Posts Tagged ‘Arab American History’
Jeff Karoub, a Michigan-based reporter for the Associated Press, just published an excellent article titled, After a century, US Arabs look for pieces of past. As the title suggests, the article explores the difficulties in tracing the (factual) histories of Arab families that settled in the United States prior to 1924. Karoub draws upon his own frustrations of researching his family’s history in metropolitan Detroit.
The article speaks to many of the challenges we face when conducting research on Arab Americans who settled in the United States during the first major wave of Arab immigration (1880-1924). During this time, more than 20 million immigrants entered the U.S. Approximately 95,000 of these immigrants were from Greater Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel). For various reasons, including Ottoman rule in the homeland and the desire for rapid assimilation in the U.S., tracing the history of Arab Americans from this time period can be extremely challenging.
Mr. Karoub interviewed me for this article several months ago. As detailed in the feature, I can empathize with Mr. Karoub’s frustration with tracing his family’s history. As a third-generation American, you would hope to have a rather robust understanding of your family’s immigration story. However, this is not so for my family. I know roughly when my family arrived to the U.S., the name of our family’s village, but very little else. This is strange given that we have retained so many of our family’s customs and traditions. I have no idea why my family first settled in Kentucky, when they arrived in Detroit, our why my paternal grandfather’s family changed their surname from Joseph to Shatter. So many mysteries with so few answers.
We are currently working on a few initiatives at the AANM to help document and preserve family history. Many of these projects are being led by our staff in the Library & Resource Center. This includes the creation of a Community Resource Directory wiki, which will enable Arab Americans from around the country the opportunity to build community history for the comforts of their home. Additionally, we are creating a new laboratory in the L&RC for recording oral histories and digitizing two-dimensional artifacts and ephemera. Together, we hope these resources will provide an outlet for preserving Arab American history and documenting family histories.
The AANM’s Little Syria project is picking up steam. We’re wrapping up the RFP process with exhibit designers, our curatorial staff is conducting research and collecting objects for the forthcoming exhibit, and the media is covering the story. We’re off to a good start.
Be sure to like the Little Syria Exhibit Facebook page for updates on the project. Also, if you missed it, there was a story from PRI’s The World, titled Saving New York’s ‘Little Syria’, that was aired on National Public Radio earlier this week. Check it out!
Little Syria Exhibit on Facebook
Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Come check out the annual Arab Film Festival at the Arab American National Museum. This year’s festival, Before The Spring: Alternative Arab Cinema from 2005 to Today, explores films that were produced leading up to the “Arab Spring.” The festival was curated by our friends at ArteEast. You can read more about the festival over at the HuffPost Detroit.
The 2011 Arab Film Festival on HuffPost Detroit
This weekend, the Arab American National Museum is hosting its fourth installation of DIWAN: A Forum for the Arts. We’re excited to be taking this biennial arts convening out of Michigan for the first time. This year we’re partnering with Alwan for the Arts, the Middle East and Middle East American Center (MEMEAC) at the City University of New York, and FEN Magazine to host the event in New York City. Similar to years past, there is a great roster of speakers presenting on timely and important subjects.
DIWAN unites Arab American artists, scholars and performers representing myriad academic fields and artistic genres. The conference affords a safe space to discuss topics and issues affecting the community of artists while also fostering an open environment conducive to networking and community building. Most importantly, the presentations shed light on what’s new in the world of Arab American art while creating a greater awareness for the artists and their artwork.
I’ve been involved with DIWAN since it’s inception. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of moderating a panel at all four conferences. This year I will be moderating the session, The Stories We Tell: Arab Americans convey their truth through emerging mediums of installation art, film and the graphic novel. I’m looking forward to working with a great group of presenters and I expect nothing less than another inspiring and informative conference.
It’s really quite amazing how big we’ve grown this grassroots conference in five short years. Working on this project is definitely one of the highlights of my job at the AANM. If you’re in New York this weekend (March 25-26), be sure to stop by the CUNY Graduate Center, which is where the conference will be taking place. Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention it’s FREE. Yes, we are all about being open and accessible to the public.
Also, be sure to check out the schedule and peep some photos from the 2007 and 2009 conferences. We’ve also published the audio and video of sessions from the 2009 conference on our iTunes U site. Hope to see you there this weekend!
Last week I mentioned that I was in the process of conducting research on New York’s Little Syria neighborhood that existed along Washington Street during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (please see: Before Park51: Arab Americans in New York’s Little Syria). I’m pleased with how things are progressing thus far. I made contact with Redux Pictures, the archive for historical images from the New York Times, regarding seven photos that accompanied the 1899 article, New York’s Syrian Quarter. While I’m still waiting to hear back on access and reproductions, I’ve managed to find several more images via other online archival collections.
Library of Congress
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19028] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19026] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22835] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-23419] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22819] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19029] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22818] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-19027] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22820] George Grantham Bain Collection
George Eastman House
George Eastman House [77:0177:0095, Syrian Arab at Ellis Island] Lewis W. Hine – Ellis Island
New York Public Library (NYPL) Digital Gallery
NYPL Digital Gallery [482835, Lebanon Restaurant (Syrian), 88 Washington Street, Manhattan. (August 12, 1936)] Changing New York: Photographs by Berenice Abbott, 1935-1938
On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, Michigan State Representative Rashida Tlaib (D, 12th District) introduced House Bill 6555. The bill, co-sponsored by 24 other state representatives, would designate the month of April as Arab-American Heritage Month in Michigan.
I applaud the 25 representatives for introducing and supporting this measure. The Arab American community’s presence in Michigan has a rich history extending back over 100 years. Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States and the second largest outside of the Middle East. It is one of the few communities within the state that continues to grow in both its size and impact. There is no better time to introduce a bill to recognize the contributions of Arab Americans in Michigan. (See the recent Time article, Arab-Americans: Detroit’s Unlikely Saviors)
Rep. Tlaib is both an Arab American and the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan Legislature. I am proud of her for leading this important initiative. At this time, New Jersey is the only state that has recognized an Arab American history month at the state level, which it enacted in 2008. I hope that Michigan will soon proclaim an Arab American History month of its own. Time will tell; the bill was just referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
HOUSE BILL No. 6555
November 9, 2010, Introduced by Reps. Tlaib, Scripps, Segal, Kandrevas, Liss, Slavens, Huckleberry, Roberts, Constan, Jackson, Johnson, Durhal, Stanley, Bledsoe, Roy Schmidt, Lemmons, Byrum, LeBlanc, Gregory, Geiss, Cushingberry, Warren, Gonzales, Corriveau and Polidori and referred to the Committee on Judiciary.
A bill to designate the month of April of each year as Arab-American Heritage Month in the state of Michigan.
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN ENACT:
Sec. 1. (1) The legislature recognizes the contributions that the Arab-American community of Michigan has made throughout the entire state. Since the early 1900s, several different populations and groups from Arab countries have migrated and flourished in this state. Michigan is home to the highest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States. The Arab-American community of southeastern Michigan is known for its diversity, institutional leadership, and cultural outreach and is widely considered a center of Arab-American culture in the United States.
(2) In recognition of the contributions that the Arab-American community of Michigan has made, the legislature declares that the month of April of each year shall be known as “Arab-American Heritage Month”.
Yesterday, while conducting research for our project on New York’s Little Syria, I stumbled upon a great sequence of photographs by the renowned sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine. In addition to producing numerous iconic photos of the construction of New York’s skyline, Hine’s photographic work was instrumental in helping to reform child labor laws. My research revealed a startling discovery: Hine captured a series of photographs in 1911 that show a momentary glimpse into the life of an Arab American child laborer.
In the images shown below, Hine documents a young Syrian American named Phoebe Thomas, who is seen running home from a canning factory in Eastport, Maine after cutting her thumb with a knife. This is the first series of photographs I’ve seen that depict an Arab American child laborer at the start of the 20th century. It is both an impressive photo essay and an important look at the Arab American community in Maine at the turn of the century.
Eight year old Syrian girl, Pheobe [i.e. Phoebe] Thomas, going to work at 6 a.m., August 14, with great butcher knife, to cut sardines in Seacoast Canning Co. Factory #4, Eastport Me. Said she was a cutter, and I saw her working later. (See photos of her accident, #2444, #2445, #2449.) Location: Eastport, Maine.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00965] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)
In center of the picture is Phoebe Thomas, 8 year old Syrian girl, running home from the factory all alone, her hand and arm bathed with blood, crying at the top of her voice. She had cut the end of her thumb nearly off, cutting sardines in the factory, and was sent home alone, her mother being busy. The loss of blood was considerable, and might have been serious. (See succeeding photos.) Location: Eastport, Maine.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00966] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)
This is a detail of the previous image.
Phoebe’s thumb [Phoebe Thomas], a week after the accident. She was back at the factory that day, using the same big knife. Location: Eastport, Maine.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00971] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)
Phoebe [Thomas], a little while after the accident. Location: Eastport, Maine.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-nclc-00967] Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee (U.S.)
A couple of months ago, the N.Y. Times ran an article, titled When an Arab Enclave Thrived Downtown, that briefly explored the history of the Arab American community in lower Manhattan. That’s right, long before 9/11 and the Park51 Community Center a vibrant community of Arab Americans inhabited lower Manhattan. This was the neighborhood of Kahlil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, Al-Hoda newspaper, and the original A. Sahadi & Co. store. Unfortunately, the history of this community has largely been forgotten. After all, “(t)here are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them.”
The Arab American community that settled along Washington Street in the lower west side immigrated from what was Greater Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and Jordan) between 1870 and 1920. Predominately Christian, these Arab Americans settled “in the shadow of where the World Trade Center would be put up a century later.” In 2002, the Museum of the City of New York hosted the exhibition A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York. Originally scheduled to open in November 2001, the exhibited was postponed due to the tragic events of 9/11. I commend the museum for its diligence in rescheduling the show and for publishing an important book documenting the history of the community. To the best of my knowledge, this has been the only public display of information on Little Syria within New York City.
To raise greater awareness of the history of Arab Americans in lower Manhattan, we are hoping to organize a photographic exhibit on the community. Right now the exhibit is very much in the earliest stages of development. At this time we are conducting research to identify images that best show the history of the Little Syria neighborhood. Fortunately, scattered archival collections contain important information on this early Arab American community. So far, I’ve managed to identify a handful of images that could potentially end up in the exhibit. Here are a few of them:
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ62-37780] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ62-71330] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ggbain-22817] George Grantham Bain Collection
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-USZ6-1774] George Grantham Bain Collection
I suspect that this exhibit will be an excellent vehicle for dispelling stereotypes and for providing accurate information on the history and contributions of New York’s earliest Arab American community. With the current debate on Park51, coupled with the tone and spiteful rhetoric being used by certain politicians, the need for this exhibit is apparent. As the Times’ journalist suggests, “…it is worth recalling the old sights and sounds and smells of Washington Street as a reminder that in New York — a city as densely layered as baklava — no one has a definitive claim on any part of town, and history can turn up some unexpected people in surprising places.”
Here are some interesting articles I’ve found via the N.Y. Times online archive: