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Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900

posted on: Sep 25, 2015

Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900

“There is no question but that the Syrian tree planted in American soil will grow and flourish and blossom out into as good fruit as that of any other nationality.”

–Kawkab America, April 29, 1892

Strangers in the West is the never-before-told story of the Arab immigrants who settled in New York City, beginning in 1880. They came primarily from what was then known as “Greater Syria,” and settled in tenements on the lower west side of Manhattan, founding an Arabic-speaking enclave just south of the future site of the World Trade Center. Arriving in the New World with little more than their resourcefulness and business acumen, these immigrants quickly built a thriving “colony” that was the cultural and economic center of the Syrian diaspora in America.

Dr. Jacobs paints a vivid portrait of life in this early immigrant community, and the people who founded it. They were peddlers and merchants, midwives and doctors, priests and journalists, performers and impresarios. They capitalized on the orientalist craze sweeping the United States by opening Turkish smoking parlors, presenting belly dancers on vaudeville stages, and performing across the country in native costume. They learned English, built businesses, and became an important thread in the rich tapestry of the immigrant culture of 19th century New York. This is their story.

Strangers In the West is the first and only comprehensive study of America’s most important Syrian colony. Through exhaustive archival and demographic research, Dr. Jacobs has captured the identities of virtually every member of this 19th century community. In doing so, she has created an invaluable resource for historians, scholars, and others interested in the history of Arabs in America.



Linda K. Jacobs is a New York-based scholar and author. She holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Archaeology/Anthropology and spent many years working on archaeological excavations and economic development projects in the Middle East. She is the author of Digging In: An American Archaeologist Uncovers the Real Iran (2012) and a series of articles about the nineteenth- century Syrian colony in New York. Dr. Jacobs is committed to promoting Middle Eastern culture and knowledge in the United States, founding KalimahPress in 2011, establishing the Violet Jabara Charitable Trust, and sitting on the boards of the Near

East Foundation and the Moise Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies. She has also served on the board of the American University of Beirut. All four of her grandparents were members of the New York Syrian Colony.

Compiled by Arab America