By Laila Kunaish
During the month of April, organizations around the DMV are celebrating Arab Heritage Month. This little-known cultural celebration is part of the effort to promote the robust narratives of Arab Americans and their communities during a time in which these stories are limited in the media. As a Syrian American, April has become an exciting time for me. The celebration of Arab Heritage month has acted as a short immersion into my Arab heritage, something I have not been able to do regularly since access to my family in the Middle East has been restricted.
Arab Heritage Month began as a result of the influx of Arab immigrants to the United States in the 1990s. During this period, local communities and individual states began organizing Arab heritage celebrations. In the 2000s, media portrayal and public perception of Arabs became increasingly one-dimensional. As an effort to give a more robust portrayal of Arabs and give the ever-growing Arab American population a space to celebrate their culture, in 2017, the Arab America Foundation declared the month of April the unofficial National Arab Heritage Month. Since this declaration, multiple states began officially recognizing this month of cultural appreciation, with Virginia among the first states. In 2019, legislation was introduced to officially recognize Arab Heritage Month nationally. That same year, Spotify released an Arab Heritage playlist (check out these existing playlists on Spotify). The same legislation was introduced in May 2020, and, though it has not yet been passed, the U.S. Department of State recognized the event for the first time this year on April 1.
As residents of the DMV, we have access to many events celebrating Arab heritage this month. This is because the DMV has one of the highest populations of Arab immigrants and Arab Americans in the U.S. The state of Virginia, specifically Vienna and Fairfax county, has one of the highest concentrations of Arab Americans in the U.S. As a result, the region acts as home to many Arab cultural and political organizations. In past years, the month of April brought a multitude of in-person events including concerts, markets, panels and more.
Due to COVID-19, most events this year have been held virtually. This month’s events ranged from panels with Arab American artists and prominent figures, to online cooking and coffee courses. The benefit of these virtual events is the ability to watch and celebrate beyond April and continue to enjoy Arab heritage and culture.
I chose to support local and national organizations this year by buying tickets for virtual events. The first event I attended was hosted by the Museum of the Palestinian People discussing a newly published cookbook, “The Arabesque Table: Contemporary Recipes from the Arab World.” The Palestinian authors, Reem Kassis and Zeina Azzam, discuss uniting generations of Arabs in the diaspora through contemporary spins on traditional foods. I also attended a virtual celebration hosted by the Arab American Civic Council featuring prominent Arab American figures speaking about the importance of the expression of Arab culture and the value of the struggle for appreciation and representation. (A recording of the virtual celebration is available on their website.) I later enrolled to see three signature virtual events hosted by Arab America. These events featured a broad number of well-known Arab Americans including members of Congress, educators, artists and more, and recordings can be accessed on Arab America’s Vimeo page. I found that this event series is most reminiscent of pre-COVID celebrations because it includes concerts and dance-alongs. There are a multitude of other local organizations and businesses that took part in the festivities of this month, and several will continue to hold sporadic events for the remainder of this year.
To close off my celebration this month, I would like to share a few of my favorite businesses and organizations owned and run by Arab Americans, which demonstrate the vast cultural contributions of Arabs in the DMV area and the United States as a whole.
Local organizations and businesses to support:
National organizations and businesses to support:
About the author
By Ben Jaffe
If D.C. is known for one thing, outside of being the seat of the U.S. federal government, it is the city’s monuments. On the schedule of every tourist is a visit to the National Mall to look upon the Washington, Lincoln, MLK Jr. and Jefferson memorials. Throw in the WWII, Vietnam and Korean War memorials, and that would likely cover most of the average tourist’s to-see list. However, D.C. has many more monuments to offer than just those at the National Mall.
D.C. has long drawn people from all over the world, and the city’s landscape reflects that. We’ve compiled a list of five different memorials honoring immigrants or commemorating international events that have shaped the U.S. and the world.
"Washington DC Old Post Office & Gibran Khalil Gibran Memorial 006" by Nicolas Karim is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Khalil Gibran Memorial Garden
Hidden along Embassy Row next to the South African Embassy lies the Khalil Gibran memorial. Crossing the small footbridge, you will find a modest memorial garden with a small fountain, trees, a sculpture of Gibran and a bench bearing his poetry and quotes. Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet, was the first Arab American honored with a memorial in D.C. Though Gibran only lived to 48, his influence was felt across the Middle East and the United States through his writing, painting and teaching. His most well-known work is arguably his book, “The Prophet,” which has sold over 11 million copies and has been quoted by artists such as Elvis Presley and John Lennon.
Saint Mother Théodore Guérin Statue
Théodore Guérin was a French-American nun who was canonized in the Catholic faith as a saint in 2006, 150 years after her death. Born and raised in France, she moved to rural Indiana in 1840 and established some of the first schools across the state. She was also seen as an experienced community leader and businesswoman who helped with community development in western Indiana. Her statue can be found directly behind the the main basilica on Catholic University’s campus. Dedicated in 2008, the statue was given by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the congregation Guérin led.
Armenian Earthquake Statue
Down the street from the White House and next to the American Red Cross National Headquarters, a statue of a woman clutching a child stands as a “thank you” to the American people from the Armenian people for their aid following the 1988 Armenian earthquake, also known as the Spitak earthquake. Between 25,000-50,000 people were killed, and the damage was so bad that the Soviet Union, which Armenia was a part of at that time, requested aid from the United States despite the ongoing Cold War. The sculpture was designed and made by Armenian-Russian artist Frid Soghoyan, who himself had lost many friends to the earthquake and highlighted the key role the U.S. support provided to Armenia.
Albert Einstein Memorial
Arguably one of the most well-known scientists in history, German physicist Albert Einstein originally came to the United Kingdom and then the United States as a refugee. His memorial, though located north of the Lincoln Memorial right below the National Academy of Sciences, is easy to miss. Originally dedicated in 1979, the memorial features a platform surrounded by a semi-circle of stone benches. Represented on the platform are locations of stars and planets, in the position they were at the time of the memorial’s dedication, and on the surrounding bench sits a 12-foot-high statue of Einstein with a book in his left hand. On the book is etched three equations that Einstein is credited with discovering.
Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 by Max Herz is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
National Holodomor Memorial
Just west of Union Station on Massachusetts Avenue sits the Holodomor Memorial, which stands in dedication to the millions of people who died of starvation in Ukraine from 1932-1933 during a famine engineered by the Soviet Union. Built in coordination with the Ukrainian government, the memorial was made to honor the victims and educate the American public on the event, which is not well-known in the United States. The memorial was designed by local architect Larysa Kurylas, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, and consists of a 30-foot wall depicting a field of wheat that slowly transitions from abundant to barely visible. To the right of the wall, an inscription in English and Ukrainian describes Holodomor and provides context to one of the deadliest genocides of the 20th century. This memorial is just one of the three modern memorials in D.C. to be designed by a woman.
KAMA DC condemns the racism and violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities across the United States and mourns the loss of those murdered in Atlanta. We stand in solidarity with our friends, colleagues, relatives and neighbors who are facing intimidation and violence.
The horrific shootings in Atlanta were a terrible culmination of anti-Asian discrimination and harassment, especially towards women, that is on the rise in our community and in our nation. We call on all those in the DMV, including our leaders, to support our AAPI communities and combat racism.
We aim to actively work against harmful stereotyping and hate while lifting up immigrant voices. KAMA DC is proud to uplift and celebrate the stories and contributions of immigrant AAPI communities. Additionally, we are committed to renewing our fight against all types of racism.
Visit the resources below to find ways to support AAPI communities:
Little Ethiopia sign on the corner of 9th and U Streets NW.
BY ALAYNA HUTCHINSON AND ALLIE JUDGE
This past December, the D.C. Council officially named the 9th and U Street business corridor “Little Ethiopia.” The council unanimously agreed on the measure “to recognize the Ethiopian community’s heritage and culture, outstanding leadership and contributions” to D.C.’s economy and the business corridor in the Shaw neighborhood, as well as “its partnership with the African American community in the fight for social justice and civil rights.” The full resolution can be found here.
“The Ethiopian community has played an integral role in the development of many businesses in and around Washington," said Philemon Mastewal, whose Ethiopian-born parents own Büna Coffeehouse in Petworth. "As the city with the highest concentration of Ethiopian immigrants, D.C. has always felt like ‘Little Ethiopia’ to me, but I am glad to hear about the recent formal recognition from the city council."
Although the resolution was ceremonial, it signifies the impact and history of the Ethiopian diaspora in the D.C. area, which stretches back decades. A 2016 WAMU story noted that D.C. was a draw for Ethiopian immigrants for a number of reasons, including the location of the embassy, the strength of Ethiopian-American political relations and prominent HBCU Howard University. The majority Black population in the city also created a more welcoming environment in the 50s, 60s and 70s when Ethiopian immigrants and students first began coming to the U.S. in significant numbers.
Because Ethiopian immigrants initially settled in Shaw and the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood, “Little Ethiopia” became a prominent location for Ethiopian-owned businesses. The resolution notes that the flourishing of Ethiopian businesses in this area helped with “revitalizing the community following the riots in the mid 1960s.” Since then, Ethiopian businesses have sprung up throughout the DMV, but “Little Ethiopia” remains a cornerstone representing the economic power and historical impact of the Ethiopian diaspora.
In 2014, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that the Ethiopian-born population in the D.C. area was about 35,000, which makes it the largest concentration for Ethiopians outside of Africa. Other local sources and organizations consider that number to be much higher, and certainly, as the resolution notes, the population of Ethiopian descendants in the D.C. area totals more than 300,000 people. “Little Ethiopia” has been one of the areas where a concentration of Ethiopian immigrants live, work, and open businesses; however, research from 2015 has also shown that higher concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants are now living outside of D.C. in areas like Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and Alexandria, creating new “Little Ethiopias” all over the DMV.
To support the Ethiopian immigrants in the DMV, be sure to visit local Ethiopian restaurants and businesses, such as Büna Coffeehouse. You can also donate to the Ethiopian Community Center and other immigrant-focused organizations, and continue learning more about the history of immigrants in your community!
Dishes from (L-R): Immigrant Food, Cielo Rojo, Peruvian Brothers, and Thamee
By Alayna hutchinson and allie judge
As we’ve seen with our KAMA community, one of the great things about DC is that it draws people from all over the world. This international population makes for an eclectic and exciting food scene, much of which is driven by immigrants who bring authentic dishes from their home countries to the nation’s Capital and surrounding areas.
With many of us ordering takeout right now, why not taste cuisine from around the world while supporting local immigrant-owned businesses—all from the comfort of your own home? We’ve compiled a diverse list of 10 immigrant-owned restaurants - including more established favorites, buzzy new spots, and some hidden gems - keeping in mind that there are plenty more not included and many to come as the DMV’s immigrant community continues to grow.
Heat Da Spot - Ethiopian-American (Petworth, DC)
Hailed as one of the best breakfast spots in the District, this Ethiopian-American cafe has become a staple in DC’s Petworth neighborhood just five years after opening. Heat Da Spot offers a variety of American classics like pancakes, waffles, and breakfast sandwiches, as well as dishes with an Ethiopian twist, like scrambled eggs with a side of injera.
Pho 75 - Vietnamese (Arlington, VA and Rockville & Adelphi, MD)
Thiep Le and Binh Ngo came to the U.S. in 1975 as refugees from Vietnam and opened this pho shop a decade later - naming it for that significant year - to bring a taste of home to their new country. Now with five restaurants across the DMV, their longstanding success is a testament to the quality of their version of this Vietmanise comfort food.
