Meet the Arab-American Community in New Jersey
By: Emily Deveraux/Arab America Contributing Writer
Edited by: Raneem Ghunaim
Immigrating to the U.S.
Historically, New York is revered as the first magnet city. Many people flooded in from Ellis Island, and they are thought to have stayed within New York state territory. However, recent reflection and date collection reveal that New Jersey has much of a magnet for immigration as to New York.
Upon looking back into the 1900 census, Marc Mappen found that the larger New Jersey population reflected a 22.9% foreign-born proportion at the height of immigration. While this may not seem so significant, some pockets of New Jersey, such as the city of Passaic, had an even higher immigrant population than New York City in 1900.
Today, this is still reflected in flourishing immigrant communities throughout New Jersey. Specifically, there is a large Arab American population in this state!
Overview of the Arab American Population in NJ
Data from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey reflects an estimated population of 85,956 Arab American people in New Jersey. The state actually ranks fifth among the Arab American population, behind states such as California, Michigan, and New York. Arab-Americans in New Jersey live throughout all of New Jersey’s twenty-one counties. One half of them resided in Hudson, Bergen, and Passaic counties. However, all of these are in the northern region of the state and close to New York City.
The largest diaspora of Arab-American people in New Jersey is from Egypt, which designates New Jersey as the only state where Egyptian people make up the majority subgroup. There are also Syrian and Lebanese subgroups. Both represented by just under 20% of the Arab-American population.
South Paterson, NJ
South Paterson is New Jersey’s third-largest city. The locals nicknamed this city as Little Ramallah or Little Istanbul. Founded in 1792, many Syrian people have established roots in this town. Their ancestors took up silk manufacturing back in Revolutionary times. Some articles describe this city as a Middle Eastern enclave similar to Dearborn, Michigan, or Little Arabia in Anaheim. All of these neighborhoods have a strong sense of optimism and community in common.
Only four years ago, Paterson was on the cusp of insolvency. The city also faced a great burden on crime and corruption. The city was facing an overall decline.
Today, Paterson feels a sense of renewal. In 2018, Paterson elected its first Arab-American mayor, Andre Sayegh. He is born to a Syrian mother and a Lebanese father, and his campaign highlighted the contributions of the Arab-American community to the politics, economy, and culture in North Jersey. The same year, Alaa Abdelaziz was elected to the Paterson City Council.
Arab American Visibility
Today, if you were to visit South Paterson, you would stumble upon Main Street, which a ten-block stretch that borders Clifton. These ten blocks are lined with everyday amenities to keep a vibrant Arab American community. For example, barbershops, doctor’s offices, halal meat shops, Muslim legal services, and other amenities.
Another indicator of Patterson’s large Arab American population is its many different religious centers, including both Mosques and Churches.
Additionally, there are advertisements for all-inclusive trips to hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in Islam. This reflects the community’s strong commitment not only to their heritage but to their faith as well.
Growing Palestinian Community in NJ
Although the Palestinian community is small, it has made a substantial mark on Arab-American communities in New Jersey. Al-Basha is a Palestinian restaurant in Paterson. It has great success from a long line of families, local youths, and visitors waiting outside for a table. The owner of the restaurant is Basha, who is a father of five. He is passionate about cooking for others. Especially, perfecting cook for family events when he was younger.
Al-Basha is famous in the community for his delicious Palestinian dishes that remind some of home. In other words, patrons expressed that the food reminds them of the comfort food they had growing up. They are also quite popular because of their affordable and fair prices that draw crowds from all different backgrounds.
Arab Organizations in NJ
There are a huge number of Arab organizations all over NJ. That has become a home and a safe place for thousands of people annually. But for now, we will focus on those three.
Starting with Wafa House, their mission is “Preserve and Strengthen the Family Through Intervention and Education”. Annually they help about 1,000 individuals and their families. They have built a name for themselves through their many years of selfless work. Wafa House provides help in all areas, for anyone in need. They have assisted many children to reunite with their parents. Children that have been either displaced or removed from their homes by DCPP. The majority of the people working in Wafa house are all Arab Americans that are part of the NJ community. Together they remain to stand high and help all those in need at no charge to them. Organizations like such gives us hope that there are good people in the world, who dedicate their time to others.
Palestinian American Community Center
Also, in Clifton, NJ this organization was originally founded by a Palestinian woman. They have created an outstanding name for themselves over the years. Their mission is “To sustain and strengthen ties to Palestinian heritage while empowering the success and well being of the entire community.” All the contributions that they gave back to their community never went unnoticed. Their outstanding work was recognized by the NJ governor.
PACC has done many wonderful activities that have left a remarkably positive impact on its community. Pre-COVID season when you walked down the street you would see people lined up for Al- Basha restaurants. Happy moments like this that brought t the community closer together is never ending with the Palestinian American Community Center.
Islamic Center Of Passaic County
And finally, the Islamic Center of Passaic County. Their mission is “To please Allah ﷻ by serving the spiritual, educational, and communal needs of our congregants and community.” They strive to build a stronger and better community with the help of their beliefs and practices. They provide over 7 programs that help fit everyone and their needs. With that, they also provide many essential services such as mental health, fitness, umrah, and so on. This organization helps create a home for thousands of Muslims who live in NJ.
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