Chicagoland celebrates Arab American Heritage Month
More than 250 government leaders, elected officials and candidates for office attended a celebration of Arab American Heritage Month in Hickory Hills in suburban Chicago hosted by the American Arab Chamber of Commerce. The dinner was donated by three Chamber members and was free to the public featuring a catered Middle Eastern dinner, entertainment and speakers on March 30, 2022
By Ray Hanania
More than 250 leaders in the Arab American community joined with a slew of government officials and candidates for political office to celebrate the launch of Arab American Heritage Month at a dinner hosted by the American Arab Chamber of Commerce Wednesday March 30, 2022.
April is Arab American Heritage Month, set by a law adopted by the Illinois Legislature in January 2019. The month celebrates the contributions of Arab Americans and is celebrated nationally in at least 36 American states.
This year’s celebration was the largest in the city’s history and brought together many community groups and leaders at a Hickory Hills banquet hall that featured displays of Arab music, clothing and dress, and history.
Chicago Alderman Roderick Sawyer of the 6th Ward, one of more than 40 elected officials and candidates who attended the event, read a Proclamation honoring Chicago’s Arab American community. Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District also provided a congratulatory letter. Both were read to the community.
“I am very honored to be here to present this resolution which has been introduced to the Chicago City Council and for which I believe it will be approved,” Alderman Sawyer said in remarks at the dinner, which was free to the community and featured an Arab dinner.
“Arab Americans are an important constituency in the city, county, state and the country. They have contributed as much as everyone to make this country great and I and other members of the Chicago City Council want them to know that we see you as equals and appreciate your contributions to our society. Thank you and happy Arab American Heritage Month.”
Dr. Willie Wilson, who recently donated more than $1 million in gasoline to families facing the stress of rising gasoline prices and costs spinning out of the two-year long COVID-19 pandemic, said Arab Americans “are a great people from a great culture.”
“I am proud to be here tonight to join my friends in the Arab American community to celebrate a month where we recognize their contributions to this nation,” said Wilson, who recently announced his intentions to run for Mayor of Chicago in 2023.
“Arab Americans are engineers, doctors, police officers, firefighters, military veterans, small and large business owners, and have contributed so much. I am proud to be able to salute them and join you in celebrating this important month honoring Arab American Heritage.”
There are more than 450,000 Arab Americans in the Chicagoland region, although their rights are basically ignored by the U.S. Census. They are often are excluded from receiving government benefits such as cultural grants and business support.
Oftentimes, they are the victims of racism and discrimination from some government leaders like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who sent a Task Force of Police and Business Inspectors to shut down more than 150 Arab owned stores in Chicago in June 2021.
American Arab Chamber of Commerce President Hassan Nijem said that the impact of Mayor Lightfoot’s unjustified, wrong and discriminatory order to close the businesses had devastating affects on the 150 businesses, the more than 1,200 employees who were out of work for three months, and on city and county tax revenues and communities that could not be collected during the closures.
“Last summer, Mayor Lightfoot and her inspectors and her task force shut down 150 Arab owned businesses in Chicago. They were shut down for nearly three months and nothing was done,” Nijem said.
“When we at the Chamber learned about it, we brought people together and told the store owners we will fight for their rights. We will fight to reopen them. We will protest and do whatever we can to force the mayor to reverse this discriminatory policy. And we did. We put a light on this by bringing in the Chicago news media and we had every TV station, every newspaper and every radio station reporting on this terrible situation. The pressure and embarrassment of what she did was so great, Mayor Lightfoot ordered all of the stores re-opened the very next day. The inspectors were told to be respectful and helpful to the store owners. That’s the power of having a Chamber of Commerce.”
Ald. Gilbert Villegas of Chicago’s 36th Ward announced at the dinner he introduced a resolution calling for an investigation into the store closings, but the resolution has been stymied by the mayors allies.
Villegas announced he would host a public community forum to allow store owners to share their experiences of how their stores were shutdown, and how the inspectors treated them demanding accountability from Lightfoot and her administration.
Villegas is running for Congress in the newly created 3rd Congressional District in the Democratic Primary on June 28.
Nijem told the gathering that Arab American Heritage Month is important because it reminds every public official, every government, every agency and every organization of the importance of Arab Americans and that they must be respected.
“The chamber is humbled that all of you are here tonight. Tonight is not about me or the Chamber. It is really about you, the community,” Nijem said.
“We wanted to thank the community for all of their hard work every day being good citizens, great business people, doctors, lawyers, journalists, great families and law-abiding taxpayers. That’s why we organized this dinner as a free celebration for the community and for our government friends who are here tonight. This night is to honor all of you and to thank you all.”
Many officials addressed the gathering.
“The Arab community is very important and a cornerstone of our nation’s diversity and an important part of our county and I am so proud to be able to be here to celebrate this important Arab American Heritage month,” said Cook County Commissioner Frank Aguilar of the 16th District.
Former Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, who is a candidate in the June 28, 2022 Republican Primary election and running to return to her seat representing the 17th District, offered words of support to the gathering telling members: “Arab Americans are an important community that contribute to our society and our country. I am proud to be here to honor them for all that they have done to make this country and this county strong. They will always have a voice with me. Arab American Heritage month is an important event.”
Gorman was applauded for her work as a champion fighting for the rights of taxpayers on the Cook County board.
Nijem thanked Arab Chamber board members Radi Abuhashish, Nemer Ziyad and Muhammad Abdullah who all donated to cover the costs of the dinner allowing the chamber to serve Middle Eastern food and to cover the cost of the banquet hall.
Chamber board members including Aminah Adnan Aldeek, Tareq Al Bitar, Amir Nijem, Hana Abudauueh, Abed Ayash, Mazen Dolah, Ibrahim Fattah, Monique Hoffman, Mahar Khattab, Samer Khatibm Saad Malley, Lena Matariyeh, Anna Mustapha and Mohammad Taher were all acknowledged and introduced at the reception for their dedication and volunteer time to make the Chamber the most effective voice for the Arab American community.
Board member Abir Jaber gave a presentation about the importance of Medjoul Dates during the Holy month of Ramadan which is expected to begin April 2.
In addition to the catered Arab dinner, desserts were donated by Cafe Melt & Dip of Bridgeview.
Among the dignitaries who attended or who offered letters of support, in order of their appearance, and who were acknowledged include:
Former Cook County Commissioner and candidate for President of the Cook County Board Richard Boykin; Candidate for 16th State Senator District Willie Preston; State Rep. Fran Hurley of the 35th District; State Rep. Bill Cunningham of the 18th District; State Sen. and Bridgeview Mayor Steven Landek; State Senate Candidate Mike Porfirio; Lyons Mayor Chris Getty; Cicero Clerk Maria Punzo-Arias; Cicero Trustee Blanca Vargas; Cicero Health Commissioner Sue Grazzini; Water Reclamation District Commissioner Eira L. Corral Sepulvida; candidate for 4th Subcircuit Judge Nick Kantas; candidate for 4th SubCircuit Judge ShawnTe Raines Welch; Judge Judie Lyn Smith of the 5th Subcircuit; candidate for Cook County commissioner Dan Calandriello; 6th District Democratic State Central Committeeman Patrick Watson.
Also, acknowledge were: Candidate for the 21st House seat Abdelnasser Rashid who came within 1,377 votes of defeating controversy plagued commissioner Sean Morrison; GOP Candidate for 6th District Congressional Office Scott Kaspar; Water Reclamation District Commissioner Chakena D. Perry; former Chicago Schools Supt. Paul Vallas and candidate for Chicago Mayor; State Rep. Nabela Sayid of the 52nd District; Ald. David Moore and candidate for Illinois Secretary of State; First District Congressional candidate Chris Butler; Water Reclamation District candidate Yumeka Brown; GOP candidate for 6th District Congressional office Rob Cruz; District 218 School Board member Bob Stokas; Water Reclamation District candidate Patricia Theresa Flynn; Ja’mal Green candidate for Chicago Mayor; candidate for Judge Elizabeth “Beth” Ryan; candidate for Judge Dominique C. Ross; Glendale Heights Mayor Chodri Ma Khokhar; candidate for the two year term of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Daniel Pogorzelski, and Cook County Judge Rouhy Shalabi.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was represented by her Special Assistant Al Kindle who offered words of support and congratulations.
Alderman David Moore, candidate for Illinois Secretary of State was given a standing ovation from many of the Arab American attendees applauding his candidacy and promises to work with all communities including Arab Americans.
Samir Khalil, president of the Arab American Democratic Club encouraged candidates to attend the AADC Candidate’s Brunch and Forum to be held May 15, 2022 at Niko’s Banquets. For information about the AADC Brunch and Forum visit www.ArabDemocraticClub.com.
All of the candidates and officials were given the opportunity to speak at the end of the dinner banquet and were encouraged to introduce themselves to the attendees table by table.
The American Arab Chamber of Commerce website is:
(Writer Ray Hanania served as the event emcee.)