Posted by on March 09, 2015 in Blog

Every summer since 2006, Chicagoans have looked forward to watching traditional Arab dances, eating delicious Arabic cuisine created by local chefs, and learning about the diversity of Arab culture at the Arabesque Festival. The Arabesque festival was, in part, created by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and ran until 2011. In 2012, that came to an end with the election of Rahm Emanuel.

Ever since Rahm Emanuel was elected as the Mayor of Chicago, the large Arab American community in Illinois has been sidelined from the city’s political discourse. Now, the 30,000+ Arab American voters in Chicago are in position to help decide the outcome of his re-election, but given Emanual’s his track record many are supporting his opponent Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

The former Chief of Staff to President Obama, Emanuel ran afoul of the Arab American community shortly after his inauguration by not meeting with Arab American leaders in Chicago. Shortly after, he eliminated the Chicago Arab Advisory Commission, an important channel for Arab American representation in the Mayor’s office. Emanuel’s decision to cancel the once thriving, popular, and community oriented Arabesque Festival was a decision that is not just a loss for Arab Americans, but for the entire city.

Some Arab Americans have long been skeptical of Emanuel because his father, Benjamin Emanuel, made derogatory comments about Arabs. In an unusual exchange, when asked if he thought his son would make an impact in the Obama administration’s policies the senior Emanuel responded, “Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.” Emanuel was quick to apologize for his father, stating, "From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologize on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family." Apology accepted. Rahm Emanuel is not his father after all. However, his actions and policies for the City of Chicago have not engendered much belief in Mayor Emanuel’s commitment to full engagement of the Arab American community.

Two weeks ago Chicagoans went to the polls and Emanuel failed to reach the 50% threshold needed to secure the Democratic nomination for another term as Mayor. Now, Emanuel must face a runoff election against a rival Democratic candidate, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. With Garcia taking 35% of the votes, Emanuel faces an uphill battle as his support dwindles according to a recent poll showing that only a third of Chicagoans think Emanuel is doing a satisfactory job as mayor.

Garcia has earned the support of many groups in the Chicago area including The Arab American Democratic club, the head of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Latin American and Latino Studies department, and the teachers union of Chicago, to name a few.

The runoff election between Emanuel and Garcia will be on April 7th, 2015. If Emanuel does not get re-elected as Mayor of Chicago, hopefully his successor will bring back the Arabesque Festival to entertain and delight the people of Chicago as it did not long ago. Sure, it’s partly symbolic, but it would speak volumes to honoring Chicago’s diverse ethnic makeup. Something Emanuel didn’t seem to get when it came to Arab Americans. 

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