Celebrating the rich and diverse culture and contributions of the diverse population of Arab Americans, National Arab American Heritage Month has been observed during the month of April since 2017.
An estimated 3.7 million Americans have Arab roots, according to the Arab American Institute, with ancestries traced to 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and others.
Arab Immigration to the United States
In the late 1800s, Arab immigration to the United States began, according to the Migration Policy Institute, with Arab Christians fleeing the Ottoman Empire—which now includes Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel—from religious persecution and conscription, as well as economic reasons. The U.S. Department of State reports that the immigrants mostly landed in the Northeast and Midwest, finding work there in sales and as grocers.
The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, which used origin quotas to limit immigration, halted the influx of Arab immigrants until 1948 to 1966, when a new wave of Middle Eastern immigration began due to the Arab-Israeli War and other regional conflicts. Many of those immigrants came to Detroit during the auto industry boom. A third Arab immigration wave occurred in the U.S. following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended quotas favoring those from northern and western Europe.
Today, Arab Americans live in all U.S. states, with two-thirds residing in 10 states: California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. One-third live in the greater Los Angeles area, Detroit and New York, the Arab American Institute reports. The largest group, comprising nearly one-third of the Arab American population, are Lebanese Americans, and, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Dearborn, Michigan, outside of Detroit, boasts the country’s largest percentage of Arab Americans.
Commemorating the Month
The initiative for official national designation of the month was launched in 2017 by the nonprofit media and education organization Arab American Foundation and its sister organization Arab America. It began with support from a few states, but gained momentum each year.
In 2019, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), introduced a resolution to Congress to proclaim April as National Arab American Heritage Month. “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. The bill remains pending.
National Arab American Heritage Month was recognized in April 2021 by President Joe Biden, with the U.S. Department of State, some members of Congress and 37 governors issuing proclamations supporting the month, according to Arab America.
“The Arab American community is essential to the fabric of our nation, and I am honored to be part of this celebration of Arab American culture, heritage, and contributions to American society,” Biden wrote in a letter to Arab America and the Arab America Foundation. "The Arab American community exemplifies so much of what our country stands for: hard work, resilience, compassion, and generosity.
"Diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and it is essential that we continue celebrating, promoting, and educating others about the myriad ways that the Arab people have advanced human civilization and contributed to the well-being of our nation.”
By 2022, Illinois, Oregon and Virginia passed permanent legislation designating April as National Arab American Heritage Month, with similar legislation pending in Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.
"National Arab American Heritage Month," Arab America Foundation
"The Story of Arab Americans’ Beginning in America – And the Quest for Fair Representation," U.S. Department of State
"National Arab American Demographics," Arab American Institute
“Middle Eastern and North African Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute