KalimahPress Blog

A series on the early Arab immigrant experience

The Syrian Colony of Boston, 1890-1910

(Above): Syrian women sewing at Denison House, Boston, 1912. It is interesting to compare the Syrian colonies of New York City and Boston. Both cities were major ports in the nineteenth century and, along with Providence and Philadelphia, were east coast entry points...

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Repudiated by their Peers

Why would two seemingly respectable Syrian immigrants be publicly repudiated by their countrymen? As everyone who reads this blog knows, I have an affection for, if not an obsession with, stories that seem to contradict the Syrian myth of success, assimilation, and...

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The “First Syrian Immigrant Family”

The story of the Joseph Arbeely family hints at how the “first Syrian immigrant family” constructed an Arab American identity. Far from being passive victims of stereotyping, the Arbeelys consciously attempted to control the image they presented to America.

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“Boardwalk Empire:” Satellite Communities of the New York Syrian Colony

Syrians had settled in every state of the United States by the 1890s, but many clustered around New York City, in order to take advantage of the cultural, economic, and religious amenities the “Mother Colony” could offer.

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Paris, 1913: The Arab Congress

The Arab Congress that took place in Paris in 1913 was ground-breaking in many ways, not least of which was the Christian-Muslim cooperation that characterized the meeting.

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Naoum Mokarzel

Naoum Mokarzel, a well-known editor and spokesman for the Maronite community in New York, had a tumultuous personal life.

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“A Parabolic Pilgrimage” (Part 2)

In an excerpt from my new book, Strangers in the West, we continue the travails of new Syrian immigrants who landed in New York harbor.

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“A Parabolic Pilgrimage”: Mixed Reactions (Part 1)

An excerpt from Strangers in the West, exploring the mixed reactions that New York City’s earliest Syrian immigrants faced when they arrived in lower Manhattan.

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“Selma the Syrian Siren”

The fascinating story of Selma Abd-el-Nour, one of America’s first Arab immigrants, and her highly sensationalized life in 19th century New York City.

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“If You Are Wearing Pearls, Wear Nothing but Pearls”: Marie El-Khoury, Jeweler to New York Society

Even today, successful women entrepreneurs are as rare as hen’s teeth. Imagine what it took for a nineteenth century woman from a conservative Arab immigrant community to become one of the premier jewelers in New York. Marie El-Khoury was that woman.

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The Strange Journey of the Syrian Ibrahim G. Kheiralla: The First Baha’i Missionary to the United States (Part 2)

Part 2 in the story of Ibrahim G. Kheiralla’s mysterious journey.

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The Strange Journey of the Syrian Ibrahim G. Kheiralla: First Baha’i Missionary to the United States (Part 1)

Ibrahim G. Kheiralla was one of the most fascinating characters in America’s 19th century Syrian community. His faith, his career, and his very life were tortuous and veiled in secrecy, and demand to be investigated.

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Chaldeans in America: The Oussani Family

The Chaldeans, sometimes called Assyrians or Nestorians, are Christians from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, who claim to be among the first Christian converts. This is the story of the Oussani family from Baghdad, who were the first and only known Chaldeans to settle here before 1900.

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Women of Independent Means in the New York Syrian Colony

Syrian women were important contributors to the economy of the Syrian colony of New York from its very beginnings in 1880. They prided themselves in their self-sufficiency, especially in the peddling trade. This is their story.

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The Myth and the Anti-Myth of the Syrian Immigrant

Deconstructing the myth of the Syrian immigrant–the rags to riches narrative so common to all immigrant stories–that says all our ancestors succeeded in building a prosperous life out of nothing in the new world.

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Midwives in the 19th century Syrian Colony of New York City

The history of midwifery in the United States and particularly in New York City is a vexed one. Midwifery was a common profession for immigrant and native women in nineteenth century America, one of the few where a woman worked for herself. This post explores the lives of several early Syrian midwives and how they fended for themselves in the new world.

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Click below to see a database of the first Arab immigrants to emigrate to the United States in the late 19th Century.
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