Did you know that April is National Arab American Heritage Month? This month celebrates the 1,697,570 Arab Americans in the United States (according to the 2010 U.S. Census). They are Americans of Arab ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritage or identity.
Arab Americans trace their ancestry to any of these 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that all either have Arabic as their primary or secondary language: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Dijbouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
While there may be ethnic or cultural adaptations, or religious similarities (63% of Arab Americans are Christian, 24% are Muslim and 13% list themselves as Other) what really ties them all is the Semitic Arabic language.
There are many different varieties of outfits, national food dishes and/or traditional dance in each of the above listed countries, however, any person can pick up a book or newspaper, Quran or Bible, in any of these 22 countries and still be able to understand the same Classical Arabic words.
The first Arabs were brought to America by the the Spanish explorers in the 15th Century as slaves. By the Revolution War, things had shifted when US needed the Moroccan port of Tangiers and sought recognition. This recognition was granted in 1777, making Morocco the first country to recognize the United States of America. The fighting armies were also dependent on the horses imported from Algeria to replenished the cavalry. By the late 18th century, laws were changed so that Arab Africans could be treated according to the laws for whites and not for those of their sub-Saharian African brothers and sisters.
Arab immigration after that came in waves, usually as a result of specific periods of war or discrimination in their respective mother countries. The most recent immigration wave, created from the Iraqi War, the Syrian Civil War and the attack on Gaza, has caused the United States to issue a MuslimBan against 7 countries, six of which are Arab (Persians in Iran speak Farsi).
Today, a majority of Arab Americans live in metropolitan areas and it’s interesting to note, have twice the American average for postgraduate degrees.
When I first wanted to introduce my language to my daughters, the only children’s Arabic alphabet poster I found was from a company in DC that had a black border and dark, hard to understand, illustrations. It was so depressing for a children’s room. I had just sewn a bear sailor nursery set and the colors were all primary: reds, blues, yellows, and greens. I wanted an Arabic poster in her room to reflect that brightness and cheerfulness that belong in an environment for a baby.
That was when I got together with an ex-coworker, who just happened to be a published children’s illustrator, and created the Arabic Alphabet Animal poster. I started selling it small, first on Etsy, then on Zibbet, before I tried my hand on Amazon and at local festivals. Soon the Arab American Museum in Dearborn, MI wanted some and before long, it was selling at the Smithsonian African American Museum in Washington, DC. From there, I bought a button machine and made magnets.
Since then, we have gone on to make game cards, via a Kickstarter campaign and recently have debuted the Arabic Animal Color Poster. My husband even helped develop a free app last year. It’s very basic, but he was excited to learn new coding since he’s not working at the moment. I designed free coloring pages as an incentive to join my mailing list (which only gives you a heads up that a blog post is ready for you to come and enjoy).
Other then products for our home, I wanted to teach my daughters more about the language spoken by their ancestors. I started blogging lullabies in Arabic, number games, and DIY crafts that include Arabic words. and letters. More can be found on ACraftyArab Blog on Pinterest.
I filled their bookshelves with dictionaries, folktales, and toys that reflected their world in Arabic and English. I use these books to teach not only about the Arab world, but show them that they are can stand tall as strong, athletic, and kind. Since I am raising girls who will one day become women, I remind them that they come from a long line of those before them that were brilliant and artistic.
Not that I didn’t share an occasional food recipes with them, though. Talking to them about the spices and regional dishes of Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya and Palestine helps keep the language alive too.
For the rest of April, we’ll be adding more posts about the culture, food and language of Arabs and their diaspora. We hope you follow along and share it with your friends.
To learn about other world languages, follow along on the TOP Kids Language Resources for your Language Learners. I am so honored to have been asked to be a part of this round up and share our Arabic resources with you.