab food, language, and neighborhoods.
This year’s unprecedented election cycle has provoked bigotry towards Arab Americans like we’ve never seen before, which is why we are making sure National Arab American Heritage Month continues to grow in the coming years.
Our purpose this year was to combat the nasty political rhetoric towards Arab Americans and the denigrating images we are all too tired of seeing. Some of the worst media bites we saw were: the calls by presidential candidates to ban all Syrians and Muslims from entering the country, proposals to patrol “Muslim neighborhoods,” or the “shock” factor tied to Dearborn, Michigan’s Arab American community supporting Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that he’s Jewish.
Because some media outlets portray only negative or assumptive images of Arab Americans and the Arab World, there is a need for an alternative news source to tell an accurate narrative.
Arab America took on this challenge in 2006 and has since become a digital media platform, disseminating news about Arab American culture and society. Our research this month found positive contributions made by Arab Americans – success stories that have been forgotten by the media or willfully ignored.
We were fortunate to have many supporters take on the challenge, as well. Local governments, school districts, and fellow Arab Americans celebrated heritage month. We received invitations and notices to events officially recognizing April as Arab American Heritage Month from many organizations, such as the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the city of Pontiac, Michigan, the city of Gaithersburg, Maryland, and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Austin Human Resources Management Association.
These recognitions might seem small, but they are accomplishments for our Arab America team in Washington, DC and for all Arab Americans.
We are grateful for the immense support shown by the community online and in-person at events across the country. However, this month also reminds us of how much more support we need from all Americans.
While we were honoring our heritage throughout April, Arab Americans were facing an increase in discrimination directed against them because of their religious affiliation or national origin, particularly due to the November terrorist attacks.
In April, during Arab American Heritage Month, we have witnessed the following:
- An Arab American family kicked off a United Airlines flight for “safety issues.”
- U.S. Senator Harry Reid refused to support an Arab American’s Congressional campaign for lack of experience, but openly recruited his opponent who also did not have political experience.
- A Texas teacher humiliated her Arab American student by calling him a terrorist in front of the class, causing his classmates to bully him.
- A four-year-old Arab American child joined seventeen others who were wrongfully placed on the terrorist watch-list in a complaint filed against the Terrorist Screening Database.
- On at least six college campuses, hateful anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric was displayed publicly.
- A seemingly drunk ex-marine threatened a group of Arab American teenagers by telling them, “I’ve killed your kind.”
- Memphis police officers pulled an Arab American recruit out of training and questioned him on his religion and terrorist affiliations.
- Most recently, another Arab American got kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight just for speaking Arabic.
It doesn’t matter that I’m a third generation Arab American and my father and relatives fought in our wars to help defend this country.
It doesn’t matter to many of these offenders that those who committed the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris weren’t Syrian refugees.
It doesn’t matter that the majority of Arab Americans are actually Christian, yet we are all stereotyped as the “Muslim jihadists” that right-wing Christian Americans fear.
It doesn’t matter to these bigots that in reality, Arab Americans are some of the most successful members of society who would never think to commit a crime.
But it matters to us, and that’s why we need an Arab American Heritage Month.
Warren David is a third-generation Arab American and the founder and president of Arab America (www.arabamerica.com). Arab America is the largest provider of digital media promoting the Arab and Arab American heritage. Through its digital platform, Arab America provides information and events online via the web, email, social media, radio, and television.