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Cook County Board approves April Arab Heritage Month proclamation

 The Cook County Board on Wednesday unanimously approved a proclamation urging residents to learn more about the Southwest Side's growing Arab American population during the month of April.

The Illinois Legislature approved a new law on Dec. 14 that was introduced by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, and co-sponsored by State Senator Steve Landek and State Rep. Michael Zalewski. 

The legislation replaces November which previously was designated by Chicago and Cook County as Arab Heritage Month but was gutted by outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel following his election in 2011. The Madigan Law designating April as Arab American Heritage month puts it in sync with at least 8 other American states that have approved similar resolutions including Arizona, Maryland, Texas, Georgia, Michigan, California, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Morrison said he was "proud" to sponsor the proclamation during the meeting of the Cook County Board on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

 "I am proud that my Cook County District has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in Illinois. Arab Americans are a very diverse but also a cohesive group. They originate from 22 different Middle East and North African countries including from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Syria," he said.

 "They are Christian and Muslim. They are authors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists, police officers, firefighters, business entrepreneurs, and public servants in various positions of local, regional and state government. They are also Veterans who have served and are serving in our nation's military defending our country."

 Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims, who served as the President Pro Tempore of the meeting, said she was also proud to support the resolution.

 "Cook County is a very diverse region and we are very proud of all the people including Arab Americans," said Sims, who invited several Arab Americans who attended the meeting to come to the podium to address the board and the audience.

 Dr. Mazen Barakat, the publisher of the Hyatt Magazine (Hyatt is the Arabic word for "life), was joined by the magazine's editor Tasneem Abuzir, and thanked the board for "showing respect" to the Arab community.

 "Our magazine works to represent the entire Middle Eastern community and to build bridges with other communities as well," Barakat said. "The Chicagoland area is a melting pot and has people from almost every ethnic group. We are every grateful for you for approving this proclamation."

 Sam Odeh, who served as economic director for the Chicago Sister City's program and appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

 "We thank you as Cook County residents and we thank you as Arab Americans and we appreciate all that you do for us," Odeh said.

 Father Pierre El Khoury, the pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church based in Lombard, Illinois, praised the county board members for recognizing the diversity of Cook County.


"I want to thank you all for this resolution recognizing our Arabic heritage," Father El Khoury said.

 "I am a priest for Our Lady of Lebanon in Lombard and there is no one day in our church that is not a mosaic of all people, Arab and American. We are all here to serve each other. I am looking forward to live this heritage everyday and work together for peace for our society."

 Southwest News Newspaper Group columnist Ray Hanania, whose parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, provided an overview of the history of Arab settlement in Illinois that began during the 19th Century.

 "Arab Americans served during the Civil War, for the North, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Hanania said.

"My father George and Uncle Moses both enlisted in the military in the week after the attack on Pearl Harbor and served through the end of the war. My dad was with the 5th Army in the O.S.S. and his brother, wanted to serve in the 5th Army too. But the recruiters decided to assign him to the Navy where he served on a battleship in the north Atlantic because, the recruiter joked, 'Maybe you can help part the seas.' We are proud of our heritage but even more proud of being Americans."

Arab American community leaders have created two websites to showcase the community's heritage at and Arab American military service at