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Largest Arab-American Community in US Opens Own Museum

The largest community of Arab-Americans lives in the Midwest U.S. city of Dearborn, Michigan, just outside Detroit. Earlier this year two major cultural institutions opened there: a newly-constructed Islamic Center, including the largest mosque in the U.S., and a museum celebrating Arab-American history and culture.

Memorial Day in Dearborn, Michigan looks much as it would anywhere else in the United States, except for an unusually high turnout by citizens of Arab descent.

Salem Salamey is president of the Lebanese American Heritage Club, and a long-time resident of Dearborn. He says, "We have participated in the Memorial Day parade for the last 17 years. In fact, we are pretty close to beginning to lead that parade because every year we move up one slot. Of course, it's a day of commemorating the fallen Americans who fell in the line of duty defending our values, American values of liberty, justice, equality and democracy."

Those same values are also celebrated here, in an exhibit on military service at Dearborn's newly-opened Arab American National Museum.

Dr. Anan Ameri, director of the new museum, says Arab American contributions to national defense are just a small part of the story. "We found as we were doing research that there were Arab-Americans who fought and died for this country, starting from Independence War, Civil War, First World War, Korean War, today's war in Iraq, and regardless of what you think of these wars, good or bad, Arab-Americans have been part of it and they fought and died for this country."

The museum tries to fill in the rest of the picture using exhibits like this one, featuring a video montage of famous Arab-Americans and celebrating the great Lebanese-American poet-philosopher, Khalil Gibran.

Dr. Ameri adds, "Most people don't realize to what extent Arab Americans have been part of the American society. The first Arab-American came to this country in 1528 and since then Arab-Americans have been coming to this country and they have contributed to every field. So when we talk about the Arab-American story, it's really the American story."

Located just outside Detroit, America's automobile industry capital, Dearborn is home to the world headquarters of the Ford Motor Company, and one of the largest Arab-American communities. "Most people, if they want to learn more about Arabs or Arab Americans and they want to do research, they actually come here," said Dr. Ameri.

Preserving Arab-American history is part of the museum's mission, but so is challenging stereotype of Arabs, showing the diversity of their experiences and their communities.

Speaking of the diversity Dr. Ameri says, "Some of us are rich, some of us are poor, working class, professionals -- we're not all the same, we don't look all the same. Although we have in common a culture, you know, a cultural heritage that brings us all together."

The United States is home today to about four million Arab-Americans and this new museum has already become a touchstone of pride for all to share.

One Arab-American visitor proudly says, "It's a good reflection for us, it's a remarkable achievement for the community. We should be proud of this."

Dearborn, Michigan is the kind of place where community traditions are cherished and paraded for all to see. A big part of that picture includes the thousands of Arab-Americans who have helped make this city what it is today.