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Arab American Heritage Month Has A History Dating Back To The 1990s

Although it was recognized by President Biden only in 2021, National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM) celebrates centuries of culture, contribution,s and achievements of the Arab American community every April. The initiative, originally embodied by the efforts of advocates and Arab American organizations, sought national visibility by proposing the official designation in 2017 and began with the support of a few individual states before federal acknowledgement. The history of Arab American Heritage Month, though, is still in the making.

Arab American Heritage Month started locally in the 1990s.

With over 3.7 million Arab Americans living in the U.S., according to the Arab American Institute, NAAHM has been commemorated sporadically since the 1990s. It took place in schools and districts in different allotted times of the year, and flourished into legal ground for the first time in 1992, when U.S. representatives introduced a resolution to make October 25 National Arab American Day. 

Community members like Mabrouka “Mimi” Hassanein were especially responsible for establishing the date in districts. Hassanein, credited as the co-founder of Arab American Heritage Month in Montgomery County, Maryland, stepped into the initiative almost 30 years ago. “I’m all about connecting people together and building bridges,” she stated in an interview with Arab America after Arab American Heritage Month was recognized in her county, back in 2016. “My role with Montgomery leadership is to bring the Arab American community to their organizations because it’s all white American leaders and they need more diversity.”

In the 2010s, efforts began to make NAAHM nationally recognized.

Then, in 2017, the National Arab American Heritage Month was launched by the organizations Arab America and the Arab America Foundation in a nationwide effort of designation. Hosted in the public policy organization New America, it aimed to appreciate the stories and inclusion of Arab Americans in American history. It was followed by proclamations and statements from governors, state officials, and mayors and, in 2019, a congressional resolution to recognize AAHM was finally introduced by the U.S. House Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and co-sponsored by Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Andy Levin (D-MI).

“It is my hope as a strong and proud Arab American in Congress that our nation can uplift our contributions in the United States by supporting Arab American Heritage Month,” stated Tlaib about the resolution as it was proposed in 2019. However, the bill was left pending. In 2020, an identical bill was introduced in the House to support AAHM, but it wasn’t passed, either.

In 2021, President Biden made history for NAAHM in a White House letter.

Prior to federal proclamation, some states — like Virginia and 26 others — did observe April as Arab American Heritage Month. On April 19, 2021, however, a White House letter from President Joe Biden recognized April as the celebratory month on a federal level for the first time. “I send my warm congratulations and best wishes to all those celebrating National American Arab Heritage Month at Arab America and the Arab American Foundation,” he wrote. “For centuries, Arab Americans have embraced working hard, giving back, and cultivating friendship and community — helping shape our nation’s history and build our future.”

The U.S. Department of State, some members of Congress, and 37 governors issued proclamations supporting the month, according to Warren David, the co-founder of Arab America.

“It is an honor to introduce a resolution uplifting Arab American Heritage Month for the third year,” stated Tlaib in 2022, as they reintroduced the month-long celebration in Congress. “As an Arab American woman in Congress, I know how important it is to ensure we do all we can to make sure Arab Americans know that we belong in the United States. Arab Americans make the United States a better place and I look forward to seeing this resolution adopted.”

How to celebrate Arab American Heritage Month

Looking for ways to celebrate NAAHM this Apri? Here are a few ways to get involved and show support for the Arab American community.

Support local Arab American-owned businesses.

Both a way to get access to unique, diverse products and promote diversity and inclusion in your community, supporting Arab American businesses can empower entrepreneurs and empower cultural richness and heritage. 

Read books by Arab American authors.

Reading a book from an Arab American author can provide insight into the Arab American identity and experience. Whether from an independent creative or from the Arab American National Museum’s selection of award-winning literary works, picking up a book can mean delving into culture with a lot of nuance.

Engage with Arab American creatives and amplify their voices.

Arab American creatives — from writers to filmmakers, musicians, and artists — offer unique perspectives on their experience and produce powerful, thought-provoking works that cover a variety of topics. Supporting their art and media can mean more diversity and representation in arts and media, as well as encourage and inspire new talents to share their stories.

Get to know Arab American politicians and their causes.

To support and know the platforms of Arab American politicians like Tlaib can mean not only support in passing bills, but also a way to understand the issues and concerns of the Arab American community in the United States. To know their work of constantly promoting equality, justice and change can also be a way to engage with your community.

Research Arab and Arab American history.

Studying Arab and Arab American history can be a way to appreciate the contributions and heritage of the Arab community. By watching documentaries, reading memoirs, or attending lectures and art exhibitions, the understanding on discrimination, social dynamics and culture can be improved.

Isabella Gemignani

Casper Libero '23

Isabella Gemignani is a National Writer for Her Campus and editor-in-chief of Her Campus Casper Libero. She covers everything culture-related for the national website - and oversees her chapter's content production, which involves editorial, social media, podcast and events verticals and makes up a team of over 100 girls. Beyond Her Campus, Isabella writes for the architecture and design magazine Casa e Jardim, Brazil's oldest magazine currently in the editorial market. With a 70-year-old history, Casa e Jardim is known for its traditional culture, gastronomy and lifestyle curation. When not writing – which is rare –, Isabella can be found reading classic novels and looking for new music releases that remind her of the feeling she had when she listened to AM for the first time.