By Manar Hussein, Communications Intern
It's Arab American Heritage Month, a time of immense celebration and commemoration! Let's all take a moment to appreciate and honor the profound and long-lasting influence of Arab Americans on American society. This month-long tribute is not just about recognizing the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Arab Americans, but also about acknowledging their remarkable achievements — including important contributions to our civil rights and civil liberties..
A Vital Part of our Nation and Nebraska
So, let's take a trip down memory lane. We're talking late 19th century here, when Arab immigrants first set foot in America, fueled by the desire for economic opportunities, political freedom, and religious liberty. These trailblazers dared to dream big, carving out their own destinies in a land that was foreign to them. As a result, their descendants have now blossomed into one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the US.
In Nebraska, we house nearly 5,000 Arab Americans, ranging from refugee immigrants to second and third-generation individuals and families. This dynamic and vibrant community has now become an indispensable part of the Nebraskan mosaic.
As a first-generation Iraqi American and communications intern here at the ACLU of Nebraska, I’ve had the privilege and honor of seeing and being a part of the unrelenting contributions of my community in Lincoln and Omaha. Through agriculture, healthcare, business, education, and more, Arabs in Nebraska have fostered the growth and diversity of our state.
Growing up in my father’s Middle Eastern market, the first few years were full of solely Arab customers who then became a wide array of ethnically diverse customers who were curious about our food and culture. As I got older, I saw the growing capacity for tolerance from Nebraskans who might’ve viewed my dark-haired, hijab-wearing, olive-toned family as something to fear or be apprehensive of.
Sadly, Arab Americans have had to weather the storm of systemic oppression and bigotry throughout American history. This only escalated in the wake of the devastating 9/11 attacks, with countless individuals unfairly targeted for discriminatory treatment by law enforcement officials due solely to their ethnic background or religious affiliation. The impact of this discrimination has rippled across entire Arab American communities, causing anxiety and fear for merely existing.
However, in spite of these harrowing challenges, Arab Americans have persevered and made noteworthy contributions to American society across a multitude of fields. In politics, they have broken barriers, earning state and federal government appointments, including election as members of Congress, governors, or mayors. In the arts, their voices have resounded, being honored with prestigious accolades like the Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award for their exceptional contributions to literature, film, and music. In the natural sciences and technology sectors, they have shattered boundaries, making groundbreaking discoveries in vital fields such as health care and engineering, clearing the way for technological advancements that have transformed our world.
Contributions to Civil Rights and Liberties
Arab Americans have left an undeniable impact on our nation's history. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Arab Americans joined with African Americans and other minority groups, standing against brutal violence and systemic oppression in their quest for equality and an end to racial segregation.
But here's the thing - they haven't stopped there. Even in more recent times, Arab Americans have shown a truly unflinching commitment to defending civil rights and liberties. After the tragic events of 9/11, they've been speaking out loud and clear against discriminatory policies like the Muslim ban, as well as racial profiling and surveillance of Muslim communities. And they've been doing it all while steadfastly working to protect the rights of all Americans, no matter their ethnicity or religion, and upholding the ideals of democracy and freedom that our country was founded on.
Impact of Discriminatory Policies and Practices
The ACLU of Nebraska has been an important voice against discriminatory practices. We have worked to protect the civil rights and liberties of Arab Americans and other minority groups, challenging unconstitutional policies and advocating for equal treatment under the law.
This year, we are advocating for legislation that would protect Muslim and Arab students from discrimination for cultural and religious head-wear through school dress codes, something that happens way too often in our state.
“These communities have been the victim of discrimination due to their hair coverings in a wide facet of situations. For example, they have been harassed, fired from jobs, denied access to public places, and otherwise stereotyped because they wear a hair covering. In educational settings, Muslim students who wear hair coverings have been harassed and assaulted. Additionally, students have been denied the right to wear their hair coverings at school and have been prevented from participating in extracurricular activities.”
- Muslim Law Students Association at University of Nebraska- College of Law
Arab American identity intersects with other identities, such as race, religion, and gender. It’s important to note that Arabs are an ethnic group encompassing many races and religions. These intersections undoubtedly have an impact on civil rights and liberties. For example, Arab Americans who are also Muslim may face additional discrimination because of their religion and Afro-Arab Americans may face further discrimination for their racial identity.
Furthermore, Arab American women may face discrimination on the basis of both their gender and ethnicity. It is important to understand these intersections in order to fully appreciate the challenges that Arab Americans face and to work towards achieving equality for all.
Importance of Solidarity
Celebrating Arab American Heritage Month is not just about recognizing the contributions of Arab Americans to American society. It is also about being in solidarity with Arab American communities and working to protect their civil rights and liberties.
As an organization committed to protecting civil rights and liberties for all, the ACLU plays an important role in this work. I am proud to be part of a team working to ensure that all of us are treated equally under the law.