The Arab American Association of New York held its ninth-annual summer festival last week (July 26, 2015) in Shore Road Park. With more than 20 vendors’ and sponsors’ tents, a large open-air stage and musical performances, the event—officially known as the Annual Bay Ridge Arab American Bazaar and Eid Celebration—provided the broader Bay Ridge community with an opportunity to come together and celebrate Arab-American heritage.
As a testimony to the growing numbers and organization of the Arab American community in Bay Ridge, this year’s event garnered its greatest turnout since its inception—3,000 people over the course of the day, by the Association’s estimate.
Local politicians such as local State Senator Marty Golden addressed the crowd, and even City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito put in an appearance, speaking to the gathering and touring the numerous vendors tents where Arab cuisine, henna art and T-shirts displaying support for Palestine were on sale and doing brisk business.
Flags of more than a dozen countries festooned the stage where performers entertained the crowd throughout the afternoon with a variety of Arab pop and hip-hop performances.
Tensions briefly flared between members of the crowd showing support for opposing sides in the ongoing conflict in Yemen, where the Saudi Air Force has been bombing Houthi rebels on behalf of the Hadi government. The flag-waving persisted for much of the afternoon, but at a point late in the day, when tensions threatened to boil over and disrupt the happy mood, event organizer and AAANY director Linda Sarsour took the stage and demanded it cease: “Let’s remember we are all unified here, we are all Arab-Americans!”
The NYPD was quick to respond, sending in officers—including counterterrorism police—to quell the disturbance, allowing the crowd quickly to go back to enjoying the music.
Despite a history of animosity between the Arab-American community and the broader police department over domestic spying, the Association and the local 68th precinct have traditionally had a good relationship, and the crowd at the bazaar seemed happy for the police presence, with one attendee telling me, “We’re glad the police are here keeping the peace, so we can enjoy the celebration!”