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Students Celebrate Arab Heritage with Mayor Daley

North Park University students meet Mayor Daley

CHICAGO (December 4, 2009) – Chicago was one of the first cities in the United States to establish November as Arab Heritage Month. And on Wednesday, November 18, North Park University’s Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) joined Mayor Richard Daley and approximately 300 Arab and Muslim Americans and friends for a special reception at the Chicago Cultural Center celebrating the city’s Arab-American community. 

"It is important that North Park students come to know the Arab community for its significant place in world history and global politics, and its increasing role in the metropolitan Chicago area," notes Dr. Donald Wagner, the MESA faculty advisor and a professor of Middle Eastern studies. "The Arab-American community in Chicago continues to grow, with strong representation in the legal, academic, and healthcare professions, among others."

MESA students have been invited to the reception for the past five years or so, and Wagner formerly served on the Arab Advisory Committee that organizes the annual festivities. This year, 10 of the 25 current members of MESA were able to attend.

The evening involved a lavish Middle Eastern dinner from one of the city’s Arab restaurants, along with music, Middle Eastern dance by Chicago high school students, an inspirational speech by the mayor, and a handful of service awards. Several political figures from the mayor’s administration and some city councilmen and women were also on hand for the occasion.

“This is a significant event, because it helps build a network within the Arab community,” says Bishara Kuttab, a North Park student and the current president of MESA.

Because of the size of Chicago, maintaining strong connections between the Arab population across the city can be difficult, observes Kuttab. “It's great to feel there's support from the city, and that we're not neglected as Arab and Muslim Americans.”

Chicago’s intentional support of Arab heritage can be traced back to the city’s first African-American mayor, the late Harold Washington, who is remembered for his efforts to recognize Arab Americans and other marginalized groups.