Dearborn, Michigan, is a middle of Arab American cultural, financial, and political life. It’s residence to a number of of the nation’s oldest and most influential mosques, the Arab American National Museum, dozens of now-iconic Arab bakeries and restaurants, and a vibrant and important mixture of Arab American service and cultural organizations.

The town grew to become the first Arab-majority city in the U.S. in 2023, with roughly 55% of the town’s 110,000 residents claiming Center Japanese or North African ancestry on the 2023 census.

Considered one of us is an author and historian who specializes in the Arab and Muslim communities of Detroit, and the opposite is a criminologist born and raised in Dearborn who conducts analysis on the experiences and perceptions of Arab Americans. Now we have paid shut consideration to the town’s demographic shifts.

To grasp Dearborn at this time, we should begin with the town’s previous.

Ford and Dearborn are in some ways synonymous

Dearborn owes a lot of its development to automotive pioneer Henry Ford, who started constructing his well-known River Rouge Complex in 1917. Migrants from the American South alongside immigrants from European and Arab nations settled Dearborn’s Southend neighborhood to work within the auto plant.

Whereas most early Twentieth-century Arab immigrants to america have been Christians, those that moved to Dearborn within the Twenties have been primarily Muslims from southern Lebanon.

A historical past of Dearborn in pictures by native photographer Millard Berry.

Life downwind of the world’s largest industrial complicated proved difficult. However the true risk this numerous inhabitants confronted within the Fifties by way of the Nineteen Seventies was from a city-led rezoning marketing campaign designed to show the Southend over to heavy trade.

Many of the white ethnic teams within the neighborhood had church buildings and enterprise districts scattered round Detroit, which facilitated their departure from the Southend. However for Arab American Muslims, this neighborhood, with its mosques and markets, was indispensable as they started to welcome distant kin from the Center East after U.S. immigration laws relaxed within the Nineteen Sixties.

Fleeing civil war in Yemen and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, these new Arab immigrants breathed new life into Dearborn. In 1973, they filed a class-action lawsuit towards the town that finally saved their neighborhood.

When the Lebanese civil war broke out in 1975, the Southend once more welcomed a brand new era of refugees and migrants. By the Eighties, this mixture of first- and second-generation Arab People had begun to spill into different neighborhoods in East Dearborn. New mosques started opening within the Eighties, and Arab entrepreneurs started investing in uncared for business corridors.

However Arab People steadily faced discrimination within the housing market and within the public colleges, which struggled to handle the wants of a big cohort of English language learners.

Overcoming discrimination

Tensions got here to a head in 1985, when Michael Guido received a mayoral race by which the “Arab problem” as his campaign literature described it, pitched the pursuits of the white working class towards new Arab migrants.

Arab American activists responded by pushing for extra metropolis providers in East Dearborn and operating for workplace. Republican Suzanne Sareini was the primary Arab American elected to the Metropolis Council in 1990.

However with at-large elections, these with more Arab-sounding names have been at a drawback. It took one other 20 years, when Arabs grew to become the plurality of the inhabitants, earlier than different Arab People joined Sareini on the council.

Following the al-Qaeda assaults of 9/11, Dearborn grew to become a goal for anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia, government surveillance, and harassment. The city became a fixation of national media in search of to make sense of its rising Muslim American minority.

Anti-Muslim activists usually staged Quran-burnings, paraded round ethnic festivals with the heads of pigs on spikes, and threatened to bomb local mosques.

However, the Arab American neighborhood continued to develop and diversify. Iraqi and Syrian refugee populations started to reach within the Nineties and 2010s, respectively, following wars of their homelands. They settled in Dearborn and on its periphery in Detroit and neighboring suburbs.

Collectively, this new cohort of Arab People joined the established neighborhood in preventing again towards president Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban and different insurance policies that discriminated towards refugees, migrants and Muslims by building alliances with Democrats and fascinating the broadening civil rights coalition, represented by teams corresponding to Black Lives Matter and the Girls’s March.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s landmark election to the U.S. Home of Representatives in 2018 as the primary Palestinian American lady and one of many first two Muslim American girls displays this rising progressive political base for Arab People. Her district contains Dearborn and elements of Detroit and different suburbs.

A smiling woman with black hair and glasses claps as she walks down a hallway wearing a lanyard.

Rashida Tlaib arrives on Capitol Hill for a brand new members briefing in 2018.
Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

New management

Reflecting the growing demographic and political clout of the Arab inhabitants in Dearborn, Abdullah Hammoud grew to become the town’s first Arab American elected mayor in 2021.

Hammoud’s priorities have included creating the town’s first Department of Public Health, introducing Narcan vending machines to handle the opioid disaster, preventing for clean air in the Southend, and internet hosting Ramadan festivities and an Eid al-Fitr breakfast. He’s additionally proven outspoken help for the LGBTQ+ community.

Hammoud objected publicly to the congressional censure of Tlaib in 2023 following her remarks in regards to the violence within the Gaza Strip. He additionally called for an unequivocal cease-fire in Gaza at a time when different Democratic leaders have been silent.

Dearborn usually turns into a subject of worldwide media curiosity throughout election years or at instances of battle within the Center East. That has definitely been true in the course of the ongoing assaults on the Gaza Strip.

The Wall Avenue Journal just lately printed an editorial labeling the town as America’s “jihad capital,” which led to public threats towards the town that pressured Hammoud to increase police patrols.

Public officers, from local leaders to President Joe Biden, have rallied across the metropolis and requested the paper to rescind the editorial and to apologize.

To this point, it has not.

The extra attention-grabbing story about Dearborn, nevertheless, is what occurs when the nationwide highlight is turned off. Then, as we have now witnessed decade after decade, the city’s residents, Arab and non-Arab, new and old, work to make their residence a greater, safer, more healthy place to lift their households and their voices.


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