In the United States, roughly 3.7 million Americans can trace their roots back to an Arab country located in the Middle East or North Africa, according to the Arab American Institute.
Each year, many school districts, cities and states observe Arab American Heritage Month in April. It honors the historic achievements and cultural contributions of Arab Americans throughout the nation.
Still, online searches show that some people are wondering if the month has been officially designated as National Arab American Heritage Month by the federal government.
Is April officially designated as National Arab American Heritage Month in the U.S.?
- The White House
- U.S. Department of State
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Arab America Foundation
- Arab American Institute
- Library of Congress
- Federal Register
- Congressional Research Service
- Rep. Debbie Dingell
- Rep. Rashida Tlaib
- Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab American Civic Council in Anaheim, California
Yes, there is an official federal proclamation that marks April as National Arab American Heritage Month in the U.S.
WHAT WE FOUND
April is officially designated as National Arab American Heritage Month in the United States. The month-long celebration has received federal recognition from President Joe Biden, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and some members of Congress.
The act of receiving federal recognition for a commemorative observance can come from Congress, the president or both, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Commemorative legislation is typically introduced as a simple resolution in the House or Senate. These resolutions honor commemorative observances without having to go through the process of creating a new federal holiday or a permanent patriotic and national observance, which requires a law to be passed.
Presidents can also issue commemorative proclamations without any congressional action. Commemorative proclamations have been regularly issued throughout American history. For instance, the Congressional Research Service says President George Washington in 1789 issued the first proclamation, which officially declared Nov. 26 of that year a National Day of Thanksgiving.
On April 1, 2022, President Joe Biden became the first president to recognize the month of April as National Arab American Heritage Month in a special commemorative letter. Nearly a year later on March 31, 2023, he issued the first proclamation that officially declared April as National Arab American Heritage Month in the U.S.
“The Arab American story is the American story — one of diverse backgrounds and faiths, vibrant tradition, bold innovation, hard work, commitment to community, and stalwart patriotism, all coming together to accomplish something greater than any one of us,” Biden said in his March 31 proclamation.
“This month, we join together to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Arab Americans to our Nation and recommit ourselves to the timeless work of making sure that all people have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Biden continued.
How April became National Arab American Heritage Month
For many years, several communities across the country have been honoring the achievements and contributions of Arab Americans at various points throughout the year. In fact, in 1989, a joint resolution was introduced in Congress that designated Oct. 25 as “National Arab-American Day.” Former President George H.W. Bush approved the measure and issued a proclamation that called on Americans to observe the day “with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”
But the push to get Arab American Heritage Month recognized in the month of April nationwide is still a relatively new initiative, according to Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Arab American Civic Council, a grassroots nonprofit located in Anaheim, California’s Little Arabia District.
“Over the years, Arab Americans realized that we need better representation and we want — just like many other communities in America, they have a specific month filled with activities and celebrations — we would like to have an Arab American Heritage Month, just not only one single day,” Al-Dabbagh told VERIFY.
In 2017, media organization Arab America and nonprofit Arab America Foundation launched the National Arab American Heritage Month initiative to celebrate the Arab American community’s rich heritage and numerous contributions to society in the U.S. Arab America says April was chosen because it did not conflict with other observances that highlight minority communities and the month symbolizes hope, growth and new beginnings.
When the initiative first launched, only a handful of cities, counties and states supported the initiative, but Al-Dabbagh says that has changed over the years.
“Now, we have a huge number of states that issued proclamations over the past few years recognizing Arab American Heritage Month,” Al-Dabbagh said.
According to the Arab America Foundation, in 2022, 45 state governors issued proclamations commemorating the initiative. Four states, including Illinois, Oregon, Virginia and Indiana, have also passed permanent legislation designating the month of April as Arab American Heritage Month. The organization’s 2023 goal was to reach all 50 states.
In 2019, two years after the national initiative was launched, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced a resolution in Congress that expressed support for federal recognition of April as National Arab American Heritage Month. Similar resolutions were also introduced by Dingell and Tlaib in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
“It is always an honor to introduce a resolution uplifting Arab American Heritage Month,” Tlaib said. “As a proud and unapologetic Arab American woman serving in Congress, and the Congresswoman to represent one of the largest Arab American communities in the country, I know how important it is that our community feels seen and celebrated by our federal government.”
Al-Dabbagh says receiving federal recognition for National Arab American Heritage Month is very important to the Arab American community, a community he says is “misunderstood” and “often discriminated against.”
“Arab Americans have been celebrating this month all across the country, in different local cities, counties, school districts, to celebrate our contributions to the United States of America, push back against discrimination and racism, and tell our own stories,” Al-Dabbagh said.
After Biden issued his presidential proclamation on March 31, Tlaib issued a statement on Twitter in celebration.
“Thank you @POTUS for recognizing the contributions of our community with this proclamation. It is so important that the Arab American community is seen and celebrated by our federal government,” Tlaib said.