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Water Cooler: Celebrate Arab American History Month from home

UPDATED: Mon., April 26, 2021

Assia Boundaoui hangs FBI documents in a still from “The Feeling of Being Watched,” a film about government surveillance of an Arab American neighborhood of Chicago. Find the movie at the Spokane Public Library or with an Amazon Prime subscription.  (Courtesy of Jess Devaney)
Assia Boundaoui hangs FBI documents in a still from “The Feeling of Being Watched,” a film about government surveillance of an Arab American neighborhood of Chicago. Find the movie at the Spokane Public Library or with an Amazon Prime subscription. (Courtesy of Jess Devaney)

This year marked the first time Arab American Heritage Month was recognized on a federal level. On the first of this month, the United States Department of State posted a statement over social media that “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.”

This comes nearly three years after Arab Americans began to organize a national initiative to create a commemorative month. Now that it has gained more national attention, Americans are sharing ways to celebrate Arab American culture, history and contributions.

A great way to start is to learn more about Arab American history. Many of the first generation of Arab immigrants to the United States were Christians fleeing the religious persecution of the Ottoman empire. Another wave of Arab immigration followed in the 1920s. Many of these immigrants had means, and by the 1950s, most Arab immigrants were affluent, bilingual and usually Muslim.

In the late 1960s, Arab immigration broadened to include more Palestinians who were displaced during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. This was facilitated by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which opened the United States immigration policy to people from Asia, Southern and Eastern Europe, Africa and other regions where immigration was limited by the immigration quotas of the country’s National Origins Formula, which existed between 1921 and 1965.

To learn more about this history, you can visit sites such as Arabamericanstories.org, which is associated with the Arab American National Museum, and Arabamericanhistory.org, which is run by the Arab American Historical Foundation, headquartered in Los Angeles. If you want to take a deeper dive, you can read “The Arab Americans” or “Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience,” both by Alixa Naff, which detail how Arabs assimilated to America through the generations.

You can also learn more about the contemporary Arab American experience. On Kanopy.com, Spokane Public Library members can check out “The Feeling of Being Watched,” directed by Assia Boundaoi, who investigates government surveillance of the Arab-American neighborhood of Chicago she grew up in, which was allegedly part of a large counterterrorism investigation codenamed “Operation Vulgar Betrayal.”

On YouTube, you can watch “Don’t Erase Me: The Modern Arab American | Jeremiah Stinnett,” posted by TEDxTalks, which discusses the Arab American identity. In the video, “Digging Detroit – Episode 18: Dearborn’s Arab American National Museum,” posted by Kevin Walsh, Matthew Stiffler talks about the establishment of the Arab American National Museum and why Detroit became a center for Arab American community.

To learn more about Arab American culture and contributions in general, Arabamerica.com offers a diverse selection of information and insights. Learn more about Arab culinary influences by reading the recipe of the day, featuring foods like kibbeh, or read how to change up your keto routine with a Moroccan lemon chicken bowl. Read about the diversity of Ramadan cuisine or about the “hummus wars.” There’s also a lot of current news about Arab American life, as well as fun historical articles about ancient Arab sea traders or about Arab art, cinema, poetry and music.

PBS also recently published “Celebrate Arab American Heritage Month,” on pbs.org with in-article links to several of their productions featuring Arab Americans, such as playwright Yussef El Guindi, the poetry of Somalia and several short films made by Arab Americans.

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