Arab American Women Who’ve Helped Shape American Culture, Politics, and Economy
National Arab American Heritage Month, observed in April, was only recognized via proclamation by the U.S. Department of State in 2021. However, it is formally recognized by the Arab America Foundation.
While it has still not gotten an official congressional designation or permanent legislation, that shouldn’t stop anyone from celebrating the contributions and achievements of Arab Americans throughout history. This month is a time to recognize the immense impact our Middle Eastern Arab immigrants have made in shaping America’s culture, politics, and economy.
On the heels of Women’s History Month, it seems fitting to continue the celebration by highlighting the achievements of three remarkable Arab American women who have broken barriers and made history in their respective fields. Let’s dive into their inspiring stories of resilience, leadership, and activism.
Public Health Advocacy: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
In 2015, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a public health advocate and pediatrician did something few other researchers do. She courageously held a press conference to talk about her early findings of elevated lead levels in children in Flint, Michigan, thereby exposing the Flint water crisis.
Despite claiming to have experienced imposter syndrome as she faced resistance and denial from government officials, she persisted in her efforts to raise awareness and demand action to protect the health and well-being of Flint’s residents. Her work was instrumental in bringing about a federal state of emergency and securing resources for lead testing, medical treatment, and infrastructure repairs.
In addition to her advocacy on behalf of Flint’s residents, she has been a leader in the movement to address environmental injustices and health disparities affecting marginalized and underserved communities. Through her pioneering work, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha has challenged the status quo and continues to be a powerful force for social justice and public health.
The Political Sphere: Representative Ilhan Omar
The congressional class of 2018 ushered in a slew of new representatives, including Representative Ilhan Omar who broke barriers and made history as the first Somali-American and one of the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress. As a trailblazer in politics, she championed diversity and representation while being a vocal advocate for progressive causes, including healthcare, education, and immigration reform.
In addition to her legislative work, Omar has been an outspoken critic of certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy and advocates for more equitable and just global policies. Her advocacy and leadership have earned her widespread recognition and praise that have made her an inspiration to many, especially women and people of color who are widely underrepresented at the highest levels of American politics.
Representative Omar won her third term in 2022 with 75.2% of the vote allowing her to continue her leadership at the national level and publicly live out her commitment to social justice.
Journalistic Entrepreneurship: Laila Alawa
As a Muslim woman of Syrian descent, Laila Alawa has challenged stereotypes and discrimination through some of her earlier research in STEM fields. She has also advocated for greater representation and diversity in the media. Among her many achievements, she founded The Tempest, a media company that amplifies the voices of underrepresented communities and provides a platform for women from diverse backgrounds to share their stories and perspectives.
In addition to her work as a journalist and entrepreneur, Alawa has been a vocal advocate for human rights and social justice. She’s been awarded numerous accolades for her leadership and contributions to the field of communications — including being named to the 2018 edition of Forbes 30 Under 30 — and her vocal advocacy for promoting cultural understanding and acceptance has made her an idol to women all over the world.
How You Can Make a Difference
This month provides a unique opportunity to celebrate the contributions of the Arab American population and the impact they’ve made on American society. The remarkable stories of Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Representative Ilhan Omar, and Laila Alawa remind us that programs, policies, and practices of inclusion matter, and that everyone has the power to make a difference. The Arab American national museum and Arab American Institute are additional sources we encourage you to look into for more information on Middle East culture and tradition.
What actions can you take to model these core beliefs in your organization beyond April, and how can we continue to build a more inclusive and equitable society where all voices are heard and valued? Get involved in educational opportunities to learn about the Arab world and Arab heritage, join different groups and get to know people from different backgrounds, and find new ways to create an inclusive environment for all people.
Building a Diverse Community with DEI Initiatives
Paradigm is dedicated to creating a diverse workforce and promoting diversity and inclusion in all communities. To learn more about becoming an ally to the Arab American community or ways you can celebrate important DEI dates throughout the year, contact us today!
March 27, 2023