Out of Many We are One: Immigrant Heritage Month
By: Malorie Lewis / Arab America Contributing Writer
June is Immigrant Heritage Month! This month continues its annual celebration since its beginning in 2014. The initial initiative was a product of the I Am an Immigrant Foundation, and it exists for the purpose of honoring our Immigrant citizens and heritage. This spotlight is important now more than ever with continued negative and unfounded mindsets about immigration and immigrants. It is a reminder that we all come from a form of immigration historically!
President Joe Biden released a proclamation on May 31st, 2022, specifically recognizing the holiday. Biden in his proclamation encouraged Americans to learn more about immigrants and their stories. You can view this proclamation here.
The United States is a Nation of immigrants — shaped by the courageous people from around the world who have left their homes, lives, and loved ones to seek refuge and opportunity on our shores. Their sacrifices and entrepreneurial spirit have contributed to the rich tapestry that has defined the character of our country for generations. Since our founding, the very idea of America as a Nation of limitless opportunities has been and advanced by immigrants. During National Immigrant Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of immigrants to our great Nation and celebrate their profound impact.Joe Biden Proclamation on National Immigrant Heritage Month, 2022
Reflections on the “Melting Pot”
It is important for us to take the time to reflect on the contributions of our fellow citizens, after all we are a nation built on immigration. It is a time to appreciate our own history and celebrate the continual progress we make thanks to our rich and diverse community. Immigrants have not only contributed to economic growth of America, but they are the bedrock of our diverse cultural landscape. They have shaped and molded our identity into the mythical “melting pot” that we learned about in school.
However, a better analogy for America is that of the tossed salad. Why a tossed salad? Well, components of our racial, religious, and cultural heritage remain intact and there is less of a push for assimilation. Our identity coincides with groups outside of being just plain American. We are Mexican-American, African-American, Muslim-American, Italian-American, Asian-American, Arab American, and the list goes on. Immigrants’ heritage, customs, and culture only serve to enrich our country.
Arab Immigration History
This celebration is of course very dear to us here in Arab America. Migration from the Middle East and North African regions has a lengthy history dating back to the 1800s. There were four distinct waves of immigration from the Arab World that saw a major influx to the United States.
The first wave occurred from the 1800s to 1924. The majority were Arab Christians from the Ottoman Empire fled to the United States escaping economic insecurity, conscription, and religious persecution. This is the very story and essence of the United States. It is the “American Dream”. This lasted until the implementation of the Johnson-Reed Act. This limited the immigration to the U.S. based on quotas, in favor of immigrants from northern and western Europe.
Following WWII, the U.S. made exceptions for many educated people from countries like Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq who came to the United States. Thus, the beginning of a phenomenon known as the “brain drain” was set into motion. Then the Arab-Israeli War became a catalyst for increased Arab immigration as approximately 711,000 Palestinians became displaced from their homes and land. The Refugee Relief Act in 1953 permitted around 2,000 Palestinian families to immigrate to the United States.
From 1966 to 1990, immigration from Arab countries saw a significant spike as many came to study at U.S. schools and found work in the country afterward. Others were refugees fleeing conflicts at home, such as the Lebanese Civil War. Finally, we are in the most recent wave of Arab immigration, from 1990 to the present. As time has passed and conflicts continue to emerge, so has the population of our amazing Arab American community.
Arab American Immigrant Statistics and Impact
According to the Arab American Institute, nearly 3.7 million Americans trace their roots to an Arab country. Arab Americans exist in every state, but more than two-thirds of them live in just ten states: California, Michigan, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Metropolitan Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York are home to one-third of the population. Many of these welcoming cities are also participating in the celebrations this month! You should get out there and find some events.
In the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of Arab Americans running for elected office and enacting real change to policy, and making their voices heard. Of course, politics is not the only realm that Arab Americans have impacted. From Rashida Tlaib to Gibran Khalil Gibran to Steve Jobs, Arab Americans have added exponentially to the political, cultural, and economic status of America. It is important that we take the time to celebrate our nation’s rich diversity and unique global heritage. E-PLURIBUS -UNUM is the Latin phrase used by the United States before adopting “In God We Trust” on our currency. This means “Out of many, one”. We are a single nation made up of many.
So, we here at Arab America hope that you will join us in reflecting on and celebrating this wonderful month of diversity!
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