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More than 80% of all Arabs in the U.S. are legal citizens, thus creating an Arab-American cultural foundation consisting of over 3.5 million Americans (AAI, 2009). This single clustered group in reality consists of people from 22 countries like Egypt, Palestine, Morocco, and Lebanon. Today, a third of this population lives in California, New York, or Michigan, with 94% of all Arab-Americans living in urban areas. Only 5% of Arab-Americans are unemployed, and 46% have college degrees. Of all countries represented, over a third of all Arab-Americans are of Lebanese descent (AAI, 2009).
The first wave of Arab immigrants coming into the U.S. were clumped together and known as Syrian-Lebanese (Hajar and Jones, 2011). The majority of them were indeed of Lebanese, Christian descent, and their immigration fluctuated for decades from the late 19th century until the 1920's. What initially brought them to the U.S. were stories told by missionaries and Syrian participants of the World's Fairs of the opportunities available there. Lebanese found the economic opportunities, combined with raising a family in America, and having children who would become naturalized U.S.-born citizens, incentive enough to migrate into the country. These pioneers of Arab-Americanism spread throughout most parts of the Midwest and Northeast U.S., where they would open general stores. The new Lebanese immigrants did not take very long to assimilate into the U.S. They frequently interacted with Americans, helping them to hasten their English speaking skills. Lebanese also served in both World Wars, giving them a sense of American pride. In addition, and probably a crucial factor in developing a Lebanese American distinction from those of the old country, women were more frequently leaving their homes, their domestic spheres, to find jobs and work for pay (Hajar and Jones, 2011). Because of their Christian backgrounds, many sought refuge in Western, American churches every Sunday. They also changed their names to be more American, and focused on the American way: acquiring wealth through capital gains.
Lebanese people are actively religious; they revere their elderly, particularly one's parents, and revolve their Lebanese identities around the family unit (Hajar and Jones, 2011). Majority of them were Christians, though some were also Muslim and Jewish. Gender roles define a Lebanese American's position within their family; they have strong values regarding the well being of the family and community at large, and are known to be quite hospitable to outside guests. However, some of these lifestyles have changed because of Americanism's high regard of individualism, independence, and personal growth. This resulted in a disintegration of Arab-American communities and families, since many move away to live lives and careers of their own. New Arab immigrants immediately found a different type of Arab culture living in America. Lebanese Americans acculturated the American nuclear family, where gender roles shifted, something that is quite different from Old World family lifestyle. Women were leaving their homes to join the workforce, and men were investing more time and paternal care into their children. Women also play a more key role in public affairs outside the home, daughters are no longer always expected to live with their marital families, and both brother and sister alike are expected to care for their parents when they reach older age (Hajar and Jones, 2011).
During the early decades of Lebanese immigration into the U.S., there was a boom of Arab-American poets and writers, possibly due to the Arabic language itself being naturally a poetic language (Hajar and Jones, 2011). Regardless, many Lebanese Americans disregarded teaching their children Arabic so that they would more quickly assimilate into mainstream American society. Also, with the closing of immigration ports, fewer new immigrants with their pure Arab culture were coming into the U.S. To influence the Arab-Americans. This has been reversed in recent decades, with new Arab immigrants spawning a new age of Arabic language revitalization. However, these new Lebanese immigrants have been at the front lines of a new Arab-American social identity that started in the late 1990's. Along with Arab-American citizens, they faced a negative stereotyping of their identities upon the American mass-media stage, an arena that has openly portrayed anti-Arab sentiments, as well as strong ties towards Israel (Hajar and Jones, 2011).
