As we enter a new month, we say good bye to April, a month enjoyed by most spelling the flowers after a long cold winter; though for over 3.5 million Arab Americans, we finalized Arab American Heritage Month, a month of celebration, recognition and a decree by President Biden: “The history and story of the Arab American community is deeply woven into the diverse tapestry of America. This National Arab American Heritage Month, I thank the community for all that you have done to help move us forward and for representing the best of who we are.”
Growing up as a first generation Arab American in the early 80s, my parents came over from the motherland to a land of opportunity. Dad a college philosophy professor and religious studies and mom a nurse and Ms. Jordan, crowned in 1960 representing Jordan in the Ms. Universe Pageant held in Long Beach California, a bit of bragging rights, I grew up cross culture and very confused! How do you explain Humus sandwich to a bunch of 4th graders in what you may know as ‘Pita Bread’ though longing for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in-between 2 slices of white wonder bread. Every Christmas Eve dinner was Mansaf, a Jordanian dish of rice, lamb and yogurt served in the Kingdom when baby boys are born or a pre wedding party or a funeral. How I longed for an American meal of stuffed Turkey and Ham with all the trimmings, I definitely grew up confused. I had an identity crisis and wanted to fit in at any cost. Growing up in an all American middle class neighborhood and the Naffa’s were the only Arabic family in town.
My mom and her Greek friends would make Easter cookies every April and cookie swap, of course we loved the Greek cookies over the Arabic cookies and the Greek neighbors loved the Arabic cookies over the Greek cookies..kids. Mom would make homemade Hummus, Tabbouleh stuffed aleunab after picking the neighbors grape leaves and their lemons and tops it all off with fresh homemade baklava; our home was a revolving door with the neighbors who loved eating over and were always welcomed. Fast forward, the Arabic Mediterranean Diet ranked #1 in Best Diets overall from a panel of health experts in 2022 and before that in 2021 and before that in 2020. The Arabic diet is the healthiest diet and according to the multiple health and doctor’s sites for many years now. The Arabic diet is seen in restaurants, on the planes and almost anywhere they serve good food; a plant based rich with greens, olive oil and beans.
The Arab fashion and the Big screen. The Tatriz, a Palestinian cross stiches are deep rooted into our culture. I remember my grandmother sitting in front of the sewing machine and making me beautiful Arabic dresses which I now love wearing sharing my heritage, culture, and memories every stitch at a time. Fast forward…. Watching movies and seeing almost every American soldier in every combat scene wear the traditional Palestinian and Jordanian Hatta, reminds me of Teta (grandma)
My parents had thick and heavy Arabic accents and how embarrassed was I that my parents did not speak American English, how I wanted to fit in. In the 80’s speaking another language was not cool different than today. Speaking and understanding another language is now cool. 98.9% of what they say in Arabic and they assume I do not understand, well I do.
April is Arab American Heritage Month. It may not be a big deal to some, but for those of my generation this recognition represents an end to trying to fit in; I am glad I never fit-in because I like me; I like being Arab American.