Illinois has a strong history of Arab heritage month

Illinois has a strong history of Arab heritage month
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Illinois has a strong history of Arab heritage month

I explore the history of Arabs in Illinois and how they have been recognized and marginalized over the years. Illinois has designated April as Arab American Heritage Month and I detail the history of how Arabs have been recognized and treated in Illinois over the years in my Middle East Monitor column.

By Ray Hanania

The affinity that the citizens of Illinois and, indeed, America itself once had for Arab culture began during the World Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago in 1893. The World’s Fair, as it was called, feature a massive exhibit called “Street in Cairo”.

The Cairo exhibit was huge and replicated a typical Arab village including a mosque, Arab food, Arab entertainment and a recreation of ancient Arab world heritage such as the Luxor Temple, all sponsored by the Ottoman Sultan. It was the most popular exhibit at the year-long fair that attracted nearly two and a half million American visitors.

However, it didn’t take long for Americans to turn their back on the affection that had been gained from the powerful cultural image that “Street in Cairo” had evoked. By the turn of the 20th century, America had imposed immigration restrictions, not just on five Arab countries as President Donald Trump has done to button-down security concerns; immigration was banned from all of the Arab world. Arabs were called “Syrians” and then later categorised as “Asian” or “Yellow People” and were covered by restrictions imposed in order to reduce the number of Chinese and other Asians from entering the United States.

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Display Tent at the Chicago Arabesque Festival from June 2010 when Richard M. Daley was mayor. Photos by Ray Hanania

Display Tent at the Chicago Arabesque Festival from June 2010 when Richard M. Daley was mayor. Photos by Ray Hanania

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and at, and at He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper,, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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