Campaign for a “MENA” category encourages Arab Americans to take action

About 30 students gathered at the Middle Eastern Student Center at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) on March first to learn how to help create change that will make a lasting impact on the Arab American community. 

A workshop led by the Arab American Civic Council’s Research Fellow Amin Nash and IMPACT Intern Hasan Ismail helped students write effective public comments to the federal government about why it’s important to add a “Middle Eastern North African” category in the Census and federal forms. Through group activities and one-on-one assistance, we helped students craft a personalized public comment integrating research, data, and personal stories to create a robust public comment. 

Since mid February, the Arab American Civic Council has been coordinating with its national partners to mobilize the community to submit public comments. AACC team members have gone to college campuses such as UCR and USC, mosques, and community events to educate community members about how adding the MENA category will impact them and help them submit public comments. 

Recently, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced their proposed revision to Directive 15 to include a Middle Eastern and North African category. Since 1977, Directive 15, which identifies the data that federal agencies must collect, has set the terms for racial and ethnic categories in the United States. It has systematically excluded Middle Eastern and North Africans from equitable opportunity and protection for decades.

Our communities have struggled with severe cultural, linguistic, and systemic barriers to accessing government services. This has led to troubling disparities in health, education, employment, housing, and civil rights. For example, in 2021, USA Today published an article referring to the impact of COVID-19 on MENA communities as an “unseen crisis” because our communities are placed in the White category. With these standards, our communities cannot effectively tell the stories of surveillance, school suspensions and expulsions, voter suppression, and other forms of discrimination. We have been invisible for far too long. 

If we are successful, MENA communities will finally be eligible to receive targeted federal funding and protection, allowing for more equitable health, education, political representation, and support for small businesses in our communities. If they don’t receive adequate feedback, they could decide that this is not an efficient use of resources. We cannot let that happen. 

Click here to submit a public comment here