Posted by Tess Waggoner on February 03, 2020 at 11:31 AM

Last night’s Super Bowl brought Arab Americana into the homes of many in unprecedented ways. The evening’s roster was a major source of pride for many Arab Americans. 

First, it was a historic night as Robert Saleh became the first Arab American known to coach in a Super Bowl. The Detroit Free Press reported on the mood in Dearborn: 

“It just feels like it’s just one of us, 'cause he went to school with us, he knows people we know,” said Ashraf Dabaje, 35, who celebrated San Francisco’s NFC title game win in Ajami’s basement. “It’s like one of us went there, like a family member. With our community, regardless, it’s always tight-knit. Always. Regardless of this or that. But it just feels like it’s one of us going there, and hearing Robert Saleh, hearing Fordson, hearing the stuff on TV that a million people are hearing, it’s mind-blowing to me.”

Others were more excited for the halftime show, which, did you hear… 

Shakira is Colombian of Lebanese descent and has always been proud of her Arab roots. A songwriter and prolific performer, she has been championing children's education and nutrition through her foundation (Barefoot) and other philanthropic pursuits. Mixed heritage like Shakira's, representing previous waves of migration preceding immigration to the US is more common than many would think. Many famous Arab Americans have either similarly nonlinear migratory paths (there’s a whole academic journal devoted to this topic, by the way) and/or shared in family lives enriched by multiple ethnic, religious or national customs. Some famous Arab Americans that, like Shakira, also have roots in Spanish-speaking countries, include:

  • Rosemary Barkett,  the first female judge and the first Arab American judge to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. Born in Mexico to parents from Syria, she came to the US as a young girl. 
  • Rep. Debbie Murscarsel-Powell, FL-26. Born in Ecuador as a young girl to a Lebanese Ecuadorian father, Murcasel-Powell came to the US with her mother. 
  • Salma Hayek, actress, filmmaker and humanitarian, born to a Lebanese father and Mexican mother.  

The performance was set to be historic in its own right, but Shakira broke what we millennials call #ArabTwitter when, many would argue, she offered a real tribute to her Arab heritage. Performing in Miami, Florida, she and Jennifer Lopez brought a fusion of cultural influences together that reflected the diversity of Miami, and our country. 

AAI Special Projects Intern Karla Stephan celebrated the moment: