April marks the start of Arab-American Heritage Month, a time to reflect on the contributions Arab-Americans have made to the United States and the diverse group of people who make up the nation’s Middle Eastern population.
The history of Arabs coming and settling in the Americas is long and diverse. As early as the 15th Century, Spanish explorers brought slaves from the Arab world to the Americas. Arab-American history received a significant push during the era called the Great Migration, the period between 1880 and 1924, when more than 20 million immigrants entered the United States. Most of the immigrants came from Southern and Eastern Europe, but more than 95,000 Arabs came from Syria. By 1924, there were about 200,000 Arabs living in United States.
As the number of immigrants who came to the country during the Great Migration grew, resistance to them also grew among Americans born in the U.S. Groups of people working to end immigration in the nation claimed the Arab immigrants were un-American, had cultures that did not fit with American culture, were more likely to be criminal and poor, and did not understand the American political system. These movements grew in strength and a series of laws passed by Congress in 1917, 1921, and 1924 caused immigration from the Arab world to slow down. The historical period called the Great Migration ended with these restrictive laws and a similar period in the history of the nation would not reemerge until mid-1960.
There were notable differences among the Arab immigrants that came to the U.S. during the Great Migration. Some groups started family migrations and planned to stay in the country, while others sought out work to bring money back to their families overseas. Some groups clustered in certain cities, while others were equally likely to move anywhere in the country. All of these groups contributed to both the U.S. history and to the Arab-American history.
The Arab-American history is an on-going story from the first early settlers through the Great Migration and on to modern day. Arab-Americans have made a significant contribution to the history of the U.S. through their achievements in the arts, science, politics, community development, entertainment, sports, civil-rights and social justice.
In 1999, the Montgomery County Executive, Doug Duncan first declared April to be observed as Arab-American Heritage Month. This celebratory month traces its first celebrations to the campus of Montgomery College located in Rockville, Md., where more than 8,000 people of Arab descent live in the county. The college established this heritage month as a way to help eliminate discrimination, bigotry and racism against people of Arab descent by educating the public about their culture, civilization and contributions to society.
Saint Xavier University (SXU) promotes and recognizes the importance behind celebrating diversity amongst its students, faculty and staff, by establishing it as part of the University’s core values. Diversity helps to strengthen SXU’s academic programs and educational environment by preparing students to live and work in an international society and global economy. It is a concept that has remained at the heart of SXU’s history and will continue to grow alongside the institution.