• Gabriel San Roman

Slingshot: The Time for Anaheim to Designate Little Arabia is Now

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Fashioned like freeway exits, "Little Arabia" signs planted along Brookhurst Street in Anaheim became visible markers of an elusive dream last year.

The corridor, home to many Middle Eastern bakeries, restaurants, hookah cafes and grocery stores, has given the city's westside its flavor for decades. But Anaheim has never seriously considered officially designating the ethnic enclave, complete with real freeway exit signs beckoning commuters to dine and shop in Little Arabia.

A petition sponsored by the Arab American Civic Council followed the lawn signs and gathered more than 1,000 signatures in favor of Anaheim city council making such a move.

"Now more than ever, it is vital to support our local business community," the petition read. "Businesses in Anaheim have felt the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and government-ordered shutdowns. Promoting this economic district will aid in Anaheim’s economic recovery."

Only, an effort by councilman Jose F. Moreno earlier this month to put a discussion on official designation on a future agenda fell flatter than markook shrek.

Undeterred, the civic council had another tool of advocacy beyond lawn signs and petitions. Last week, in tandem with UC San Diego's U.S. Immigration Policy Center and the Rise Together Fund, it released the results of the first-ever poll done on the question of official designation.

"For years, council members avoided the discussion to designate Little Arabia even though the designation would help bring more commerce to the city," says Rashad Al-Dabbagh, executive director of the Arab American Civic Council. "Some of the council members claimed that there isn't enough support in the community and that we would need to discuss this matter with other groups and community leaders."

The survey's findings, as it turns out, are quite encouraging to the cause.

Overall, 58 percent of Anaheim's registered voters favor designating the Brookhurst corridor as "Little Arabia." That tally is boosted when the ethnic enclave's bona fides are presented. Non-whites, Democrats and people who've patronized the area's shops and restaurants are the strongest demographics in support.

But even among whites and Republicans, officially designation stands as a clear majority at 57.4 percent and 50.9 percent, respectively.

(The Slingshot even recalls when a white guy with a "Don't Tread on Me" Gadsden shirt waited in line for some chicken shawarma at Zait & Zaatar years back and offers it up as supportive anecdotal evidence!).

And opposition is minimal. Only 16.3 percent of people polled either "opposed" or "strongly opposed" official designation.

Al-Dabbagh isn't surprised by the poll results, which will be shared with the council in the coming days.

"We knew there was small opposition that was blown out of proportion by some council members, while a majority of people, especially those who know and frequent the area, support it," he says. "Most Anaheim voters are decent people who love their neighbors and support and welcome diversity. Little Arabia is a vibrant community that is made up of small businesses, which is not only essential to Anaheim's economy, but also adds to its cultural diversity."

The timing is as good as ever. Not only is there popular support among registered Anaheim voters, but never has there been as many immigrants on council as there is now. Mayor Harry Sidhu originally hails from India. Jose Diaz came to the states from Cuba. Moreno is a Mexican immigrant and Avelino Valencia is the son of Mexican immigrants.

With or without official designation, Little Arabia remains a dynamic and diversifying enclave--even amid a pandemic. Kareem's Restaurant recently introduced the "falapeño," a fusion of its signature food with a hint of heat, to its menu. The House of Mandi is one of the newest eateries in town, offering the strip's first Yemeni restaurant. And Aleppo's Kitchen Cafe provides a quick stop storefront for scrumptious Syrian sandwiches.

But Little Arabia has suffered its losses. Olive Tree, a beloved restaurant, shuttered early on in the pandemic. Small businesses need a boost and official designation would do just that without costing a cash-strapped city much.

"This immigrant community is what revitalized Brookhurst Street economically and added an Arab flavor to it," says Al-Dabbagh. "Official designation is the right thing to do."

- Gabriel San Román

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Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

By now, tens of thousands of essential workers and elderly folks have stood in line to receive their coronavirus vaccines at Disneyland's Toy Story parking lot. But vaccine shortages and Othena app glitches aren't the only worries. Furious winds this month shut down the mass vaccination site for two days when time is of the essence. This week will leave many seniors standing in the rain and cold as they await their jab. And if they don't bring an umbrella, wet weather will diminish the effectiveness of their masks. Could it have been different--and better?

Orange County residents watched Arnold Schwarzeneggerroll up his sleeve from the comfort of his car when getting vaccinated at Dodger Stadium while declaring, "come with me if you want to live."

Angel Stadium is as dormant as ever, but team owner Arte Moreno is a pandejo who appeared at an indoor rally with former president Donald Trump (first time I've written that!) in Phoenix during a surge. Scratch that idea.

With that, what about the Mickey & Friends parking garage?

It's a huge, multilevel structure that accommodated 15,000 cars when the theme parks were open. The lot is owned by Anaheim and was designed to pipeline commuters on and off the 5 freeway with minimized traffic impact. It seems like a perfect fit to protect elders from the elements while keeping them safely in their cars, no?

Maybe there's some logistical difficulties with the site that I'm not privy to. Perhaps the bottleneck lanes on the side of the structure?

Whatever the case, OC's vaccine rollout is failing on another front: equity. As of Jan. 17, whites account for 43 percent of those vaccinated so far, according to county health data.

Latinos, who've suffered disproportionately with regards to both coronavirus cases and deaths, comprise just 12 percent.

By the Byline

ICYMI: I had the pleasure of participating in LibroMobile's 3rd Annual Literary Arts Festival in Santa Ana. As part of the prose writers featured, I read a trio of vignettes from my forthcoming book that are both historical and timely as ever!

Lead photo: mixed kibbeh platter at Aleppo's / Photo GSR

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