Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience

Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience

Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience

Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience


A unique study in American immigration and assimilation history that also provides a special view of one of the smaller ethnic groups in American society.


Naff focuses on the pre-World War I pioneering generation of Arabic-speaking immigrants, the generation that set the patterns for settlement and assimilation. Unlike many immigrants who were drawn to the United States by dreams of industrial jobs or to escape religious or economic persecution, most of these artisans and owners of small, disconnected plots of land came to America to engage in the enterprise of peddling. Most planned to stay two or three years and return to their homelands.


The concept of Greater Syria dates at least to biblical times and is basically geographic. The dream of a political Greater Syria, which gained currency in the first quarter of the twentieth century, harks back to a glorious period of Syrian history when, under the Umayyad Caliphate, the Islamic Empire was ruled from Damascus between 661 and 750. In the nineteenth century, the concept defined an area that was geographically and culturally unified: from the Taurus Mountains now in southern Turkey, it extended southward into the northern region of what is today Saudi Arabia. It stretched from the Mediterranean coast in the west to northern Mesopotamia and the Syrian Desert in the east. While its western and northern borders were more or less set by natural geographic features, the eastern and southern boundaries fluctuated with the ability of the central government to defend them against bedouin incursions and enemy forces.

Its approximately 85,000-square-mile surface is divided among highlands, valleys, plains, steppes, and desert. Moving inland from a coast dotted with port cities from Jaffa to Alexandretta (including Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and Tripoli), a fertile uneven narrow plain merges into a belt of broken highlands, the most prominent and relevant of which is the . . .

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