Anaheim City Hall, 10/26/2021
Approximately fifty people congregated at Anaheim’s City Hall, urging the Council to agendize the Designation of Little Arabia. The speakers came from diverse backgrounds, with many of Anaheim’s non-Arab residents advocating for their Arab neighbors and sharing their experiences with the community. The Council heard the prospects of economic benefits, the importance of cultural enclaves, and the demands to see the city of Anaheim celebrate the city’s diverse culture.
Carmen Philip, a student activist and resident in Little Arabia, was surprised by how many people showed up. “Instead of focusing on the council members, I was impressed by how many non-Arabs showed up. Living my whole life as an Arab, I felt like nobody paid attention to us or that our voices weren’t heard or strong enough, so seeing people other than ourselves support us was a really great experience.”
The community of West Anaheim has been advocating for the recognition of Little Arabia for over thirty years. In the 1980s and 1990s, property owners such as Belal Dalati and Ahmad Alam invested in homes, flipped them, and sold them to the strengthen the Arab community. Arab-owned businesses began opening market and shops alongside Arabic signposts to help uplift the area around Brookhurst. Despite their success, many people looked at the Arab residents and shop owners with suspicion and negative perspectives.
Jenny Matti, a community advocate and resident of West Anaheim, felt some apathy from the City Council members. “When people were requesting the designation of Little Arabia, I felt that they weren’t really focused and didn’t pay attention. They seemed kind of indifferent, like they’ve already heard this before.”
Still, the residents felt that the designation would not only remedy any possible misperceptions about the Arab community, but it will create a community of belonging and economic benefit. “Designating Little Arabia will definitely bring more recognition, and it will bring more people to the community,” said Matti. “I have family in Detroit who know of Little Arabia, and they know exactly where it is in Anaheim. Getting the recognition will not just bring people to the businesses, but it will bring together cultural centers like churches and mosques, it would allow us to have more festivals, and overall, welcome people to the community.”
Phillip agrees that designation would help the community. “One of my main concerns is how it will bring the community closer together. As I told the Council, members of the community, like parents who don’t speak English well, will find that a place like Little Arabia will bring them comfort. I think that’s something everyone wants in the long run.”
Many speakers felt that the Council has ignored vulnerable communities and people of color around West Anaheim, and that Council members have not engaged with the community enough, leading to misunderstanding.
“An Arab cultural district will help people understand the Arab American community and remove any possible biases or fears they have of the community,” Arab American Civic Council Fellow Amin Nash said. “Not only will the designation help the city economically, but it will also help defeat different misconceptions people have of one another. It would be a historic precedent to see Anaheim as the first city in America to recognize the many contributions of Arab Americans.”
Rashad al Dabbagh, Executive Director of the Arab American Civic Council, cited that 75% of people who experience Little Arabia approve of its designation. “I would ask that members of the Council to come and enjoy the district. We will welcome you with open arms.”