State Department Celebrates Arab-American Heritage in April

US-Arab Community Shares Its Prominent Stories and Valuable Contributions

Tony Shalhoub poses at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty)
Tony Shalhoub poses at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 19, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty)

State Department Celebrates Arab-American Heritage in April

For the first time, the US Department of State has declared April 2021 as Arab-American Heritage Month (AAHM) and although few states had followed suit or the Federal Government not taking a similar step, about three million Arab-Americans are celebrating, saying that the State Department’s declaration should be looked at as a step towards a national AAHM.

Two years ago, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, an Arab-American Democrat, introduced a bill towards this purpose, but the bill hasn’t moved out of the committee stage.

The State Department’s statement, saying that the group's contributions to the US "are as old as America itself”, estimated the number of Arab-Americans to be 3.5 million, but another State Department’s website put the figure at 2.1 million. A lower number was declared by the US Census Bureau: 1.7 million, according to the 2010 census, but it is expected that the details of last year’s census will raise the number because, due to the wars, violence, instability and economic problems in the Middle East during the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of Arabs immigrated to the US.

The uncertain size of Arab-Americans doesn’t diminish their contributions, and the State Department’s statements confirm that by saying: “Like their fellow citizens, Americans of Arab heritage are very much a part of the fabric of this nation. And Arab Americans have contributed in every field and profession, many of them, in fact, serve here at the State Department and throughout different branches of government."

Last week, CNN quoted Samer Khalaf, president of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), praising the State Department’s decision: "This is a breath of fresh air. It will give the community a sense of pride and it's a chance to show what the community is all about, to educate people and dispel stereotypes."

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute (AAI) in Washington, said: “The formality of it coming from an agency at this level, is fantastic. This month is about sharing our story with our fellow Americans."

According to the Census Bureau, probably half of the group are Lebanese-Americans, followed by Egyptian-Americans, Syrian-Americans, Iraqi-Americans, Moroccan-Americans, Palestinian-Americans, Jordanian-Americans, and about 25 percent classified themselves as belonging to more than one origin, or didn’t specify.

Another reason for the absence of a more accurate number of Arab-Americans is their intermingling with Muslim-Americans. Because the Census Bureau doesn’t count religious affiliations, a more reliable source was Pew Research Center in Washington, that estimated, in 2018, that Muslim-Americans numbered almost four million.

Although the two groups work together, particularly in lobbying, voting registration and candidates’ support, the non-Muslim Arabs tend to have a distinct presence, as recently shown when a report by the University of Denver described Keith Ellison “as the first Muslim Arab American” to serve in Congress. Later, a correction was made that he was the first “Muslim American”; George Kasem, a Christian, was “the first Arab American.”

While about 25 percent of the Arab Americans said they were Muslims, according to a recent report by the Arab American Institute, about 60 percent said they were Christians, and the majority of them were born in the US.

Whereas the first generations of Arab immigrants, during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, were Christians running away from the rule of the Ottoman Empire, recent war, troubles and economic problems in many Muslim Arab countries increased the Muslim ratio among the Arab immigrants.

Many Arab Americans are considered at the top of notable Americans, in a variety of fields:

In science, Ahmed Zewail, Egyptian-American, and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Michael DeBakey, Lebanese-American cardiovascular surgeon; Mohamed Atalla, Egyptian-American, pioneer in silicon semiconductors and security systems; and Charles Elachi, Lebanese-American, former director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

In technology, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple (Syrian biological father);

Tony Fadell, manager at Apple Inc. and co-inventor of iPod and iPhone; and

Mohamed El-Erian, Chief Economic Advisor at Allianz (Egypt).

In cinema, Mustapha Akkad, film producer and director (Syria); and in radio, Casey Kasem (Lebanon), and George Noory (Lebanon).

In acting, Tony Shalhoub, three-time Emmy Award-winner(Lebanon); Danny Thomas, Emmy Award-winner (Lebanon); Marlo Thomas, Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winner (Lebanon); and Rami Malek, Emmy Award and Academy Award-winner (Egypt).

In literature, Khalil Gibran, writer, poet and publisher (Lebanese); William Blatty, known for his 1971 horror novel “The Exorcist” (Lebanon); Mikhail Naimy, member of the New York Pen League (Lebanon); and Ameen Rihani, "father of Arab American literature” (Lebanon).

In politics, James Abdnor, U.S. Senator (Lebanon); John Abizaid, general and ambassador (Lebanon); James Abourezk, U.S. Senator (Lebanon); and

Spencer Abraham, U.S. Secretary of Energy (Lebanon).

University professors: Edward Said (Palestine and Lebanon); Clovis Maksoud (Lebanon); Naseer Aruri (Palestine); Ibrahim Abu-Lughod (Palestine); Samih Farsoun (Palestine); and Rashid Khalidi (Palestine).

University Presidents: Mitch Daniels, Purdue University (Syria); Donna Shalala, University of Miami (Lebanon); Robert Khayat, University of Mississippi (Lebanon); Nido Qubein, High Point University, NC; and David Adamany, Temple University (Lebanon).

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