In 2017, The Arab American News published a story titled “Local Yemenis feel marginalized as Lebanese brethren gain momentum.” In it, writer Hassan Khalifeh interviewed multiple Yemeni Americans in Dearborn and Hamtramck about their experiences of marginalization, and in some cases outright discrimination, by other more entrenched Arab American communities.
Specifically, the article centered around persistent incidents of disrespect and unfair treatment of a vibrant and mobile Yemeni community by members of Dearborn’s Lebanese contingent. Beyond everyday moments of such disrespect and lack of acknowledgment, the Yemenis interviewed in the article spoke of established Arab American organizations failing “to represent communities from various Arab backgrounds, like the Yemeni”, in that they are often “left behind” in conversations and initiatives around educational, political and economic development.
In the 2017 article, then 23-year-old Hanan Yahya, an educational administrator and Dearborn Yemeni, said she felt a “hierarchy in the community.” She added that for Yemeni Americans like herself and others, discrimination from some of their Lebanese neighbors is very real. She said she never understood why some Arabs would look at fellow Arabs as inferior, as both communities tackle the same injustices in the U.S.
Another Yemeni highlighted in the article, Salah Hadwan, a Hamtramck Public Schools board member, spoke of socioeconomic hurdles that Yemenis face by being left out of the political momentum gained by older Arab political organizations.
Wafi Alriyashi, a Yemeni business owner in Hamtramck, spoke of his dismay from an experience at a Lebanese restaurant in Dearborn, where waiters served other customers for more than 45 minutes before noticing him
He spoke of a need for various ethnic groups under the umbrella category of “Arab American” to bridge antiquated divides and to reflect on their ultimate goals, including fair representation of other Arab Americans and to giving “a voice to people that can’t speak for themselves.”
Also in the article, Wafi Alriyashi, a Yemeni business owner in Hamtramck, spoke of his dismay from an experience at a Lebanese restaurant in Dearborn, where waiters served other customers for more than 45 minutes before noticing him. “We don’t like each other,” Alriyashi said of Lebanese and Yemeni Americans. “But it’s the Lebanese that don’t like Yemenis, and you not liking me makes me not like you.”
Alriyashi said being Yemeni in Dearborn is like being Black in America.
His ultimate goal in bringing up this incident was that Arab Americans would unite in their efforts, because, post 9/11, Arabs are, “the most hated people in America; we’re making it worse by being divided.”
Fast forward to 2021. Last week, some members of the Yemeni community, including one who considers himself a prominent member, chose to dig up this article. Rather than reinvigorating this important topic, he falsely declared that The Arab American News had carefully chosen these Yemeni sources in 2017 to somehow belittle the Yemeni community.
Specifically, the quote, “Being Yemeni in Dearborn is like being Black in America” from Alriyashi was interpreted to say that it was the paper, or its publisher, Osama Siblani, that was implying that Yemenis are somehow lesser!
We find this deeply troubling, for several reasons. One sticks out right away. Are these members of a minority community working to cut through inequalities angered over comparisons, made by a Yemeni, to the struggle of African Americans?
It is obvious those who objected to the article, and bashed the newspaper for publishing it, chose not to read the article. If they had, they would know that it wasn’t Hanan Yahya, whom one called a naive “little kid”, but a different Yemeni American who said those words
A Facebook user posted a screenshot of that quote, writing, “Why would a known local newspaper post an article of a little kid that doesn’t know what the hell she is talking about.”
It is obvious this commenter chose not to read the article. If he had, he would know that it wasn’t Hanan Yahya, whom he calls a naive “little kid”, but a different Yemeni American who said those words. But what’s even more troubling is that there are other members of the community who are willing to gaslight and completely neglect the voices of the Yemeni Americans in the article, whose lived experiences pushed them to seek equality and fight discrimination.
One commenter said Yemenis, “will always be proud. We don’t need anyone’s approval, let alone these dumb m.f trying to divide our community.”
It’s troubling that there are members of the Yemeni community who are willing to gaslight and completely neglect the voices of the Yemeni Americans in the article, whose lived experiences pushed them to seek equality and fight discrimination
Ironic still is the fact that last year, Yemeni and Lebanese residents asked us to write on a very publicized incident on social media of a Lebanese business owner discriminating against her Yemeni clients. We chose not to, as to avoid inflaming these bitter divides. We wonder, had we written about that incident, would we have gotten the same backlash from these same few Yemeni Americans? The same folks who choose not to acknowledge this discrimination exists, or choose to disparage the paper because of their own preconceived notions about it, and are willing to throw members of their own community under the bus?
A classic case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
So far, our publisher, a longtime friend and defender of the rights and well-being of Yemenis here and abroad, has received incredibly gross messages, some directed at his late mother and family. In 2017, our publisher also received a number of threats that led him to call the FBI as a safety precaution. Back then, he chose to not press charges, in the interests of forgiveness and community unity. This time, however, it is impossible to forget what occurred. The threats have gone too far to ignore.
The same group who leveled the ugly threats had planned to protest outside of The Arab American News building on Thursday. Even though the unjustifiable demonstration was cancelled, its scars of shame remain upon those who recklessly called for it
The same group who leveled the ugly threats had planned to protest outside of The Arab American News building on Thursday under a false pretense and fabricated lies, which remind us of former President Trump’s legacy of lying and inciting violence by his supporters, and pushing them through falsehoods, which eventually led to the deadly insurrection at the U.S Capitol on January 6.
Even though the unjustifiable demonstration was cancelled, its scars of shame remain upon those who recklessly called for it.