On April 1, the U.S. Department of State for the first time announced it would formally recognize April as Arab American Heritage Month. Ned Price, spokesman for the State Department, noted that the contributions of Americans of Arab heritage to the nation are “as old as America itself.”
Though celebrated for years in many communities and schools, the federal government has yet to formally acknowledge the observance. On April 26, Michigan congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Debbie Dingell introduced the Arab American Heritage Month Resolution. The two were among a quartet of representatives who introduced a similar bill in April 2020.
Arab Americans trace their origins to 22 countries located in the Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Three UCLA faculty experts share their thoughts on the significance of the declaration.
Abeer Hamza, lecturer in the Near Eastern languages and cultures department.
“I am excited to see that Arab Americans are gaining the representation they deserve, as we are a strong part of the American community and carry an abundance of overlooked history. It’s important to educate others about Arab culture and debunk the many stereotypes that go along with it, as well as provide Arab Americans with a sense of pride and comfort. I hope to see more progression toward this type of change for all minorities.”
James Gelvin, professor of history and author of “The Contemporary Middle East in an Age of Upheaval” (Stanford University Press), due out in May.
“There are probably two audiences for the State Department’s declaration. The first is, of course, Arab Americans and non–Arab Americans. As the Trump administration stoked the flames of racial and ethnic division, Arabs were among the principal targets, and Arab Americans were increasingly treated with suspicion and violence by their fellow citizens. The second audience consists of Arabs living in southwest Asia and North Africa. Since 2003, the United States has treated the Arab Middle East with both hostility — the global war on terrorism, the invasion and occupation of Iraq — and indifference, as it watched from the sidelines as Syria, Yemen and Libya, for example, descended into chaos and humanitarian disaster.
“The State Department’s declaration should be seen partly as an effort to counter this negative image of the United States in the Arab world through the deployment of ‘soft power.’ Before getting carried away by the department’s generosity of spirit, however, Americans might juxtapose the administration’s words with its waffling on the admission of larger numbers of refugees: There are more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees alone. Since Arab Americans have ‘contributed in every field and profession,’ why not create more of them?”
Ben Radd, lecturer in the political science department and research fellow with the UCLA Center for Middle East Development.
“Arab Americans are an integral part of the tapestry that is the American immigrant experiment. Their contributions throughout various sectors of American life help account for this country’s prosperity. In a time of increased domestic polarization, division and intolerance, it is crucial to the success of this nation and the wellbeing of all of its citizens that the role of valuable immigrant communities be recognized. The State Department’s decision to designate April as Arab American Heritage Month helps facilitate such appreciation.”