Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

This ethnic enclave in Anaheim has been pushing for years to officially become “Little Arabia”

 

When entering this part of Anaheim, one can feel that they are transported to the streets of the Middle East. A steady mist of fruity Hookah smoke fills the sidewalks at night, and the cafés are packed with patrons who speak more Arabic than English. The loud voices overlap with the soft mystical tune of a classic Arabic song. 

This area is known to the locals as Little Arabia, an ethnic enclave centered around Brookhurst Street in Anaheim that spans the local communities to the East and West. Locals have been pushing to have the area officially designated as Little Arabia since 2010, and they’re part of a larger Arab movement in the U.S. reclaiming their identity.

The U.S. Census reports that “From 1990 to 2000, the number of people with Arab ancestry increased in most states. The Arab population in California increased by 48,000, which is more than in any other state.” Nationally at the turn of the century, the year 2000, California was home to the most Arab American citizens with over 190,000. New York and Michigan have over 120,000 and 115,000, respectively, making up the top three states with large Arab American populations. The reasons for Arab immigration into the U.S. and specifically the Anaheim region vary from person to person. 

Hadel Muhammed is one of the Arab immigrants who took refuge in this familiar feeling town. Growing up in Iraq she found herself living in a warzone as her life in Baghdad came to a standstill with the onset of the Iraq War in 2003. Managing to survive in one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq, she began to seek refuge and eventually reached the U.S., where her sister stayed. Muhammed once proclaimed,“I won’t go to the U.S…but here is not the U.S.” Muhammed arrived in Anaheim in 2010, nearly five years after she left Iraq. Just like other immigrants who come here, she found comfort in the familiarity.

Forn Al-Hara Restaurant Owner Mustafa Alam, his restaurant has been a mainstay in Little Arabia for over 15 years. Photographer Kyle Zaleski

Rashad Al-Dabbagh is one of the organizers in Anaheim who has seen Little Arabia’s transformation over the years. In 2014 Al-Dabbagh and others co-founded the Arab American Civic Council (AACC).  Their goals as an organization are to advocate for the Arab American Community while also bringing leadership, development, and cultural empowerment to the city of Anaheim. 

In 2010 a social media campaign was created to urge city council to recognize the neighborhood as a sub community. The campaign asked community members to attend city council meetings and work at building the social profile of Little Arabia. Since then the Arab American community has grown and so has the campaign for recognition. 

Their efforts didn’t go unrecognized. Former Mayor of Anaheim Tom Tait spoke about the growing community in 2014 saying, “Little Arabia gives visitors a different experience than a typical convention city.” This type of coverage about Little Arabia was a step in the right direction in garnering attention to this section of West Anaheim.

While five years passed with no major improvements, through coordination with constituents, State Senator Ling Ling Chang has proposed a Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR-71) in 2019. The resolution would make Little Arabia an officially designated ethnic enclave like Westminster’s Little Saigon and Los Angeles’s Koreatown. The resolution still must be voted and approved by the Anaheim City Council. 

On the National scale there has been an increasing effort in asking for changes to be made to the U.S. Census to allow a Middle Eastern distinction. As of now, Middle Eastern and North Africans (MENA), have been asked to identify as White. Community Leader Rashad Al-Dabbagh explains how some of the older generation of Arab Americans may have felt a sense of security passing as white, but younger generations are taking pride in their ancestry. 

The community is much more than just restaurants and cafes. It has a thriving business center including the Arab American Civic Council, an Arab American Community Center, tailors, lawyers, Halal butchers, Middle Eastern pastry shops and Islamic clothing boutiques. 

Everything a member of the Arab Community wants can be found here in these couple of miles,” said Kassem El Katal of Manarah Meat Market, a local Halal butcher shop that is frequented by members of the community. 

Cashier Luai Swais smiles as he proudly serves the Little Arabia community he is a part of. Photographer Kyle Zaleski

There would be no Little Arabia without the thriving community of residents and business owners.

The community has been directly impacted by the growing population. As more restaurants and shops have been opening in the area expanding Little Arabia such as Cairo Restaurant and Cafe. Restaurant Manager Diala Muakeh has seen positive reception and says that she “feels comfortable in the community.”

As a restaurant operator Muakeh speaks about how her café depends on the local Arabic markets, such as Altayebat Market, in order to provide certain produce needed in the Mediterannean dishes her customers enjoy. The restaurant offers classic dishes like Mumbar, a decadent rice sausage, falafel, a favorite with vegans,, and Hamama, a classic Egyptian dish that translates to “pigeon.”

And their reach goes beyond just the local Arab community. Baher Gerges, the manager of Nara Bistro, a Mediterannean restaurant and hookah lounge, was proud to mention that he regularly serves people of different backgrounds. He thinks of his customers as family.

“They come for the hookah and love the mediterannean food,” Gerges says. 

Gerges is also confident that the Arab Community will continue to grow. “When an Arab thinks of coming to California, they know they can come to Anaheim.”