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Heritage Month: The Neighborhoods We've Built

posted on: Apr 20, 2016

BY: Husayn Hosoda/Contributing Writer and Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

Arab Americans began migrating to the U.S. in the late 1800s and have continued to do so through today. The first migrants were mostly from Syria, including the areas part of Lebanon now, and created “Little Syria” neighborhoods along America’s northeast coastal cities. Arab American neighborhoods have been part of this country for many decades, and in many cases, the settling of these communities has revitalized local economies and contributed to the growth of these neighborhoods.

The most outstanding of these neighborhoods is Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to 95,000 residents, 41% of whom are of Arab descent. Arab immigration to the area began in the early-twentieth century with Lebanese Maronites and Shi’ites coming to find work in the automotive industry, and the community has been growing ever since to include Iraqis, Palestinians, Yemenis, and Syrians, as well.

Dearborn’s economy and society relies heavily on the Arab American community that has opened numerous stores, restaurants, salons, markets, and other businesses that contribute to $7 billion worth of Dearborn’s annual GDP. Because of Dearborn’s diversity, it is also considered one of the most inclusive community’s in the country, offering Muslim holidays off for students and workers, housing and employment protections for the LGBTQ population, and an active interfaith council spreading tolerance and understanding.

Second only to Dearborn is the South Paterson neighborhood in Paterson, New Jersey, affectionately known as Little Ramallah, which has an estimated Arab American population of 20,000. Arabs have been migrating to the city since 1890 and integrating with the significant Peruvian, Dominican, and Turkish populations that, together, are opening businesses, organizing cultural events, reviving the city’s economy after it’s industrial decline.

Paterson often celebrates Arab American heritage. Last year, the city hosted their third annual raising of the Palestinian flag over Paterson’s city hall, in which 600 attendees sang Palestine’s national anthem and welcomed Ramallah Governor Laila Ghannam. Recently the city’s school district restarted an Arabic language program for Paterson’s youth within its public schools in order to bolster multi-ethnic relations.

Dearborn and Paterson are home to the largest Arab American communities, but there are many other cities that are home to community members who are contributing to their city’s economy, politics, education programs, and diversity. Los Angeles, for instance, is a major U.S. city that relied on the hard-working Arab American community of the 1940s and 1950s to help build the city into a post-World War II destination for people seeking work outside of factories.

New York City is a prime example of American ingenuity and it’s the Arab residents who formed “Little Syria” decades ago that helped make the city what it is today. New York is not only a cultural hub; it is also a place for advocacy, especially on Arab American issues, and intellectual development. The Arab Americans of New York are some of the most successful in the community as prominent doctors, lawyers, professors, and civil rights advocates who are shaping their city and the country.

Early Arab Americans of New York

The other neighborhoods Arab Americans have built are all over the country, such as those in Providence, Chicago, Allentown, Cleveland, Houston, and Miami. And since Arab Americans will continue to migrate to the U.S. to flee wars, join their families, go to school, or start a business, their positive contribution to these former “Little Syria’s” can never go unnoticed. The negative political rhetoric convincing some Americans that their Arab neighbors are people to fear or hate is best combatted and proven wrong by the successful cities mentioned above.

See all articles about National Arab American Heritage Month here.