What the US Census’ new ‘MENA’ category means to Arab Americans

A new category for Americans of Middle Eastern or North African descent will be on the next U.S. census.

The state Office of Management and Budget recently announced the addition of a Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) category for data collection on federal forms, including the next census.

Rima Meroueh, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), says the change will allow people to see themselves in the data who otherwise would be included in the census as “white.”

“Arab Americans have been working on getting MENA for over 30 years,” Meroueh said. ” We didn’t want to derail that process, we wanted to get this community finally counted so that it’s no longer counted under the ‘white’ category, because our needs are very specific, right. And they’re very unique from white communities.”

Arab Americans make up the largest segment of the MENA category in the U.S., at around 2.5 million people. The term combines race and ethnicity on the census, and the change also will allow people to check off all boxes that apply to their identities.

“If you are Black and Arab, you would fall under…the Arab part would fall under MENA and Black under Black,” Meroueh said. “And so it allows people to really identify the intersections of where they actually live in this country. And that allows us to have a much better picture of what the community makeup is, but also what the community’s experiences are.”

Meroueh says the Arab American community is finally visible with this change, and the data collected from the communities can help with health care needs, political representation and resources.

“We will continue to work with OMB to encourage a more accurate way of counting communities, and making sure that people see themselves represented through this data,” she said.

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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.