Arab American Heritage Month
More than three million Americans identify as Arab American, according to the Arab American Institute – the largest percentage from Lebanon and Syria but more currently coming from Iraq, Egypt and Somalia. The term “Arab American” refers to anyone living in the United States with ancestry in any of 22 Arab countries, from North Africa to western Asia.
Although Middle East and Arab are often but incorrectly used interchangeably, the Middle East includes countries where Arabic is not spoken such as Iran, Israel and Turkey. Arab and Muslim are also not synonymous. Arabs are a minority of Muslim Americans and there are large Christian communities in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Jordan. Historically, there were also Jewish communities in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt.
April is the month designated to celebrate the accomplishments of Arab Americans and I’m eager to share with you many resources to do that – especially children’s books. The Arab American National Museum’s annual book awards this year honored Sudanese American Safia Elhillo’s Home Is Not a Country -
Nima wishes she were someone else. She doesn’t feel understood by her mother, who grew up in a different land. She doesn’t feel accepted in her suburban town; yet somehow, she isn’t different enough to belong elsewhere. Her best friend, Haitham, is the only person with whom she can truly be herself. Until she can’t, and suddenly her only refuge is gone. (Penguin Random House)
The 2014 Arab American Book Award went to A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History: More than 50 Activities by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi. Activities are grouped by ethnic background – Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian/Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, Yemeni, Arab Americans from Africa and the Arabian Gulf.
The Arab American National Museum offers a wealth of teaching materials – English-Arabic Storytime, traveling exhibitions, lesson plans, virtual tours, even culture boxes filled with musical instruments and interactive educational treasures. Contact Dave Serio, Educator and Public Programming Specialist.
The Middle East Policy Council provides resource guides, country profiles, films, videos and timelines on its TeachMideast website.
The Middle East Outreach Council honors picture books, youth literature and youth nonfiction with its annual book awards.
The Children’s Africana Book Awards often include winners from Arab countries in North Africa, including Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco.
My own Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books has been honored with several of these awards.
Here’s a program produced by the Baltimore Luxor Egypt Sister City Committee that highlights modern day American Egyptian Women of Influence – ballerinas, businesswomen, scientists, entrepreneurs, chefs, authors – even Egyptian American Shereen Ahmed from Maryland who played Eliza in the Broadway touring production of My Fair Lady -
The Arab America Foundation, which sponsors annual programs to honor 20 Arab Americans under 20, 30 under 30 and 40 under 40, also organized a "Taking Back Our Narrative" weekend in 2023 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Syrian American artist Helen Zughaib was featured with her dramatic and distinctive paintings of the Syrian migration, as well as her book, Stories My Father Told Me, which she discusses here - on a page that also offers visitors a chance to share their stories.
Finally, to wake everyone up and stir your soul – here is the National Arab Orchestra
in performance recently as part of the Taking Back Our Narrative celebration.
Watch here – in just a minute orchestra founder Michael Ibrahim will be using that flute to conduct the orchestra!
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Karen Leggett Abouraya