By Dana Williams
The nation’s first museum showcasing and preserving the history of Arab Americans now is open to the public.
The Dearborn, Mich., community celebrated the opening of its new Arab American National Museum Thursday, amid a host of multi-ethnic performances and festivities, including Moroccan and African dancers, Arabian horses, music and a large children’s area.
"There is a lot of excitement brewing in the community; it is a huge celebration," said Hannan Deep, spokesperson for the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, the group spearheading the museum project.
Deep said the museum has received "astounding support" from the community of Dearborn, home to the nation’s largest concentration of Arab Americans.
"Out of 15,000 museums in the country, many of which are culturally specific, this is the first one solely dedicated to the culture, history and experience of Arab Americans in this country," Deep said. "We have a big job on our hands to get our message across."
The $16 million, 38,500-square foot facility has been in the works for more than a decade, but the need for the museum — and its message — took on a new sense of urgency following 9.11, some say.
"People need to know: Who are these people? Who are Arab-Americans and what have they contributed?" Dearborn businessman Nasser Beydoun told The Detroit News. "And it’s not a story that is told by the fanatics doing these horrendous acts in the news of recent years, who have hijacked the religion and the culture, and the very sense of being Arab."
Instead, it’s a story those of all backgrounds can relate to.
"There is some relation or connection to this museum for any ethnic group in America," Deep said.
The museum aims to entertain and educate those who come through its doors. It also aims to shatter stereotypes.
"[Visitors will] learn a ton of things they didn’t know — about the Arab American who invented the first heart pump, or the waffle cone," Deep said. "Then they’ll learn another story, that we are just like everyone else."
The museum features two main galleries that showcase artifacts from all over the U.S. and the Arab world. The first gallery, "Contributions of the Arab World," highlights innovations from the Arab world in architecture, science medicine and law.
The second gallery is divided into three parts, "Coming to America," "Living in America," and "Making an Impact." It recounts the history of immigration from the Arab world, reflects the life of Arab Americans throughout different time periods and demonstrates the ways Arab Americans have contributed to this country.
"The museum hopes to become the leading resource on the growing field of Arab American studies, dispelling stereotypes and, more importantly, operating as a source of pride for Arab Americans everywhere," said Dr. Anan Ameri, the museum’s director.
This essay originally appeared on Tolerance.org, the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama.
NOTE: The Arab American National Museum is located in the City of Dearborn, right across the street from City Hall, on the corner of Neckel and Michigan Avenue:
13624 Michigan Avenue
Dearborn, MI 48126
Main: (313) 582-AANM (2266)
Fax: (313) 582-1086
If you would like to be on the AANM’s mailing list, send an e-mail to rhajj@accesscommunity with "mailing list" in the subject line.