On October 16 and 17, 1999, the first Arab Festival, celebrating the heritage of more than 5,000 state residents from 21 countries of the Arabic-speaking world, is held at Seattle Center.
The festival was organized by the Arab Center of Washington. It was sponsored by the Seattle Center and AT&T, as part of "FESTAL 99 Linking Our Communities -- A series of cultural festivals to promote stronger communities through discovery, interaction, and fun."
In its brochure for the festival, the Arab Center of Washington asked:
"Did you know that there are 5,000 people of Arab ancestry in Washington state? [Note: by 2001 this figure had grown to about 30,000 people.] And that we come from all 21 countries of the Arabic speaking world? We are people of many faiths. Besides our common language -- Arabic -- we speak many languages and dialects and we celebrate many local and national traditions."
The festival sported a dance and performance stage, a theater for presentation of films and videos, an Arabic fine art gallery, a "Souk" or "Bazaar" that included cultural and educational booths, food courts serving authentic and famous Arabic food, and The Salaam House, an Arabic style coffee and reception area.
The Arab Festival coordinator was Raja Atallah.
Arab immigrants from the Middle East began arriving in Washington in the late nineteenth century. The first were from Lebanon.
By 1990, there were about 3,856 King County residents with Arabic ancestry. The vast majority (1,543) were Lebanese. Others were Egyptian (268), Iraqi (83), Jordanian (128), Palestinian (245), Syrian (396). and unspecified Arab (1,193). Arabic was spoken in the homes of 1,658 of these residents. Among Seattleites there were about 1,891 Arabs.
In 2001, there are about 30,000 Arab Americans in Washington. Across the United States there live about 3 million Arab Americans. This is an estimate, since the census does not use Arab American as a classification. Most Arab Americans were born in the United States.