For Arab Americans, history is made through community experience

The following interview was conducted by Hussein Al-alak with Matthew Stiffler of the Arab American National Museum. 

Since 2005, the Arab American National Museum has shed light on the experiences of Arab Americans, whilst paying tribute to the many historical features of the community. 

What is your name and your role at the Arab American National Museum? 

My name is Matthew Jaber Stiffler, Research and Content Manager at the AANM. I work with museum staff to ensure that our exhibits and educational programs are an accurate representation of our diverse community. 

Can you please tell us about the Arab American National Museum and its role in modern American life? 

As the only museum of its kind in the country, the AANM is in a unique position to speak to a wide range of people about the history, culture, and experiences of Arab Americans. 

As a museum, we offer timely exhibits about Arab Americans, but also year-round musical, film, and arts-based programming, both at our museum in Dearborn and at sites across the nation. 

Who are the Arab American community and what contributions do they make to the United States? 

Arab Americans are a growing, diverse community, with a history in the US that stretches back to the 1880s. The community is comprised of fourth- and fifth-generation Arab Americans as well as recent immigrants. 

There are Muslims, Christians, Jews, secular individuals, and people from any number of other religious practices. Arab Americans can be found in every industry, including the top-levels of federal government, medicine, academics, entertainment, sports, technology, business and many other fields. 

Our museum documents the contributions that Arab Americans have made and continue to make, such as pioneering journalist Helen Thomas, the first woman in the White House Press Corps; as well as Moustapha Akkad, famed Hollywood director and producer; and Rana El-Kaliouby, computer scientist and technology entrepreneur. 

Can you please explain why Arab American history is important and can this history help those who are new to the United States? 

Like all immigrant communities, the history and experiences of Arab Americans is essential to grasping the full portrait of US history. 

Arabs in the US continue to face adversity through media representation and ever-changing immigration policies, as well as war and US military action in some of their home countries. 

But Arab Americans have also built many thriving institutions in spite of these difficulties. 

With population changes and as younger Arab Americans take a more active role in American affairs, how do you see the AANM evolving with this? 

The Arab American population is growing at the fastest rate in its history. The community is also quite young, when compared to the general population. Taken together, it is clear that Arab American youth will secure a strong future for the community. 

We host many youth-based programs at the AANM and are always encouraged by the thoughtful and dedicated participation of our young people. We would love to see more Arab Americans pursue the arts and humanities as careers, as there is scant representation of Arab Americans in these fields. 

We would like to thank Matthew for his time and if any of our readers would like to get involved with the Arab American National Museum, please see Pictures courtesy of the AANM.



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