The Arabic-Language Press
The Arabic-language press was one of the important factors in the remarkably rapid assimilation of the nearly 100,000 Arabic-speaking immigrants to the United States between 1880 and World War I. Inexperienced and bewildered villagers, the majority of whom were illiterate or barely literate peripatetic peddlers, many of them came to depend on information published in their ethnic press. If the reading population was relatively small, those who informed and guided it were nevertheless numerous and eager.
So keen was the penchant for publishing that between 1892 and 1907 (the lifetime of the first Arabic newspaper), twenty-one Arabic dailies, weeklies, and monthlies were published, seventeen of them in New York City and the others scattered in Philadelphia; Lawrence, Massachusetts; and St. Louis, Missouri. In 1907, when the immigrants numbered only about 50,000, there were eleven publications in existence. 1
Because the migrants originated in the Ottoman province of Syria on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, which included the autonomous sanjak of Mt. Lebanon--roughly the coastal mountain range north of Beirut, south of Tripoli, and east of the Beqa Plain--they were Syrians. With the exception of a relatively small number of Palestinians, other Arabic-speaking peoples do not appear in the immigration records except sporadically and as transient individuals.
The Syrian immigrants of this period were neither the first nor the last Arabs to come to the United States. They were the first, however, to arrive in any significant numbers as a group. A second major Arab migration, containing a high percentage of skilled and professional, politicized, nationalistic young men and women, began after World War II. The first-wave migrants, although not politicized and nationalistic, left their land with a strong sense of who they were. They came as Syrians, called themselves Syrians, and were known as Syrians. "Arab," to them, was a cultural reference, not a nationalistic one, since at the time of their migration there was no independent Syrian political entity with which to identify. Nor were they identified by the outside world as Arabs,