April Arab Heritage Month Illinois

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April Arab Heritage Month Illinois

Illinois has long recognized Arab heritage beginning with the 1893 World Columbian Exposition which featured “Cairo Street,” one of the fair’s most popular exhibits. The Exposition introduced Americans to Arab Culture in a positive way and it continued in Illinois for many years after.

It wasn’t until 1983, 90 years later, that Chicago Mayor Harold Washington declared in a resolution that November would be recognized as Arab American Heritage Month in Illinois. Several years later under Gov. Jim Edgar that Arab American Heritage Month was recognized in a state resolution.

For many years, Illinois celebrated Arab American Heritage Month with pride and respect including by hosting annual celebrations and even launching the Arabesque Festival under Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2007.

However, in 2011, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel revoked Arab American Heritage month and that was followed soon after by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. Both Emanuel, whose father was a member of the Irgun Terrorist Organization in the 1940s in Palestine, and Rauner, who embraced anti-Arab racist stereotypes, closed the door to Arab American involvement.

Inside the Tent at the Arabesque Festival in June 2010 when Richard M. Daley was mayor. Photos by Ray Hanania

Inside the Tent at the Arabesque Festival in June 2010 when Richard M. Daley was mayor. Photos by Ray Hanania

Fortunately, Rauner was defeated as governor in November 2018 and that same year anti-Arab racist Mayor Emanuel decided to resign in the face of many scandals and mounting criticism of his failed administration that the door was re-opened to civil rights and heritage respect.

In October, Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan announced that he would introduce not a resolution but a State Law to ensure that no future politician could easily revoke the recognition of the cultural heritage of Arab Americans who served not only as elected officials, public servants, taxpayers, successful businessmen and women, and also with honor in the U.S. Military. In the face of overwhelming support in both the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate, in one of his last acts, outgoing Governor Bruce Rauner signed the new law on Dec. 14, 2018.

The law was finally approved. And, beginning in April 2019, Illinois officially recognizes the heritage and culture and the great contributions that Arab Americans have made to American society and to Illinois.

Here is a link to a background story, click here.

Here is a link to the Illinois Law, click here.

“April as Arab American Heritage Month in Illinois”

Illinois House Bill 5971, approved in the House, the Senate and signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Introduced by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan
Illinois Senate Sponsor Senator Steven Landek

WHEREAS, It is appropriate and right to celebrate a diversity of cultures and heritages, and such celebration serves as a reminder that despite our differing backgrounds, everyone in Illinois is bound by a common hope for a better and more inclusive future for our children; and

WHEREAS, The Arab American community has a long and integral history in the United States; and

WHEREAS, For over a century, Arab Americans have been making valuable contributions to virtually every aspect of American society, including medicine, law, business, technology, government, and culture; and

WHEREAS, Tens of thousands of Arab Americans have served during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001; and

WHEREAS, The history of Arab Americans in American life often remains neglected and has been riddled with misunderstanding and bigotry; and

WHEREAS, Men and women of Arab descent have shared their rich culture, strong work ethic, and dedication to education, while embracing the American spirit of opportunity and helping us build a better nation and State for all; and

WHEREAS, It is estimated that there are approximately 450,000 people of Arab American descent in Illinois with more than 100,000 Arab American voters registered; and

WHEREAS, We recognize and celebrate the contributions to cultural diversity, economic growth, and the overall development of our State and nation made by the Arab American community; therefore

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly:

Section 5. The State Commemorative Dates Act is amended by adding Section 6 as follows:

Sec. 6. Arab American Heritage Month. The month of April of each year is designated as Arab American Heritage Month to be observed throughout the State as a month to recognize the valuable contributions of Arab Americans to this State and to the various aspects of American society.

To view the status of the Illinois law, click here.

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