Arabs in America

Arabs in America: Building a New Future

EDITED BY Michael W. Suleiman
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 360
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    Arabs in America
    Book Description:

    For many North Americans, Arab Americans are invisible, recalled only when words like "terrorism" or "anti-American sentiments" arise. However, people of Arab descent have been contributing to U. S. an d Canadian culture since the 1870s in fields as diverse as literature, science, politics, medicine, and commerce -- witness surgeon Michael DeBakey, former Oregon governor Victor Atiyeh, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and Canadian M.P. Mac Harb. Yet while Arab American contributions to our society are significant and Arab Americans surpass the U.S. average in both education and economics, they still struggle for recognition and acceptance.In this volume, editor Michael Suleiman brings together 21 prominent scholars from a wide range of perspectives -- including anthropology, economics, history, law, literature and culture, political science, and sociology -- to take a close look at the status of Arabs in North America. Topics range from the career of Arab American singer, dancer, and storyteller Wadeeha Atiyeh to a historical examination of Arab Americans and Zionism. The contributors discuss in Detroit, a group of well-educated Jordanian men, and the Shi'a Muslims -- to illustrate the range of Arab emigre experience. More broadly, they examine Arab American identity, political activism, and attempts by Arab immigrants to achieve respect and recognition in their new homes. They address both the present situation for Arab Americans and prospects for their future.Arabs in Americawill engage anyone interested in Arab American studies, ethnic studies, and American studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0653-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Arab Immigrant Experience
    (pp. 1-22)
    Michael W. Suleiman

    In 1977, William E. Leuchtenburg, the prominent American historian, remarked, “From the perspective of the American historian, the most striking aspect of the relationship between Arab and American cultures is that, to Americans, the Arabs are a people who have lived outside of history.”¹ Professor Leuchtenburg could have just as accurately made the same observation about Arabs in America.

    Ignorance about Arab Americans among North Americans at large means that, before looking at more detailed accounts of the Arab-American experience, we may benefit from a quick overview of Arab immigration to North America and what the Arab-American communities here have...

  5. Part I: Profiles of Specific Communities
    • 1 Attachment and Identity: The Palestinian Community of Detroit
      (pp. 25-38)
      May Seikaly

      Although Arab Americans constitute relatively new communities in the United States, a fair amount of literature on their history and development has been generated. Interest in recording the social, economic, and political experiences of these immigrants has grown in tandem with the expansion of their numbers and their visibility on the American scene. Since the late 1960s, the upsurge in the literature has reflected a growing sense of ethnic identity among the members of these communities (e.g., the Muslims in America) and a closer link to their countries of origin.¹ It also has been a response to western attitudes toward...

    • 2 Jordanian Migrants in Texas and Ohio: The Quest for Education and Work in a Global Society
      (pp. 39-52)
      Richard T. Antoun

      The subject of this chapter is the experience of transnational migration in its personal and humanistic aspects and in its various multicultural contexts. The research is part of a larger case study focused on migration from the Jordanian village of Kufr al-Ma to seventeen different countries in Europe, Asia, North America, and Arabia.¹ The students traveling the farthest, spending the longest periods abroad, and encountering the hardest cultural shocks are those in the United States. It is only in the United States that students are subject to continuous change in numerous aspects of their lives: schools attended, professional goals, place...

    • 3 A Look at Differing Ideologies Among Shi’a Muslims in the United States
      (pp. 53-66)
      Linda S. Walbridge

      The immigrant Muslim community in the United States contains a disproportionate number of Shi’a Muslims. As is common among immigrant groups in America, these people are “refugees,” whether or not that term is legally proper. They hail from the southern regions of Iraq and Lebanon, old strongholds of Shi’a populations, where warfare, occupation, and persecution have made their homelands intolerable. The revolution in Iran caused the flight of many thousands of Iranians who disagreed with the new government over a wide array of issues.

      It is the Arab Shi’a Muslims—particularly those from Lebanon and Iraq—who have established themselves in the...

  6. Part II: Arabs and the American Legal System
    • 4 Arabs and the American Legal System: Cultural and Political Ramifications
      (pp. 69-83)
      Fatima Agha AI-Hayani

      Racism and discrimination against various groups have been prevalent in American society. The extent varies and so does its impact. During certain periods in our history, prejudice and discrimination seem to diminish; however, it would be naive to presume that they have been eliminated. Instead, it would be a fair assumption to accept the fact that prejudice and its consequences, although latent, do exist and affect the lives of many people in different forms and in varied degrees.

      Many works and studies have addressed the problems faced by Arabs in the United States and the vilification practices against them.¹ Such...

    • 5 A Closer Look at Anti-Terrorism Law: American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. Reno and the Construction of Aliens’ Rights
      (pp. 84-99)
      Kathleen M. Moore

      Recent legislation entitled the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act¹, signed into law on April 24, 1996, seems to a number of its critics to represent a perversion of justice within which constitutional rights have been sacrificed in the name of national security. The legislative debates show that members of Congress constructed this law, and the legal classification of “alien terrorist”² on which it turns, for apparently irreconcilable ends: first, to combat terrorism by removing so-called aliens³ and fining⁴ permanent residents and citizens who support or are affiliated with a “terrorist organization,”⁵ and second, to preserve a modicum of due...

