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Arabs in America: Building a New Future

Michael Suleiman

Publication Year: 1999

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 America will engage anyone interested in Arab American studies, ethnic studies, and American studies.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi

Until the past 20 to 30 years, scholars ignored or were ignorant of Arabs in North America. Although the situation has changed somewhat, there is still a dearth of information on the subject, especially because many early studies tended to be general, concerned largely with providing background...

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Introduction: The Arab Immigrant Experience

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pp. 1-21

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...

Part I: Profiles of Specific Communities

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1. Attachment and Identity: The Palestinian Community of Detroit

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pp. 25-38

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...

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2. Jordanian Migrants in Texas and Ohio: The Quest for Education and Work in a Global Society

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pp. 39-52

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...

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3. A Look at Different Ideologies Among Shi'a Muslims in the United States

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pp. 53-65

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...

Part II: Arabs and the American Legal System

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4. Arabs and the American Legal System: Cultural and Political Ramifications

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pp. 69-83

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...

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5. A Closer Look at Anti-Terrorism Law: American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee v. Reno and the Construction of Aliens' Rights

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pp. 84-99

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...

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6. Legal Perspectives on Arabs and Muslims in U.S. Courts

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pp. 100-110

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...

Part III: Youth and the Family

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7. Teens Between: The Public and Private Spheres of Arab-Canadian Adolescents

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pp. 113-128

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...

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8. Family and Ethnic Identity in an Arab-American Community

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pp. 129-139

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...

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9. Arab-Canadian Youth in Immigrant Family Life

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pp. 140-153

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...

Part IV: Health and Welfare Issues

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10. Arab-American Health and the Process of Coming to America: Lessons from the Metropolitan Detroit Area

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pp. 157-176

In the past 100 years, hundreds of thousands of Arab immigrants came to the United States seeking a new life. Although there are 2 1/2 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...

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11. Attitudes of Arab Immigrants Toward Welfare

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pp. 177-191

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...

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12. The Deteriorating Ethnic Safety Net Among Arab Immigrants in Chicago

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pp. 192-206

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...

Part V: Political Activism

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13. Not Quite White: Race Classification and the Arab-American Experience

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pp. 209-226

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...

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14. Debating Palestine: Arab-American Challenges to Zionism 1917-1932

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pp. 227-240

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...

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15. Community and Political Activism Among Arab Americans in Detroit

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pp. 241-254

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...

Part VI: Arab-American Identity Negotiations

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16. Against the Grain of the Nation--The Arab-

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pp. 257-271

In 1914, 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...

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17. Far-Off and Fascinating Things: Wadeeha Atiyeh and Images of Arabs in the American Popular Theater, 1930-1950

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pp. 272-283

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...

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18. Arabs in Canada: Assimilation or Integration?

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pp. 284-303

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...

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19. Resisting Invisibility: Arab Americans in Academia and Activism

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pp. 304-319

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...

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20. Arab-American Ethnicity: Locations, Coalitions, and Cultural Negotiations

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pp. 320-336

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...

About the Contributors

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pp. 337-341


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pp. 343-355

E-ISBN-13: 9781439906538

Publication Year: 1999