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:
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KAMA DC provides a platform for immigrants to teach classes and share stories based on their skills and passions.