Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2014
Two miles from Disneyland, a stretch of strip malls in Anaheim has transformed into an enclave catering to California’s Arab American community.
It lacks the immense sprawl of nearby Little Saigon or the decades-long history of Chinatown in Los Angeles, but the place now known as Little Arabia is a destination for Arab Americans from around the state and, lately, a go-to place for foodies in search of Middle Eastern dishes.
Yet Little Arabia is largely unknown to the millions of tourists who flood into Anaheim every year — and it remains below the radar even to longtime residents in the city’s west side.
A group of ambitious activists and business owners is trying to change that by getting city and tourism officials to recognize the commercial district as a destination.
“The most important thing to us is saying, ‘We are part of Anaheim,'” said Rida Hamida, director and co-founder of the Arab American Civic Council. “You have Disney, the Honda Center, the Angels, and you also have Little Arabia.”
Proponents’ most ambitious goal — an official designation for Little Arabia and an accompanying freeway sign — is a long-term one. But it’s getting push-back from some nearby residents and even some within Little Arabia.
Some residents say such a designation would shortchange other ethnic pockets in the county’s largest city. They have also complained about the increase in hookah lounges that have opened in Little Arabia.
Generally seen as the dense commercial strip along Brookhurst Street between Crescent and Katella avenues, Little Arabia holds a wide variety of storefronts. There are restaurants, grocery stores, hookah bars and clothing shops, each catering to the region’s large Arab American population, all intermixed with a slew of chain groceries, fast-food places, Mexican diners and muffler shops.
“We’re not ready to do a grand opening yet for Little Arabia because it’s not ready,” said Ahmad Alam, owner of Arab World Newspaper and a local property owner who envisions malls, movie theaters, “something to hang on to.”
Alam said Little Arabia lacks cohesion and has fallen short of the place he imagined: an ethnic community that would “make everything available for the new generation, to know about their history and heritage.” The area, he said, is not yet suitable for an official designation.