    • 6 Legal Perspectives on Arabs and Muslims in U.S. Courts
      (pp. 100-110)
      Mohamed Mattar

      An estimated five to eight million Muslims live in the United States. This chapter is devoted to a discussion of cases in which Islamic law issues have been debated in American courts. The number of these cases has grown with the increase in commercial relations between the United States and other states in which Islam plays a role in shaping their legal systems. The increased number of disputes involving Islamic law in the United States also reflects the rising number of immigrants from the Arab world and other predominantly Muslim countries, as well as the relatively large numbers of Muslim...

  7. Part III: Youth and the Family
    • 7 Teens-Between: The Public and Private Spheres of Arab-Canadian Adolescents
      (pp. 113-128)
      Sharon Mclrvin Abu-Laban and Baha Abu-Laban

      Adolescence, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, may be the best of times and the worst of times. The angst of the young is documented in literature, film, social science research, and hand-wringing conversations between middle-aged adults. In adolescence, biological changes are omnipresent as the body alters, sometimes dramatically, along the journey from childhood to adulthood. It is during adolescence and the young adult years that families often exert considerable pressure to retain the earlier compliance of childhood and mold (or hammer) the young person into making appropriate choices. The crush of necessary decisions in pre-adulthood, involving such issues as dating, marriage,...

    • 8 Family and Ethnic Identity in an Arab-American Community
      (pp. 129-139)
      Kristine Ajrouch

      Ethnic identity in the United States emerges through the confrontation of two driving forces: the immigrant culture and the host culture. These two forces push against one another, with each striving for domination. Eventually, the two forces negotiate a relationship in which both cultures have a place. The interaction between the immigrant and host culture produces the developing characteristics of an ethnic identity in America.¹

      A critical source of the immigrant culture is found within the family. This chapter addresses the Arab family and how it contributes to the formation of an ethnic identity among the second generation. Also important...

    • 9 Arab-Canadian Youth in Immigrant Family Life
      (pp. 140-154)
      Baha Abu-Laban and Sharon Mclrvin Abu-Laban

      This chapter examines the issue of Arab-Canadian immigrant integration from the perspective of the family, with a specific focus on adolescents in the newcomer family. We argue that members within the same family unit may differentially integrate and settle into a new community. Uniformity should not be assumed among family members, and the fact of potential variation in their settlement presents a researchable opportunity that may enrich our understanding of the immigrant experience.

      What is meant by immigrant or immigrant family integration? A dominant theme in contemporary ethnic studies is the issue of immigrant integration into the host society. This...

  8. Part IV: Health and Welfare Issues
    • 10 Arab-American Health and the Process of Coming to America: Lessons from the Metropolitan Detroit Area
      (pp. 157-176)
      Rosina Hassoun

      In the past 100 years, hundreds of thousands of Arab immigrants came to the United States seeking a new life. Although there are 2½ to 3 million people of Arabic origin now living in the United States,¹ in many ways, the history of Arab immigrants is still in the early stages of being written. As more researchers examine Arab immigration to the United States, a richer understanding of Arab Americans emerges. New questions about the Arab American experience are being asked. As with other immigrants, it is assumed that most Arabs came to the United States with the expectation that...

    • 11 Attitudes of Arab Immigrants Toward Welfare
      (pp. 177-191)
      Barbara C. Aswad

      Lena is divorced with four children and far from her relatives in Yemen. She feels more secure on welfare, and without it, she says would “probably go back to my husband and be miserable again.” Another says, “Men will get lazy because they will just wait for the check.” A Lebanese woman states, “I would like to go to work and get off welfare, but I have no education and my husband doesn’t want me to work.”¹

      The statements reflect some of the views and issues of welfare and the Arab family. The effects of welfare assistance and dependency on...

    • 12 The Deteriorating Ethnic Safety Net Among Arab Immigrants in Chicago
      (pp. 192-206)
      Louise Cainkar

      Estimating the number of Arab Americans and Arab immigrants in the Chicago metropolitan area is extremely difficult. Census data are so grossly off the mark that they can only be used to locate areas of high Arab concentration in the city. Based on knowledge of the patterns of Arab migration to and settlement in Chicago and the Arab participation in community organizations and religious institutions, informed sources estimate that there are about 150,000 persons, excluding Assyrians, of Arab ethnicity in Chicago, 57 percent of whom are Palestinian. This makes Chicago one of the largest cities of Arab and Palestinian settlement...

  9. Part V: Political Activism
    • 13 Not Quite White: Race Classification and the Arab-American Experience
      (pp. 209-226)
      Helen Hatab Samhan

      Issues of race and identity are dominant factors in American social history. The dual legacies of slavery and massive immigration—and how they have intersected over time—deeply conditioned the ways in which the citizenry relates to race and how the government intercedes to classify the population. Throughout the more than 100 years that Arabs have immigrated to the United States, there has been the need to clarify, accommodate, and reexamine their relationship to this peculiar American fixation on race. In each historical period, Arabs in America have confronted race-based challenges to their identity. Today, the constituency known as Arab...