Before the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Arab-Americans were categorized as white, and assimilated into mainstream society, even though they still maintained the cultures of their home countries (Salaita, 1967). It may be that it was easier to do so because a majority of them were Christians. After the Arab-Israeli War, Arab-Americans began to feel a sense of pride and nationality for their Old World home countries. What helped to fuel this nationalism was a new wave of Arab immigrants, this time mostly Muslim, coming into the U.S. from a homeland that just fought the war. These Muslims brought with them their old ideologies, cultures, and identities, and the Christian Arab-Americans took notice (Salaita, 2005). As many as 15,000 Arabs immigrated into the U.S. every year post-1967, with many coming from Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq (AAI, 2009). During the Lebanese war of the 1970's, this number increased.
The United States changed for Arab-Americans after 9/11 (Leonard, 2005). Since then, politicians and media have shaped Arab-American image, particularly those affiliated with Islam. Incidentally, this has also brought Muslims and Arab-Americans alike into more political and national spotlights. There are now more organizations and political leaders representative of Muslim and Arab-American communities emphasizing a Muslim/Arab/Americana mosaic identity (Leonard, 2005). Before 9/11, Arab-Americans were an ethnic group marginally visible to media (Salaita, 2005). This all changed post-9/11, but Arab-Americans were receiving a type of spotlight and identity creation which they had no control over (Salaita, 2005). Regardless, Americans were interested in knowing exactly who Arab-Americans were. The problem for Arab-Americans was that certain agencies and institutions were wary of their existence and actions, giving them negative media feedback.
Post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy has created an ugly image for Arab-Americans that wish to voice their opinions over issues involving the invasion of Iraq and the politics of Palestine (Salaita, 2005). Fear has spread in their communities over being marked as 'terrorists' or supporters of such, even though they just simply wish to say their opinions of the situations. This is not an over-zealous fear, for the negative spotlight that they got post-9/11 put them in awkward positions. Anyone who paints the picture of sympathy for Arabs in Iraq, Palestine, etc. may be subject to investigation and interrogation by U.S. government agencies. What is worse is the possibility of being black listed or labeled as a domestic terrorist. Speaking out against the U.S. war on terror could label them as anti-Semitic and/or anti-American, two labels that are very much taboo in U.S. society (Salaita, 2005).
Since 9/11, a link has been established between terrorism and Islam (Mamdani, 2002). However, it is not a link with every single Muslim, but with a select few known as Wahhabi, who interpret the texts from an extremist point-of-view. Furthermore it does not help that political leaders in the U.S. have concluded that Muslims in the Arab world do not practice or endorse democracy. Much talk about Old World Muslim culture stems from this narrow idea that culture doesn't change, and that all Muslim people are finite in their Old World ways (Mamdani, 2002). It also assumes that their everyday social behavior revolves entirely around religion. This has lead to a dichotomist American perception of Islam that distinguishes between good Muslims and bad Muslims, or plainly, good Arabs from bad Arabs. In reality, the narrow vision of what defines 'terrorist' among Arabs in America are represented by a very small group of relatively recent immigrants (AAI, 2009).
Arabic media is becoming more popular in urban centers where Arab-Americans flourish, places like L.A., Detroit, New York, and Chicago (Samhan, 2006). Ethnic enclaves within these urban sprawls tend to preserve Arab cultures, particularly because they limit social interaction outside their immediate social spheres. So geography in the U.S. can play a pivotal role in preserving ethnic diversity. Even though Arabs are classified as being white, most of them do not feel that they are treated as the Euro-American whites; they believe that they are treated like minorities (Samhan, 2006). Post-9/11, Arabs are being classified as Middle Eastern, regardless of history they or their families may have in the U.S. As citizens. This is interesting to note since the first waves of Arab immigrants came to the U.S. As far back as the 1880's.
Debates over interpretation and representation of Islam in America have led to new Islamic foundations based on Americanism (Leonard, 2005). This has spawned a new genre of print, internet, and T.V. media that creates a more vernacular standardization of Islam resulting in a new American Islamic style. Hip-hop music has become very popular among Arab-American youth, resulting in the use of urban dialects stemming from such (Salaita, 2005). The increase might be partly due to the sentiment that Arab-Americans have for the history of African-Americans. From slavery to segregation and oppression, truly…[continue]
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