Arab Americans Push for Recognition as Official Minority, MENA Category
For the last 30 years or so, Arab Americans have been pushing for recognition as an “official minority” entity in the United States. They want to leverage special privileges and considerations, as well as financial support in the form of grants.
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The Arab Americans are vying for a new “Middle East and North Africa” (MENA) category. Bilal Hammoud, an advisory board member for Asian Pacific Islander American Vote-Michigan, says they can foster research that specifically addresses the health issues unique to the MENA community. He said every state and federal agency, school and non-profit relies on the census. The addition of a seemingly simple checkbox will open access to federal funding, protections, health care, research, equity in education and more.
Ray Hanania said being officially recognized as a minority mandates the U.S. government to take actions that strengthen the political and voter voice of that community. “This means that, when minorities live near each other, they must be included in one political district in order to help them elect their own representatives to federal, state and local office.” But anti-Arab forces in the U.S. Congress and in the state legislatures are determined to silence Arab voices.
Hanania explained that without that recognition, minorities can be politically eviscerated, as they were in Illinois, when the federal and state governments came together to divide the old 3rd Congressional District. It was partly due to the state having the eighth-largest concentration of Arab American voters and the potential to vote Arab Americans into Congress and the state legislature. Hanania described it as “divide and conquer”. He believes anti-Arab forces in the U.S. Congress and in the state legislatures are determined to silence Arab voices, as well as those of non-Arabs who stand up for Arab rights.
A federal working group, in late January 2023, recommended that a new MENA category be recognized on official government documents. It explained that many in the MENA community do not share the same lived experiences as White people with European ancestry, do not identify as White, and are not perceived as White by others.
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It should be noted that the U.S. Census Bureau, during the Obama administration, conducted extensive testing and recommended that a MENA category be added to the census. But this was stalled when former U.S. president Donald Trump came to power. Then when Joe Biden took up office, he declared his commitment to the advancement of racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government.