I've studied and written about the status of Arabic in the United States and factors that encourage and hinder its use. As I developed the topic, this chapter became more personal, less a sterile presentation of data and analysis. This happened partly because I interviewed people and partly because my research brought into focus the powerful effect our concept of ethnic identity can have on our actions and feelings.
This work began when I found an article arguing that gaining access to U.S. socioeconomic institutions has lead to the erosion of the use of Arabic here. When I found the article, I became excited, and soon I had filled my apartment with bibliographies on the status of minority communities in the United States. My paper changed frequently during the time I worked on it. It started out as a survey of literature documenting the way feeble attempts at retaining Arabic through small community-based projects like church and mosque schools had floundered in the face of the overwhelming pressure to learn English. Then I noticed a pattern; most efforts to retain the use of Arabic, failed or not, seemed to be fueled by ethnic pride. I began to realize that only individuals could stem the loss of language, individuals who must work against the daunting power of our economic and social institutions.
I examined material by Elaine Hagopian and Bader S. Dweik. Hagopian found that members of Boston's Lebanese Christian community did not consider themselves Arabs because they identified Arabs with Muslims. Dweik, studying Lebanese-Americans in Buffalo, found that as they gained economic success and moved to the suburbs, they stopped speaking Arabic.
Dweik also studied a Yemenite community in upstate New York that had a high retention of the use of Arabic. Members of that community became laborers with low levels of income and education. Therefore, the socioeconomic homogeneity formerly shared in Yemen continues in the United States; it encourages isolation