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Arab Americans

April is National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM) to celebrate the numerous accomplishments and rich history of this important group of people. It is appropriate and right to celebrate a diversity of cultures and heritages, and such celebration serves as a reminder that despite differing backgrounds, everyone in America is bound by a common hope for a better and more inclusive future for themselves and their family.

The history of Arab Americans in the U.S. remains neglected or defaced by misconceptions, bigotry, and anti-Arab racism in the forms of crimes and hate speech. Arab American issues, such as civil rights abuses, bullying, and harmful stereotyping, must be combated through greater education and awareness. Is important to recognize the heritage and culture of such an inspiring group of people and ensure tolerance, inclusion, and equality for all people.

Arab Americans have long made outsized contributions to American society, whether in the area of science, politics, the arts or other disciplines.Arab Americans have been an integral part of America since their migration to the United States around 1880 in search of a destination that could better provide political, economic, and religious freedom. Since migrating to the United States, men and women of Arab descent have shared their rich culture and traditions with neighbors and friends, while also leading as model citizens and public servants. Arabs brought with them to America their resilient family values, strong work ethic, dedication to education, and diversity in faith and creed, which have strengthened American democracy. Arab Americans are a vital and valued part of the population, making significant contributions to academia, business, medicine, law, technology, government, science, and social justice and making the country a better place to live.

The first significant wave of immigration began around 1875. It lasted until about 1920. After a period in which the United States restricted immigration, a second wave began in the 1940s. Like many peoples who came to the United States, Arabs were seeking opportunity. Factors in the first immigration were Japanese competition that hurt the Lebanese silk market and a disease that hurt Lebanese vineyards. Most early Arab immigrants were from Lebanon and Syria, and most were Christian. After 1940, immigration to the United States was not for economic reasons as much as because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and civil war. This meant that people came from many more places. The second immigration also had many more people who practiced Islam, a religion that was not as familiar in the United States. Immigrants in this group tended to be more financially secure when they arrived than people who had come earlier for economic opportunity. Many people in the second wave were students.

There are different groups of Arab Americans, such as Palestinians, Lebanese, and Yemenese. And each of them have traditional differences. Some have religious beliefs that others do not have. Some are more conservative than others. The 2019 American Community Survey shows an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States reported Arab ancestry. The largest group is of Lebanese ancestry, but others claim Yemeni, Algerian, Saudi Arabian, Tunisian, Kuwaiti, Libyan, Kurdish or other Arab origins. There are no easy, one-size-fits-all answers. Culture, language and religion are distinct qualities that act in different ways to connect Arabs, and to distinguish them from one another. The differences that seem to separate Arab Americans from non-Arabs can be much smaller than the variations that at times differentiate them from one another.

Estimates of Arab Americans living in the United States are about 3 million. Most Arab Americans were born in the United States. The US Census Bureau does not use an Arab American classification and people identify themselves in various ways. Some Arab Americans identify themselves as Middle Eastern, for example. Recent immigrants from many countries are reluctant to give personal and confidential information to the government, and an increasing number of people have more than one ethnicity.

Arab Americans live in all 50 states, but about a third are concentrated in California, Michigan and New York. The State of California proudly boasts the largest population of Arab Americans in the country, with a population of approximately 800,000 Californians of Arab heritage and descent. The city of Dearborn annually holds the largest Arab American festival in North America. Wayne County is located in the southeastern section of Michigan and has a population of more than two million residents. Detroit is the county seat. The county is home to more than 100,000 persons of Arab ethnicity, making it the county with the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States. The Arab American community in Wayne County has many Arab ethnic groups: Egyptians, Iranians, Iraqis, Jordanians, Kaldeans, Lebanese, Moroccans, Palestinians, Saudis, Syrians, and Yemeni. Moreover, instead of being concentrated in one area, the Arab American community in the Detroit area is in numerous clusters throughout the county.

The Arabic language is one of the great unifying and distinguishing characteristics of Arab people. Even so, colloquial Arabic differs from place to place. There are several categories: Levantine dialect (Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon), Egyptian and North African dialect, and Khalijji, or Gulf, dialect. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is a pan-Arabic language used in formal letters, books and newspapers. It is also spoken at Middle East peace conferences and on television news. Quaranic Arabic, like MSA, also is a widely spoken form of the language, but it differs in style and lexicon from MSA. Not all Arab Americans know Arabic, of course, as many are second-, third- and fourth-generation Americans.

