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The Arab World News: Uniting a Diverse Arab American Population

NCM Profile

NCM, Pueng Vongs Posted: Jan 20, 2004

Since its inception in 1998, the goal of the bilingual weekly Arab World News is to connect the divergent and often isolated Arab communities in Southern California. "Our newspaper brings people together. We help them keep in touch with what is happening in the world and our community and help them find each other," says publisher Ahmad Alam.

Based in Anaheim, California, the Arab World News contains an editorial mix of overseas news and happenings in local communities. Its 20,000 copies are distributed primarily in Arabic supermarkets, coffee shops, restaurants and by subscription primarily targeting the more than 600,000 Arab Americans in Southern California.

Creating a publication that speaks to the wide range of diversity among Arab Americans can be quite a challenge, according to Alam. "The Arab world is made up of more than 20 different countries. There is not one common culture but in fact many very contrasting cultures," says Alam. In an effort to help unite the community, the publication organizes an annual Arab American festival in Garden Grove, Orange County, one of the most representative of its kind. Exhibits represent every part of the Arab world. "It's a place where we can get to know each other. Arabs from the Sudan learn about those from Lebanon, who are completely different from Syrians, Algerians, Iranians and so on. We look at what we have in common and try to find a unified voice for the Arab community. For one, we are all immigrants and share that experience."

He says the festival is very crucial for the second generation to learn about their homeland. "Almost half of the Arab population here is under the age of 20 and many do not know about the culture they came from."

Last year, the festival drew some 45,000 people over the course of three days, and a good number of attendees were not Arab. The festival is also an opportunity for other communities to get to know Arab Americans and helps build bridges with other groups including Chinese, Caucasian and the large Vietnamese community in nearby Little Saigon, says Alam. Last year, the Arab World News profiled a Vietnamese politician, who campaigned for a local city council.

Alam is always surprised, however, by how much other communities have to learn about Arab Americans. "Many think we ride camels, or live in tents due to bad portrayals in mainstream movies, which also often show Arabs as terrorists. They do not realize that we are biologists, engineers, doctors, businessmen and that our community pays a high percentage of taxes in the United States."

Alam says finding a unified Arab voice as well as educating other communities have never been so important than after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "Sept. 11 was a big shock to most of us. It was an act of terrorists and many of us had never heard of bin Laden. After the attacks there has been a big interest in learning about Islam. Many don't realize that all Arabs are not Muslim. Some are Christian, Jewish. Others don't know that Islam means peace. It's the most peaceful religion in the world. A billion and a half Muslims should not be judged by the acts of one person."

Born in the small town of Syr, Lebanon, outside of Tripoli, Alam came to the United States in 1971 as a student. Like many other immigrants, his American dream began in a community college, Cerritos College in Norwalk, California. After graduating from Long Beach State University, he planned to return to Lebanon. "Every Arab's dream is to go abroad and study at a good college and return home to leverage their valuable education. It gives us a lot of pride and sense of success." But the eruption of a civil war in Lebanon in 1975 that would last two decades prevented his return home. Alam worked in real estate and finance in his adopted country, and eventually revisited one of his first loves, journalism, with the Arab World News. He looks back on his decision to stay in the United States and raise his family here. "This is our country," he says proudly.

Visit the Arab World News online at www.thearabworldnewspaper.net.

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