After a century since the arrival of the first Arab migrants to this country, the issue of identity on the United States census has been brought to the forefront in every Arab American community.  Historically, Arabs have been categorized as “white” but have not been given the “privileges” of being “white” nor believe that by ignoring the ethnicity and diversity of the Arab American community, these communities do not receive the political or social services necessary to address the unique needs of their communities. 

How are Arab Americans changing the narrative of their identity using the United States Census to help their own communities? 

Connection to the Re-Imagining Migration Learning Arc:


  • What messages about migration are people hearing through the media and thought leaders?

Turning To Action:

  • What can we learn from individuals and groups who have addressed migration in the past?

Suggested Activities:

-Watch this brief video about the US Census. Allow students to take notes from the video.  Create a group discussion answering the following:

  • Why was the census created? 
  • What is the purpose of the census?
  • How do you think the census impacts communities?

-Using information from the above activity, have students answer the questions: what happens if people are misidentified on the census or their ethnic group is not provided on the census? How does that impact their communities?

-Read the article on the exclusion of an Arab identity on the census. Use Project Zero’s 3-2-1 Bridge to draw conclusions from information about the role of the census and the exclusion of an Arab identity can affect communities. 

-Many in the Arab American community feel left out because their ethnicity/race is not being identified on the census.  Use Project Zero’s The 4 C’s to help students prepare for small group discussion about the topic of Arab identity on the census. 

-Examining the reasons having a MENA category on the census is important by reading this article.  Conduct some research on how funds are distributed in your community and how the census plays a role in allocating those resources.

-Pair students together and have them pick one court case: Thind v. United States or Ozawa v. United States. Using the Analyze a Written Document, have students analyze the court cases and compare the rulings.  Have them answer the following questions:

  • What was the challenge for each case?
  • What did each have in common? What was different?
  • How does each case reflect what Arab Americans are facing in regards to race identification?
  • Why do these court cases matter? What is their significance for our society today?

-Conclude the discussion by using Project Zero’s Three Why’s Thinking Routine to allow students to take a deeper dive into the topic of how the case of creating a category on the United States census for Arab Americans helps create more inclusive communities. 

Resource Links:

  • Network of Arab American Professionals Founded in 2001, the Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, volunteer based organization dedicated to the development of a prosperous and influential Arab-American community connected through our national network.
  • Arab American Stories is an Emmy Award-winning 13-part series presented by Detroit Public Television that explores the diversity of the Arab-American experience.
  • For Some Americans Of MENA Descent, Checking A Census Box Is ComplicateNPR Code Switch