Remarkable Non-Fiction Reads: Experiences of Arab Americans in the U.S.

Arab Americans face insurmountable prejudice in the U.S. Here are just a few books that speak to those experiences.

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Book covers of 'I Was Their American Dream,' 'Arab in America,' and 'Looking for Palestine' against an orange background.

Racism against Arab Americans in the U.S. existed well before 9/11, but it became incredibly widespread after the tragic event. For decades, they have been subjected to discrimination, hostility, violence, and so much more. Even those who were born here have been rejected by their own country. The books on this list capture just a few of the experiences they’ve endured in a country that treats them as an enemy. Read on to learn some of their stories.

Arab in America by Toufic El Rassi

'Arab in America' by Toufic El Rassi book cover showing a young man in front of an American flag.

This graphic novel by the Lebanese-born author gives sharp observations, insights, and brutal honesty that showcase his experience growing up Arab in America. The discrimination that he faced, from racist teachers to the security and immigration laws that came about after 9/11. He also includes the Middle East’s modern history and how news media and movies contribute to discrimination against Arab Americans. El Rassi’s eye-opening account shows just how challenging it is to be Arab-American in a society that rejects them.

I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America by Ray Hanania

'I'm Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America' by Ray Hanania showing an ID, presumably Ray Hanania's.

This funny, but realistic, look at the American ethnic experience written by an award-winning Palestinian-American journalist explains both the subtle and obvious discrimination Arab Americans face as well as ways to improve Americans’ perceptions of Arabs. Hanania uses humor to help readers understand his life growing up in Chicago, living in a Jewish neighborhood in high school, serving during the Vietnam War, and being a political journalist.

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

'I Was Their American Dream' by Malaka Gharib book cover showing Malaka and her family.

This coming-of-age story reminds us of all the immigrants who’ve come to the U.S. in search of a better life. Gharib spent her childhood chasing her parents’ dreams, code-switching between her family’s Egyptian and Filipino customs, adapting to fit in, and trying to be the perfect All-American girl. She brings her teen years to life while also posing questions on identity and culture and giving insight on immigrants and their families.

How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi

'How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America' by Moustafa Bayoumi book cover showing the title in both English and Arabic in white and green stripes.

In this collection, Arab and Muslim Americans set their focus on how they build their lives in a hostile country. In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois asked the following: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Bayoumi now asks that about Arab and Muslim Americans by looking at seven young adults in Brooklyn. He dives deep to uncover their lesser-known struggles, such as being under government surveillance and workplace discrimination. They persevere through their struggles and successes and help form a new society that is, at the core, American.

Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family by Najla Said

'Looking for Palestine: Growing Up Confused in an Arab-American Family' by Najla Said book cover showing a young Najla smiling.

Said is the daughter of famous outspoken Palestinian advocate and intellectual, Edward Said, and Lebanese activist and writer, Mariam C. Said. Throughout her childhood, growing up in New York City, Said was confused and in a constant internal struggle with her cultural background and identity. Her parents were still deeply connected to their homelands, but growing up in Manhattan, she was uncertain about who she should be. She started denying her roots, but this self-hatred took its toll on her. As she grew older, she embraced her identity, and now she has become a voice for second-generation Arab Americans.

There are so many incredible nonfiction books by Arab American writers that deal with their experiences. This list is just a starting point.

For an article on great YA Arabian Representation, click here.

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