Anaheim’s vibrant enclave known as Little Arabia is celebrating its one-year anniversary since gaining official recognition from the city council. The achievement comes after decades of advocacy by the area’s business owners and community members.
Little Arabia is a neighborhood located in the US state California near Los Angeles, just a few kilometers away from Disneyland. Over the years, it became to be known as a community that offers a taste of the Middle East where the streets are lined with Arabic signs for businesses such as restaurants, specialty shops, grocery stores, medical clinics, and law offices.
Rashad al-Dabbagh, the founder and executive director of the Arab-American Civic Council, reflected on the journey to recognition.
“We started seeing more and more small restaurants opening up that serve authentic Arabic food, more businesses, services such as lawyers, accountants, and doctors that serve the Arab population and speak the Arabic language in Anaheim,” he told Al Arabiya English.
Al-Dabbagh was a driving force behind the push to designate Little Arabia.
“After 20-plus years of fostering a strong community, the motion was finally brought to the city council to officially name the district ‘Little Arabia’ in 2022,” he said.
His involvement in propelling Little Arabia into the heart of Anaheim started around 15 years ago when he united with community leaders to present the idea of formally recognizing the mile-long stretch of Brookhurst Street as Little Arabia to the Anaheim City Council.
Al-Dabbagh said advocates asked the council to officially call the area Little Arabia and make it known.
“Why don’t we have this area be called Little Arabia, put up a sign that says Little Arabia so that more people know about this area?” he recalls asking the council.
This is HUGE!!! The community showed up to support an official designation of @LittleArabia in Anaheim.— Rashad Al-Dabbagh 🇵🇸🇦🇲 (@Happy_Arab) August 24, 2022
Waiting for the council discuss and vote..
If you’re not here, send a letter: https://t.co/q5EOfyCFlt #designateLittleArabia pic.twitter.com/jZDmtjOHQh
In August 2022, over 100 community members and supporters attended the Anaheim City Council meeting, filling the council’s chambers and holding up Little Arabia signs. Rashad notes that this collective display showed the district’s unity – bringing together not only Arab-Americans but also members of other communities who rallied behind the cause.
“Long debate and passionate testimony from local Arab Americans persuaded the council to pass the motion for recognition,” he explained. The historic decision to recognize Little Arabia came down at the Anaheim City Council meeting on August 23, 2022.
He said cries of joy echoed in the council chambers and throughout the city of Anaheim.
Jay Oakham, an attorney who has served Anaheim for over two decades, fondly recalled his emotions when the approval was announced. He said, “My father actually went to the last meeting at Anaheim City Hall, and he was there fighting…to get the designation approved. And it was finally approved.”
Highlighting his father’s deep community ties, Oakham added, “just having him there, having him raised his voice and his voice being heard was absolute joy.”
Now an official destination, Little Arabia has evolved into a thriving hub for Arab-American businesses and the community. The one-mile region boasts an array of Middle Eastern restaurants, cafes, hookah (shisha) lounges, stores, medical clinics, corporate offices, mosques, churches, and much more.
Asem Abusir, owner of Knafeh Café says, “It [Little Arabia] means a taste of home where local residents come to enjoy a Middle Eastern meal, Arabic grocery shopping, have dessert, or visit a hookah lounge.” He says anyone looking for the Arabic of Middle Eastern experience can visit Little Arabia.
We heard y’all liked Knafeh videos 👀🔥 pic.twitter.com/6uEaTD1rG2— Knafeh Cafe (@KnafehCafe) January 26, 2019
This official designation has not only placed Little Arabia on the map but has also elevated its standing within the community, allowing the rich culture and remarkable contributions of Arab Americans to shine.
Al-Dabbagh added, “This designation made us feel welcome and included. It makes people who are coming to this town, refugees and immigrants, feel welcome and included. This designation made us feel empowered and it’s proof that we can make changes and make things make life improve.”
Meanwhile, Abusir said the recognition has made an impact on his business.
“The recognition gave more exposure outside the community and attracted a wide range of visitors to explore the area,” he told Al Arabiya English.
However, he acknowledges that more needs to be done. “It needs more work [to] spread the word and advertisement about the businesses and services available in the area,” the Knafe Café owner explained.
Currently, the city of Anaheim is studying Little Arabia, according to the city’s website. Officials share that the study’s intent is to gain a deeper understanding of community needs, aspirations, and visions, with the goal of implementing enhancements that will support businesses along the Brookhurst Corridor.