Timeframe: How April became Arab American Heritage Month in the US

The initiative was launched in 2017 by the Arab America Foundation

Dearborn, Michigan, is often referred to as the heart of Arab America. Voters there have been frustrated by US support for Israel in the Gaza war. Photo: Joshua Longmore / The National
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April in the US is designated as National Arab American Heritage Month.

The initiative is significant, particularly because it acknowledges the contributions and achievements of the Arab-American community.

Taking shape through special events hosted by cultural institutions, schools and non-profit organisations, National Arab American Heritage Month is a platform that highlights Arab histories and experiences. It is a chance for Americans with Arab roots to celebrate their cultural ties to the Middle East – a region that is often misrepresented and misunderstood in western media.

National Arab American Heritage Month has also been key to helping shed light on issues in the region – such as in the case of the current war in Gaza. For example, the month helps educate the wider US public about the history of Palestine, events surrounding the Nakba, as well as delving into Palestinian culture and identity.

As journalist Ahmed Issawy has written in an Opinion piece for The National: “Reflecting on the significance of Arab-American Heritage Month and how it could possibly affect our community, I've come to realise that – just like Black History Month in February, Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, and Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May – the declaration is ingratiating and symbolic, while also helping to bring unaddressed issues to the attention of politicians and people outside of the community.

“This is probably more important than ever before," he adds, before going on to show figures of how the initiatives have had a marked impact on US public opinion in relation to the Gaza war.

While Arab American Heritage Month is a stride forward for the community’s representation, it took years to actually come to form and be recognised.

The initiative was launched in 2017 by the Arab America Foundation. It was relatively small, involving only a handful of states. However, the grass roots movement began to gain ground as volunteers sought “hundreds of proclamations from their states, counties, municipalities and local school districts,” the foundation writes on its website.

In 2021, US President Joe Biden officially showed his support for the initiative with a commemorative letter to the foundation.

A year later, in 2022, the US State Department, Congress, as well as 45 state governors, also lent their support to the initiative. The states of Illinois, Oregon, Virginia, Indiana and California also passed permanent legislation to designate April as National Arab American Heritage Month.

Updated: April 19, 2024, 6:02 PM