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Between Arab and White

Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora

Sarah M. A. Gualtieri
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Between Arab and White
    Book Description:

    This multifaceted study of Syrian immigration to the United States places Syrians- and Arabs more generally-at the center of discussions about race and racial formation from which they have long been marginalized.Between Arab and Whitefocuses on the first wave of Arab immigration and settlement in the United States in the years before World War II, but also continues the story up to the present. It presents an original analysis of the ways in which people mainly from current day Lebanon and Syria-the largest group of Arabic-speaking immigrants before World War II-came to view themselves in racial terms and position themselves within racial hierarchies as part of a broader process of ethnic identity formation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94346-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Note on Terms and Transliterations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In December 1909, a twenty-three-year-old Syrian immigrant named Costa George Najour appeared in Atlanta’s circuit court to hear arguments related to his petition to become an American citizen. He had already filed his first papers and fulfilled the five-year residency and English proficiency requirements of the U.S. Naturalization Law. The question to be decided was whether Najour met theracialrequirement of the law, which dictated that, to acquire citizenship, persons not born in the United States—that is, “aliens”—had to be either “free white persons” or of “African nativity or descent.”¹ Ignoring the possibility that Najour was the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 From Internal to International Migration
    (pp. 21-51)

    This chapter places Syrian immigration to the United States within a larger Ottoman framework and traces both continuities and discontinuities in patterns of migration into and out of the Arab provinces of the empire. In doing so, I counter the romanticized theory that Syrians immigrated to the Americas because they had a predisposition, or a migratory “trait,” to pursue opportunities beyond Mediterranean shores.¹ For example, in his 1999 open letter from the Lebanese Ministry of Emigrants, El Emir Talal Majid Arslan linked Lebanese emigration to a heroic Phoenician precedent: “Our ancestors the Phoenicians were the first pioneers to venture the...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Claiming Whiteness: Syrians and Naturalization Law
    (pp. 52-80)

    As the number of Syrians in the United States increased and people like Tanyus Tadrus found work, many began to contemplate acquiring American citizenship. Naturalization gave immigrants access to certain privileges. They could vote, travel more easily—including back and forth to Syria—and purchase property. Essa Samara noted that he chose to naturalize “to be like the people with whom we were doing business, to vote, and it was useful in case one went to Canada or back home or elsewhere.”¹ Although not entirely happy about this development, the French consul in Seattle argued that “it is natural that...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Nation and Migration: Emergent Arabism and Diasporic Nationalism
    (pp. 81-112)

    The racial prerequisite cases had underscored for Syrians the salience of race in the United States. They emerged from the legal controversy believing in the importance of whiteness for securing their future as citizens in America. As Syrians contemplated naturalization and permanent settlement in the United States, however, they were drawn into new debates about the future of their homeland. The first two decades of the twentieth century witnessed the emergence of Arab nationalism, based not so much on yearnings for full-fledged independence from the Ottoman Empire as on a desire for greater parity within its institutions. Syrian emigrants in...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Lynching of Nola Romey: Syrian Racial Inbetweenness in the Jim Crow South
    (pp. 113-134)

    The lynching occurred in Lake City, Florida, where it was covered extensively in the local paper. Newspapers across the nation also carried the story in various degrees of detail. “Man Lynched after Wife is Slain by Cop” announced the bold-type headline of theTampa Tribuneon May 18, 1929.¹ TheChicago Defenderran the story on the front page under the title “Florida Mob Lynches White Storekeeper,” while theNew York TimesandLos Angeles Timesprinted Associated Press reports under the heading “Grocer Is Lynched at Lake City, Fla.”²Meraat ul-gharb, published in Arabic in New York City, printed...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Marriage and Respectability in the Era of Immigration Restriction
    (pp. 135-154)

    Concern over the institution of marriage in the context of migration and settlement in the United States was not new. Syrian religious officials had been quick to express alarm in the early period of transatlantic migration. The problem in their view was twofold: emigrant men were shirking their patriarchal duties in the homeland and were engaging in extraofficial relationships in the diaspora.

    Publications in Syria expressed this anxiety as thousands of young men departed for the Americas. Commentators were troubled not only by the scale of the exodus but also by the potential for wayward conduct. This conduct, they argued,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 155-164)

    Syrian immigrants to the United States were not a unified group but representatives of various regional, local, and religious identities. They could be at once Ottomans, Syrians, Zahalnis (residents of Zahle), Druze, and Maronites; Damascene Sunnis, Greek Orthodox from Beirut, Jews from Aleppo, and many other combinations. They were men, women, and children who could claim they had little in common yet—because they were immigrants—everything. Recognition of solidarity in the face of difference most often began on the journey to the United States, when Syrians, cramped on slippery ship decks, listened for the sounds of their native language....

  13. EPILOGUE: Becoming Arab American
    (pp. 165-190)

    In November 1944, 150 representatives of societies consisting of members of Arabic-speaking origin met in New York City to discuss forming an organization that would advocate an Arab position on issues related to American foreign and domestic policy.¹ The meeting was in large part a response to the Biltmore Conference, which leading Zionist organizations had convened in New York in 1942. Headed by David Ben-Gurion, the future prime minister of Israel, the conference adopted the “Biltmore Program,” which supported unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine (restricted by the British government’s “White Paper” of 1939) and the establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 191-232)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-256)
  16. Index
    (pp. 257-270)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-274)