National Arab American Heritage Month (NAAHM) is a time for celebrating the history, contributions, and culture of the diverse population of Arab Americans. In 2019, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) issued a congressional resolution for NAAHM to be recognized on a national scale.
“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,” Tlaib, a first-generation American, said about the resolution. “Our history here in the U.S. is rooted in our love for freedom and equality, as well as access to opportunities to help our neighbors thrive, and we see this every day in Michigan. From the agriculture sector to medicine and beyond, we have been at the forefront in building our country without losing our rich culture.”
Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), who is of Lebanese descent, told the House that NAAHM is extremely meaningful for “recogniz[ing] the contributions of the 3.7 million members of my community in the United States. In medicine, law, business, technology, civic engagement, government, and culture, Arab Americans have been, and continue to be, an invaluable part of the mosaic of American life.”
Who is considered an Arab American?
Arab Americans have ancestry in one of the world’s 22 Arab nations, which are located from northern Africa through western Asia. The people of these nations are ethnically, politically, and religiously diverse but share a common cultural and linguistic heritage.
The world’s 22 Arab nations are Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Yemen.
In the U.S., many people conflate “Arab” and “Middle Eastern,” but linguistic and geographical factors mean that these terms are not fully interchangeable, according to the Arab American National Museum (AANM). The Middle East includes non-Arabic nations such as Iran, Israel, and Turkey. Similarly, not all Arabic nations are located in what is considered the Middle East — including Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco.
A common misconception is that all Arab Americans are Muslim. Approximately 25 percent practice Islam, and an estimated 63 to 77 percent are Christian, according to the Arab American Institute.
A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that Arabic is the fastest growing language in the U.S. The number of people who speak Arabic at home increased by 29 percent between 2010 and 2014.
There are approximately 3.7 million Arab Americans in the U.S.
Political instability and war have led to a significant rise in Arab immigration. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the number of Arab American refugees has skyrocketed, with nearly 70,000 moving to the U.S. in 2017, compared with just 26,000 in 2003. President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban and immigration policies, however, decreased the number of refugees able to find asylum in the U.S. in recent years.
Arab Americans are among the most educated demographic. More than 40 percent have a four-year degree, and 17 percent have a postgraduate degree, according to the website arabamericanstories.org.
Supporting Arab American Students
Arab Americans have long been “left out of the academic discourse, remaining a woefully understudied population for aspiring undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in counseling, psychology, and social work,” writes Souzan Naser, an associate professor and counselor at Moraine Valley Community College, in a recent article in Liberal Education.
Naser’s research shows that many campus counselors have not been trained to meet this population’s unique needs. “Yet many Arab and Muslim students are in desperate need of counselors who understand students’ issues within the context of culture, politics, and religion and who will not use Arab American identities against the students,” Naser writes. Colleges and universities must understand how anti-Arab sentiment and the rise in xenophobia affects these students if they are to support them.
“Arab American students’ lived experiences today are jeopardizing their academic success and emotional well-being. Some are living in a state of hyperarousal — trying to manage racing and unsettling thoughts in anticipation of danger, their minds and bodies on permanent alert,” Naser argues. “Others are despondent or in a state of hypoarousal, feeling numb and empty. Students who have had their experiences dismissed, misheard, or judged will feel discouraged about returning to see a counselor.”●