3 Unique Aspects of Traditional Arab Culture in America
By: Udochi Esomonu/Arab America Contributing Writer
Arab culture consists mainly of literature, art, language, customs, values, and beliefs. Arabs are ethnically, religiously, and politically diverse, but ultimately share a linguistic and cultural heritage. The Arab world is vast; it encompasses over 200 million people and its culture follows suit.
Immigration from countries in the Arab world to America dates back to the late 19th century. According to the Arab American Institute, there are nearly 3.7 million Arab Americans living in the United States. Since people from the Arab world began immigrating to the United States, the presence of Arab culture has grown and evolved over time. To understand the evolvement of traditional Arab culture in the United States, it is important to understand the demographics of the Arab diaspora within America.
According to the Arab American Institute, Arab Americans have specifically populated the states of California with 324,609 Arab-American residents, Michigan with 223, 075 Arab-American residents, and New York with 152, 675 Arab-American residents. While settling in states like California, Michigan, and New York, Arabs have found themselves settling in urban areas, specifically large cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Detroit. With an overwhelming presence of Arabs in California, Michigan, and New York, the residents in the community are able to celebrate their own cultures together, while creating an environment for their cultures to thrive.
While the presence of Arabs and Arab culture seems to be increasing in the United States, the understanding of their identity, culture, and heritage remains quite unknown.
In the Arab culture, the essence of the community is of the utmost importance, specifically the communal environment of the family.
The family is one social unit, as it is a representation of one’s identity. Preserving the family.caters to the familial bond that marks the foundation of customs in the Arab culture. While being in America, a very individualistically driven nation, it can be difficult for the Arab diaspora to bridge their traditional value of communal responsibility and cohesion to the individualism that is celebrated in American culture. It can also pose to be quite difficult to integrate individualism into a culture that champions the importance of the communal bond. Arab societies tend to focus more on preserving the identity of the community as a whole as opposed to just shining a light on an individual. This is a value that is unique to the Arab world.
In the Arab culture, the notion of time is quite ambiguous in comparison to that of the American culture’s understanding of time.
Arabs see time as a less rigid idea, they are prone to being more laid-back when it comes to deadlines or timelines. In America, timelines and deadlines are a lot more rigid and time is often strictly scheduled and rationed, as opposed to it being an idea of ambiguity. For Arabs, time is savored and celebrated, which is a value that is not as celebrated in America.
In the Arab culture, religion is at the center of one’s identity. Religion itself is the foundation of an individual’s moral compass.
Religion is at the center of personal development in the Arab culture. One’s dedication to one’s religion is a representation of one’s personality, values, and beliefs. A variety of religions and denomination ranging from Islam to Christianity are celebrated throughout the 22 countries in the Arab world. While each religion celebrated is unique, each participating follower holds unique personal values and beliefs that guide and shape their moral customs and foundations. Religion also may play an essential role in many Arab countries’ societal foundations and institutions especially their government systems. Religious practices are celebrated as a communal and ever-present value. In America, religion is a lot more of a personal value. As American society celebrates the separation of the church and the state, Americans work actively to ensure that religious practice remains separate from society’s most essential foundations and institutions.
While attempting to integrate into American culture and society, preserving the traditional Arab culture that was once commonly practiced–such as community and familial ties, the ambiguity of the concept of time, the essential presence of religion, and many more–has grown to become more challenging to do today. As the Arab culture is quite different from American culture, learning to bridge together the varying foundational cultural values can pose to be a great roadblock in the process of Arab integration and assimilation into America.