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Officials from across Cook County gathered on Wednesday (April 10, 2019) to celebrate Arab American Heritage Month, April, with leaders of the Chicagoland Arab American community at a new Southwest Suburban restaurant to enjoy Arab food and cultural activities.
The annual cultural celebration had been a tradition in Chicago and Illinois since the 1980s, initiated following the election of Mayor Harold Washington. But the annual commemoration, previously held in November, was killed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner in 2011 who both were engaged in anti-Arab policies.
In December, however, Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan moved to restore the commemoration for Arab Americans. Madigan introduced a law recognized April as “Arab American Heritage Month” and it was approved unanimously by the Illinois House and Illinois Senate, and signed by the governor on Dec. 14, 2018.
An array of at least 35 elected officials including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison, Mayor Keith Pekau of Orland Park, Mayor Sergio Rodriguez of Summit, and Mayor Barrett Pedersen of Franklin Park, joined to celebrate the revival of the annual cultural recognition enjoying an Arabian food buffet provided by Oozi Corner Restaurant.
“I am very grateful to be here and appreciate the warm welcome I have received. I always say I am a history teacher by profession and I know that America is a great nation because people have come from all over the world to make it so,” Preckwinkle told the packed restaurant attendees.
“I am very proud to be here to celebrate Arab American Heritage month to celebrate with you. I deeply regret the city has withdrawn its support of Arab American ethnic appreciation month across a broad spectrum. It isn’t just the Arab American community. I think it is important that we recognize the contributions that people from all over the world have made to our great country.”
The event was organized by Mansour Tadros, the publisher of The Future News Arab American newspaper, Samir Khalil, Executive Director of the Arab American Democratic Club, and journalist and media consultant Ray Hanania.
“We are very proud to revive this annual commemoration that Mayor Rahm Emanuel so effectively ended immediately after he was elected Mayor. We are all very proud Americans. We have served in our nation’s military to defend this nation, and work in every level of business and commerce in Illinois,” Hanania said in welcoming everyone to the event.
“This is just a revival so we only invited leadership from many of the Arab American organizations and our media to make a declaration hat we are back and we are and always have been very proud to be both American and Arab. We are so grateful to all of the elected officials who were able to attend and those who could not who offered their best wishes for this revival celebration. We know they are here in dedicated spirit.”
Also attending and speaking to the group were Congressman Dan Lipinski, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, Mayors Keith Pekau of Orland Park, Sergio Rodriguez of Summit, and Barrett Pedersen Mayor of Franklin Park, Palos Township Officials including Trustees Brent Woods, Rich Riley and Sharon Brannigan and her husband Michael, Palos Hills Alderman Michael LeBarre, newly elected Orland District 135 Trustee David Shalabi, former Chicago Board of Education member Anna Mustapha, Appellate Court Justice Jessie Reyes, former Palos Democratic Committeeman Sam Simone and current Committeeman and Robert Maloney and representatives from a dozen suburban library systems
Arab American leaders supporting the event included Bill Haddad, president of AMVOTE, Edward Hassan of Edwards Reality, publisher Emile Haddad, Shadin Maali former candidate for Moraine Valley Community College trustee, Engineer and realtor Abder and Amani Ghouleh, and Interfaith Illinois leaders and Bishops Joseph Jones, Claude Porter and James Springfield.
Among those who could not attend but offered their congratulations were Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, Senator Steve Landek and Senator Martin Sandoval and Representatives Mike Zalewski, Bill Cunningham, who were in Springfield. Former Tollway Director Liz Gorman, Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, Lyons Mayor Chris Getty also offered their support celebrating Arab heritage. The event was supported by Nemer Ziyad of Ziyad Brothers Importing and also leaders of the Muslim and Christian religious communities.
Salutes were also offered by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, Stickney Township Supervisor Lou Viverito and his wife Carolyn, Chicago Ridge Mayor Charles Tokar, and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Trustee Mariyana Spyropoulos.
“We have been working hard to make this happen and we are happy to give everyone an opportunity to enjoy our food which has a Western touch with a Mediterranean cuisine taste. We want to offer a taste of both worlds, to be diverse and send a message that we are proud to be here in America,” said Oozi Restaurant General Manager Osama Daoud.
Oozi Corner Restaurant, located at 9115 S. Harlem Avenue, has only been open for seven weeks, Daoud said as he welcomed the nearly 120 attendees.
Pappas praised the community for their hard work and involvement in local government and community activity, saying “We are all so proud to be here to celebrate Arab American Heritage month. My office has worked closely with every ethnic community in Cook County and I am proud to be here.”
Pappas has translated information for residents of various ethnic communities into 24 different languages “to ensure that everyone is involved, everyone is represented and everyone is acknowledged.”
Morrison introduced a Proclamation to the Cook County Board to recognize Arab American Heritage Month on March 20 that was unanimously approved.
“I am proud that my Cook County District has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in Illinois. Arab Americans are a very diverse but also a cohesive group. They originate from 22 different Middle East and North African countries including from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Syria,” he said.
“They are Christian and Muslim. They are authors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists, police officers, firefighters, business entrepreneurs, and public servants in various positions of local, regional and state government. They are also Veterans who have served and are serving in our nation’s military defending our country.”
Tadros welcomed attendees adding the Arab Community is honored to have so many elected officials and community leaders here to re-launch the annual celebration.
“We have a strong community that is diverse. Christians, Muslims and even Jewish Arabs. We appreciate the support that we receive from the elected officials who represent our communities,” said Tadros whose newspaper website is www.FutureMediaUSA.com.
Congressman Lipinski praised the Arab American community as being “diverse and patriotic business people, community leaders and hardworkers whop love this country,” adding, “I am honored to be here to join the Arab American community in celebrating this important annual celebration of Arab Heritage and culture.”
Illinois has joined 19 other American states according to Arab America based on Washington D.C. in recognizing April as Arab American Heritage month. Some of the states celebrating Arab American Heritage Month include Arizona, California, Michigan, Washington, Texas, New York, New Mexico, Colorado, and Washington D.C. A full list of states is identified on the ArabAmerica.com website.