Advocacy group seeks Middle Eastern, North African category included in Census, other federal forms

Advocates believe adding a MENA category will make a difference in schools, health care and more accurate data collection.

The National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC) is working to get the Middle Eastern and North African designation added to the federal Office of Management and Budget. NNAAC is an advocacy arm of Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS).

Rima Meroueh, director of NNAAC, says without the designation, Black and brown communities are labeled as “white” on the Census, which excludes people from federal funds.

“When we get counted as white, our experiences are not reflected by the category that we are placed under,” says Meroueh. “And so we need to be able to have a better understanding of what impacts these communities so that we can really tackle those challenges.”

Meroueh believes adding a MENA category will make a difference in schools, health care and more accurate data collection.

The Federal Register is asking people to submit comments to determine whether they should add the category to the Census and other federal forms.

“We are asking everyone to go into the Federal Register and submit a comment to say it can be as simple as if you are someone from the MENA region [and] say ‘I want to be represented and I want my experiences to be counted’” Meroueh explains.

NNAAC is a coalition of 33 Arab American organizations in 12 states. Meroueh says not having representation has consequences.

“MENA communities have been left out and so that means it has rendered us almost invisible. And so this is about numbers, but it’s also about having a really large community that is very much a part of the fabric of this country been completely erased,” Meroueh says.

Recently, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Matt Jaber Stiffler, the Director of the Center for Arab Narratives and Meroueh held a webinar to inform people about MENA.

The deadline to submit comments through the Federal Register is April 12. Visit NNAAC’s social media pages and this website to leave a comment.

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  • Nargis Rahman
    Nargis Hakim Rahman is the Civic Reporter at 101.9 WDET. Rahman graduated from Wayne State University, where she was a part of the Journalism Institute of Media Diversity.