Posted by Basma Alawee on June 12, 2019 in Blog

If you made it out to the first Arab Fest in Jacksonville on Saturday, June 9th, then you know just how spectacular it was! This event, the first of its kind in Jacksonville hosted by the new chapter of the Arab American Community Center, was a truly beautiful representation of the many different cultures in the community and the joy that comes from sharing music, dance, and food.

The festival took place at the Riverside Arts Market. This event was a cultural heritage festival celebrating Arabic art, food, and traditions by incorporating live music, arts & crafts, children’s entertainment, and more into the programming. AAI had the pleasure of hosting a table to register voters with #YallaVote, and inform the community about #YallaCountMeIn and the upcoming 2020 Census. The table was busy throughout the event, with people stopping by in between the exciting live music and folk dance performances.

It is amazing to see the growing mobilization of the Arab American community in Jacksonville. Staffing the AAI table with me were three volunteers. Ali is an Iraqi refugee who is now an American citizen, and heenjoyed many interactions with Arab Americans who love AAI’s work in Florida, and expressed interest in seeing a greater presence in the community. Ibrahim is a recent immigrant from Jordan, and is a strong advocate for civic and political engagement. Our third volunteer was Loay, a high school student who emigrated from Egypt three years ago.

Each volunteer brought their own enthusiasm to the event, and represented a unique perspective and experience in our community. Ali connected with an Arab American Jacksonville resident who has been here for nearly 40 years, and they exchanged their respective immigration stories and talked about #YallaVote & the importance of the upcoming elections. For Ibrahim, he found it particularly important to talk to passersby about the importance of completing the census and getting involved in #YallaCountMeIn. Loay took charge of speaking to youth and families about the vital role young voices play in civic & political life and bringing about change. In this spirit, Loay shared information about AAI’s annual leadership conference and encouraged attendees to participate in the next event.

The common theme between every conversation was the need to get engaged. This festival came at exactly the right time to drive the message home of engagement because the 2020 Census is less than one year away. The census will determine how the U.S. Government allocates over $800 billion in funding - funding for Arab Americans’ access to resources, services, and programs. Because of this, we encouraged everyone and their families to join Arab Americans around the country in saying #YallaCountMeIn by pledging to fill out the census, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive.

We each felt so much pride to be a part of the first annual Arab Fest in Jacksonville, and to spread the word about the need for the Arab American community to become and remain involved this year, next year, and beyond!