    • 14 Debating Palestine: Arab-American Challenges to Zionism 1917–1932
      (pp. 227-240)
      Lawrence Davidson

      In the years after World War I the Arab-American community was a small and scattered one. Numbering perhaps 200,000 people, they had arrived mostly from “Greater Syria” (i.e., Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine) and worked initially as laborers, peddlers, mechanics, and merchants. Concentrated in the eastern third of the United States, their “mother colony” was Little Syria, which was centered on Washington Street in New York City.¹ Most were Christians of the Maronite sect or Greek Orthodox. A minority were Muslims.² The inflow of Arab immigrants into the country slowed down considerably during the 1920s because of post-war immigration restrictions. In...

    • 15 Community and Political Activism Among Arab Americans in Detroit
      (pp. 241-254)
      Janice J. Terry

      Since the late 1960s, increasing numbers of Arab Americans have become politically active in local and national organizations. What motivated these individuals to donate money, often from rather meager resources, and more importantly, to devote considerable amounts of time in addition to the demands of school, work, and family to community and political organizations? Do these individuals share any common characteristics or life experiences? The Arab population in the Detroit area has been estimated to be as high as 250,000, making it the largest Arab population in North America. As home to a large and diverse Arab population, Detroit is...

  10. Part VI: Arab-American Identity Negotiations
    • 16 Against the Grain of the Nation—The Arab-
      (pp. 257-271)
      Suad Joseph

      In 19I4, an immigrant by the name of George Dow was denied U.S. citizenship. The denial was justified on the basis of the statute approved on March 26, 1790 defining citizens as “free white persons.” Based on his ancestry as a “Syrian of Asiatic birth,” George Dow (most likely what today would be a Lebanese Christian) was judged as not a “free white person.” The decision was reversed on appeal. The decision notes, “The appellant, George Dow, a Syrian, was denied naturalization on the sole ground that a Syrian of Asiatic birth is not a free white person within the...

    • 17 Far-Off and Fascinating Things: Wadeeha Atiyeh and Images of Arabs in the American Popular Theater, 1930–1950
      (pp. 272-283)
      Lori Anne Salem

      Wadeeha Atiyeh was an Arab-American singer, dancer, and storyteller who performed in the United States in the 1930S, 1940s, and 1950s. Atiyeh’s career offers an interesting glimpse into the complexities of Arab images in American entertainment, although even at the height of her career, she was never more than a minor celebrity. Most of her performances were given in the humblest of venues, and she would probably be entirely unknown today if her extensive scrapbooks, files, and stories had not been donated to the public archives at the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia.¹ However, Atiyeh’s career provides us...

    • 18 Arabs in Canada: Assimilation or Integration?
      (pp. 284-303)
      Ibrahim Hayani

      The Arab community in Canada is one of the least studied ethnic groups, despite the fact that over the past three decades Arabs have been immigrating to Canada in ever greater numbers. For the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, respectively, 27,042,36,506, and 61,893 immigrants from different countries in the Arab world came to Canada. In the first eight years of the 1990S alone, the number of these immigrants almost exceeded the total for the whole previous two decades. There are now about 375,000 Canadians of Arab origin, accounting for 1.3 percent of Canada’s total population.

      With the exception of the work...

    • 19 Resisting Invisibility: Arab Americans in Academia and Activism
      (pp. 304-319)
      Therese Saliba

      African-American feminist critic and poet June Jordan visited Lebanon in the wake of Israel’s April 1996 invasion and the massacre of more than 100 civilians in a United Nations camp at Qana. In her “Eyewitness from Lebanon,” Jordan calls the video of the Israeli bombings at Qana “the Rodney King video of the Middle East.” “But Arab life,” she writes, “is less than and lower than African-American life, and so nothing happened.”¹ I was elated when I came across jordan’s article inThe Progressiveon my return to the United States. I had been in Lebanon visiting my ancestral homeland...

    • 20 Arab-American Ethnicity: Locations, Coalitions, and Cultural Negotiations
      (pp. 320-336)
      Lisa Suhair Majaj

      This essay examines the complex location of Arab Americans within the American multiculture. Ethnicity is most often discussed with reference to cultural pluralism, a theoretical model that, in its affirmation of ethnicity, tends to emphasize relatively stable boundaries among groups, but as contemporary Arab-American writing increasingly suggests, ethnicity is articulated within and across boundaries of group identity. This chapter examines the significance for Arab Americans of moving away from cultural insularity and toward a stance emphasizing connections with others. After a discussion of the relevance of theoretical frameworks of ethnicity to Arab-American experience, this chapter explores the work of two...

  11. About the Contributors
    (pp. 337-342)
  12. Index
    (pp. 343-355)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 356-356)