Arabian community fights for recognition against mute City Council

By Noah Biesiada
April 18, 2021

LITTLE ARABIA, CA- Anaheim residents have fought for over a decade to officially designate a three mile strip of Brookhurst Street as Little Arabia, a move advocates say would highlight an important cultural and financial landmark in the city. 

So far, most Anaheim City Council members have met them with silence. 

The area has been casually known as Little Arabia for years, but the community want official signs set up by the city at either end of the district and potentially a sign on the freeway exit closest to them advertising the series of local businesses. 

In the 1990s, Arab American entrepreneurs started buying up portions of abandoned storefronts all along Brookhurst. Two decades later, nearly 100 different businesses including restaurants, salons, hookah lounges and law offices count themselves as part of Little Arabia, according to the Arab American Civic Council, an advocacy group based in Anaheim. 

Rashad Al-Dabbagh, founder of the civic council, said he got in on the effort to designate Little Arabia in 2010, but discussions on the issue began as early as 2004. 

“We still don’t know why they don’t do it,” Al-Dabbagh said. “Business is something that would benefit everyone, but it’s also to us as an immigrant community, it’s a recognition for this community’s accomplishments, a recognition for their existence. It’s a welcoming sign.” 

Ehab Elannon, a restaurant owner on the corner of Brookurst and Orange Ave., said one of the best parts of Little Arabia is the opportunity to teach people about a culture that’s often been demonized in popular culture. 

“Some people say Mediterranean people are not welcoming, they think we are terrorists…but most of our customers are not Arab. We have 50 Arab and 50 from all different nationalities,” Elannon said. “We deserve to have at least this named as Little Arabia.” 

Despite years of talks, the issue has yet to find its way to a vote. Councilman Jose Moreno asked for the council to agendize a discussion in January, but no other council members supported his request.

Last month, the issue came up again, when over a dozen speakers came to ask the council why they chose to acknowledge Arab-American Heritage Month, but refused to agendize a discussion on Little Arabia. 

Footage of public commenters asking for a Little Arabia designation, along with discussion from advocates on the effort to set up a sign.

Support for an official designation also stretches beyond just the immediate area. According to a poll sponsored by the civic council and UC San Diego, well over half of all Anaheim voters backed the move after they were told about the benefits. 

No one on the dais responded. Moreno missed the meeting, but commented the next day.  

“We love to express our symbolic support of a community, but that doesn’t cost you any money,” Moreno said. “Budgets are your values, and it costs us but a piece of paper and a minute vote on recognizing Arab American Heritage Month…the moment calls for a formal recognition of a community and its quest for affirmation.” 

Mayor Harry Sidhu did not respond to requests for comment, but in a previous statement said he stood against the designation because the area was too diverse to commit to one group. 

“Many already are familiar with the area, and we celebrate the restaurants and shops of Little Arabia in our promotion of businesses in Anaheim. As a large, diverse city, we have to take a broader, more inclusive view when it comes to formal designations. We also need to ensure that all feel welcome,” Sidhu said. 

No other council members returned multiple requests for comment, and the city’s public information officer did not respond with a comment from the city. 

“Some people say it’s not an exclusive Arab American area, but we don’t want it to be exclusive. It’s a good thing. It’s not something negative, it’s a positive thing for us,” Al-Dabbagh said. 

Al-Dabbagh said he’s spoken with Sidhu and Councilmen Jordan Brandman, Avelino Valencia and Jose Diaz, but none have taken action on the issue yet. 

Even with the lack of response, Elannon said he doesn’t plan on stopping until someone tells him why there shouldn’t be a Little Arabia. 

“We know for a fact, this council they are not willing to do anything. They already have a decision, but that’s not going to stop us,” Elannon said. “We have to prove for them we deserve to have this Little Arabia and we are proud of what we’re doing over here.” 

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