Purple Patch - Filipino (Mt. Pleasant, DC)
With a menu based on her mother’s recipes, chef Patrice Cleary is recognized as one of the first to bring authentic Filipino cuisine to DC. Purple Patch’s unique and flavorful dishes have earned it top spots on U.S. Filipino restaurant lists. What makes it even more remarkable is its contributions to the community, providing free meals to local children and hospitals during the pandemic.
Peruvian Brothers - Peruvian (NoMA, DC)
Mario and Guiseppe Lanzone brought “the taste of Peru” to DC seven years ago with a food truck, then concession stands across city venues. The brothers continue to serve Peruvian cuisine inspired by their childhood in Lima from a brick-and-mortar location near NoMa in DC,a permanent food stand in Arlington, and a catering kitchen operating out of Alexandria, VA.
Sakina Halal Grill - Pakistani (Mt. Vernon Square, DC)
The Sakina Halal Grill is an authentic Pakistani restaurant located in downtown D.C. near Mt. Vernon Square. Owner Kazi Mannan came to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1996 and has been working to create a space that serves as a safe refuge for all. This includes residents in DC experiencing homelessness, who Mannan has ensured can always find a free meal at his restaurant.
Dolan Uyghur - Northwest China/Xinjiang (Cleveland Park, DC)
Hamid Karim opened Dolan Uyghur in 2016 to provide DC with a taste of Uyghur, a mix of Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. The restaurant uses fresh and homemade ingredients to achieve the “true bliss of Uyghur food.” Uyghurs are an indigenous ethnic group from the Xinjiang region of Northwest China, and, as the website notes, “the unique food plays an important role” in preserving the culture.
Taco City DC - Mexican (Navy Yard, DC)
Unexpectedly, this quirky taco spot near Navy Yard, which is inspired by the Aztec and Mayan cultures of Mexico, is owned by two Salvadorians. The head chef and co-owner, Francisco Ferrufino, came to DC from San Miguel in 2007 when he was just 17 years old. His fellow co-owner, Juan Jimenez, had immigrated to DC in 1984 from La Unión. The pair noted in a recent 2019 Washington City Paper article that they had “recipe helpers” from Mexico City and Puebla to help them create their delicious tacos and small plates. Salvadorians actually make up the largest immigrant population in DC, with 11% of immigrants hailing from El Salvador as of 2018.
Immigrant Food - International Fusion (Downtown DC)
One of the newest and perhaps most unique on our list, Immigrant Food opened in 2019 as DC’s first “cause-casual” restaurant, a fast-casual eatery partnering with DC-based immigrant service organizations. Co-founders Enrique Limardo, a chef from Venezuela who has worked internationally, and Peter Schechter, a political consultant who was born in Rome and came to the U.S. before living in Latin America for nearly a decade, started Immigrant Food to “celebrate America’s story - the story of immigrants.” Their global experiences are reflected in the restaurant’s menu, which fuses flavors from around the world.
Thamee - Burmese (H Street Corridor, DC)
Burmese immigrant Jocelyn Law-Yone and her daughter Simone Jacobson along with Eric Wang started serving Burmese food at a pop-up and then a bodega, opening a permanent spot in 2019 with Thamee, the only Burmese restaurant in DC. It has quickly become acclaimed, being named Eater DC’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year and a James Beard Award semi-finalist, and was described by Thrillist as “a window into the Capital’s vibrant Asian culture.”
Cielo Rojo - Mexican (Takoma Park, MD)
Located in the heart of Takoma Park, Cielo Rojo offers traditional California-inspired Mexican cuisine. Owners Carolina McCandless, born in Chile, and David Perez, who came from Mexico as a teen, opened this fine-casual spot as “a place where friends and family can come together to nourish themselves with the beauty of food, community and mezcal.” Their community values are also in the way they make their food, with a focus on organic and locally-sourced ingredients.