DEARBORN, Mich. – Dearborn is home to the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States. It’s also home to the Arab American National Museum which has arguably the largest archive of historical documents in the country.
Here is a closer look at some of the nationally known museum’s most meaningful artifacts.
The AANM has been closed to the public since the pandemic began. Inside are vital records and belongings that document the journey of so many starting a new chapter in America.
“It’s important for us to know our history,” said Diana Abouali, director of the AANM. It’s the only museum of its kind in the country.
“My favorite part of the museum. It’s the galleries, but also the archive itself to sort of handle documents like photographs and letters. That to me is marvelous,” said Abouali.
More than 5,000 Arab American artifacts object and documents from across the country were carefully collected and preserved. Telling the stories of families and trailblazers who immigrated to the US from 22 Arab countries.
“We need to understand what those stories were in the words of the people who lived them. I think it gives us a more accurate picture of what the United States is historically,” said Abouali.
That includes stunning beaded shoes worn by a Syrian woman in the 1920s. She was initially denied entry at Ellis Island for health reasons, but later returned.
“She crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times in these shoes and I love, I love this, these, this object and you can imagine what it was like for this, you know, young immigrant to walk, you know, on the boat into Ellis Island in these pair of shoes, it really humanizes the immigrant experience,” said Abouali.
This door is from the earliest known mosque built a century ago in North Dakota. The museum also has the typewriter belonging to famed Lebanese-American journalist and Wayne State graduate Helen Thomas. She blazed trails for women in journalism and is a legendary White House correspondent.
“She covered the term administrations of seven Presidents. It’s, I think a portable typewriter that could go with her. One of my colleagues described it as a first smartphone, as she was sitting there she could like record what she was listening during the press conference,” she said.
Since their arrival Arab Americans have contributed to the rich culture and tapestry of America. Yet still battle one dimensional stereotypes of their faith and culture.
“The idea of Arab Americans sort of has been perpetuated by the media and Hollywood perhaps a terrorist, somebody who isn’t very educated somebody who’s always angry. When you walk through the museum you realize how diverse and how rich the community is,” she added.
Opened in 2005, the 38,000 square foot museum in Dearborn honors the diversity and legacy of Arab Americans.
“Sometimes it’s harder I think for immigrant communities to have, you know, places that serve as repositories for their, their heritage and their history and their historical documents. I’m glad I’m really glad and proud that we have one,” she said.