Arabs belong to many religions, including Islam, Christianity, Druze, Judaism and others. There are further distinctions within each of these, and some religious groups have evolved new identities and faith practices in the United States. Although Arabs are connected by culture, they have different faiths. Common misperceptions are to think that Arab traditions are Islamic, or that Islam unifies all Arabs. Most Arab Americans are Catholic or Orthodox Christians, but this is not true in all parts of the United States.

Arab Americans are often the victims of employment and religious discrimination. Forms of discrimination may include a denial to Arab American immigrants with high levels of education the opportunity to work in the professional field of their training, a denial to Arab Americans to assume management positions, refusal to hire Arab Americans who hold to different religious practices and/or different dress codes, and a lack of accommodation to individuals who adhere to different religions and/or dress codes.

There are cases of Muslim women fired from their work or rejected during the interviews for jobs or for college admission because they wear their religious head scarves. There are cases of Muslim men fired from their job or rejected during job interviews because they wear a beard, a religious requirement.

The educational system often fails to address the social and cultural needs of Arab immigrant children. Since the 1990s school textbook publishers have made large improvements by including multicultural education within their texts. U.S. history textbooks have specifically included diverse perspectives. The increased inclusion of diverse perspectives creates a more historically accurate depiction of how various cultures have contributed to the growth and success of America and promotes cultural pride and understanding. Unfortunately, the same is not true of Arabs, Muslims, and Arab- and Muslim-Americans. Arab, Muslim, Arab-American and Muslim-American contributions and achievements are included within U.S. history textbooks, but primarily during times of conflict. Arab- and Muslim-Americans are typically not included nor are their contributions and achievements.

Many children of Arab ethnicity dress in a manner and hold to social customs that are very different from mainstream America. In the Detroit area, there have been numerous instances in schools where Arab American students have been harassed and ridiculed on the basis of their dress and social behavior by other students. It is reported that there have been instances where school authorities have been insensitive and unwilling to act in support of the Arab American student population.

Arab Americans experience significantly higher levels of fear concerning both general and bias crimes than non-Arab Americans. The greater fear among Arab Americans calls for policy and practice change and moving from perceiving Arab Americans as a major "source" of fear to "carriers" of fear, who need more attention, care, and assistance. Arab and non-Arab Americans report similar victimization risks across six crime types. Less encouraging was that Arab Americans are significantly less likely than their counterparts to use self-protective measures, which have a significant risk-reduction effect regarding property crime victimization. Regularly carrying a large amount of cash was associated with a higher risk of violent victimization for non-Arab Americans, but not Arab Americans.

Secondary social studies curricula and textbooks often present historical events from a European perspective that highlight major European accomplishments, such as the great cities of Rome and Constantinople (now Istanbul), but ignore Muslim accomplishments such as Baghdad, Damascus, Cordoba, or Seville. Little attention, if any, is paid to Muslim accomplishments in mathematics, science, astronomy, art, music, poetry and medicine. Instead, textbook coverage that makes reference to the Middle East focuses on topics such as petroleum, Israeli/Palestinian foreign policy issues, and portrays Islam as a struggle between religious traditionalism and secular modernism".

Like many immigrants, Arab immigrants have made large contributions to the United States. Tens of thousands of Arab Americans have served during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001.Arab-Americans have served as presidents, CEOs, and CFOs of major companies, including Pan-American Airlines, Ford Motor Company, and Morgan-Stanley.

Early Arab immigrants invented the first ice cream cone, and they later established the Joy Cone Factory, one of the America's largest ice cream cone producers. Arab-American, John Zogby, founded Zogby International, a major polling company. Arab-American, Paul Orfalea, established Kinko's, the largest international copy services chain. Contributions within science and medicine include that of actor and Arab-American Danny Thomas, who established St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, one of the leading children's cancer research hospitals in the country. One of St. Jude's major fundraising contributors is also Arab-American, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. Arab-Americans have contributed to science and medical research, in particular, Dr. Michael DeBakey, inventor of the heart pump, and geologist, Dr. Farouk el-Baz, who "helped plan all the Apollo moon landings and later pioneered the use of space photography to study the Earth". Another well-known Arab American was Christa McAuliffe, the teacher/astronaut who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

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Page last modified: 01-05-2022 16:44:33 ZULU