‘It Matters’: US Celebrates Arab American Heritage Month | Political news

Washington D.C.- The White House, the US State Department and other government agencies have released statements celebrating Arab-American Heritage Month, an event that promotes hope to quell the bigotry faced by Arab-American communities.

Arab American Heritage Month was born out of grassroots efforts by Arab activists to bring recognition to their communities at the local level. But in recent years, there has been more concerted pressure from Arab-American advocacy groups to secure federal recognition for the month of April.

“It was happening in different municipalities, different towns, school boards that passed resolutions to recognize it, and then [it] started to take off about a decade ago on a more national level,” said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

The Arab America Foundation, an educational group that promotes Arab culture in the United States, says it launched official efforts in 2017 to have Arab American Heritage Month recognized by state and local authorities and celebrated nationwide. national.

“Last year, through our efforts, we received proclamations from 37 governors and this year we are aiming for 50 governors,” said Warren David, co-founder of the Arab America Foundation.

In a statement sent Friday to Arab organizations in the United States, President Joe Biden praised Arab Americans, saying they make the country stronger and “more diverse and vibrant.”

“We also recognize that too many Arab Americans continue to be harmed by discrimination, bias and violence,” Biden said. “As president, I have made it a top priority to strengthen the federal government’s response to hate crimes and advance a whole-of-government approach to racial justice and equity so that all Americans, including Arabs Americans, can realize their full potential. ”

The Department of State also paid tribute to Arab communities in the United States, stating that “immigrants from the Arab world arrived in the United States before our country’s independence and contributed to the progress of our nation in the fields of science, business, technology, politics and national security”.

“Decisive moment”

In 2019, Michigan congressmen Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib — who is of Palestinian descent — introduced a congressional resolution to officially recognize April as Arab-American Heritage Month.

But a “watershed moment” came last year when State Department spokesman Ned Price honored the month during a press briefing, said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington-based think tank.

Dozens of governors and state legislatures have also recognized the month in recent years.

“Happy Arab American Heritage Month! Let’s come together to honor and celebrate our Arab American friends here in Michigan and across the country,” Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, home to one of the largest populations, tweeted on Friday. Arabs of the United States.

Municipalities, school boards, universities and local authorities across the country have also issued statements and social media posts in recognition of Arab Americans.

Berry said these statements from traditional institutions are significant given the prejudice and institutional discrimination faced by Arab Americans. “People need to understand that the prejudices and stereotypes they hold against this community are deeply wrong and hurtful. And they have a real negative impact on people,” Berry told Al Jazeera.

A 2017 AAI poll found that 23% of respondents, including 36% Republicans, hold an unfavorable view of Arab Americans.

Ayoub of CDA echoed Berry’s remarks about the importance of government statements celebrating Arab Americans. “It matters. Representation always matters,” he told Al Jazeera. “It shows that the government recognizes who we are, and it takes a moment to recognize our contributions to this country in its history. is a celebration of our culture and heritage.

Fight for representation

Advocates say Arab Americans — who number about 3.7 million in the United States, according to the AAI — have faced government discrimination, including racial profiling, surveillance and restrictive immigration policies since decades.

The US Census Bureau still considers Arab Americans to be white, making data on their communities, including demographics and public health, hard to come by – an issue that has been underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic. .

A years-long effort to add a Middle East and North Africa (MENA) category to the 2020 census form did not materialize. Berry and Ayoub said having a MENA category in the census is a priority for Arab Americans.

“We continue to be a community that is made very visible and invisible at the same time,” Berry said, adding that if Arab Americans are viewed through a national security lens that leads to violations of their civil rights, they are not considered theirs. census group.

Still, Berry added that despite these political challenges, it is heartwarming to see his fellow Americans celebrating Arab-American Heritage Month.

“It’s about the fact that it will carry over to this fifth grader who has his party mates with him. The fact that the children can now see themselves honored makes me so happy, ”she told Al Jazeera.

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