Arab immigration

2011-01-26 08:34:41

The majority of Arabs in North America are the largely assimilated descendants of Christians who emigrated from the Syrian and Lebanese areas of the Ottoman Empire between 1875 and 1920. A second wave of immigration after 1940 was more diverse and more heavily Muslim, including substantial numbers from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001 1,202,871 Americans and 334,805 Canadians claimed Arab ancestry or descent from peoples of predominantly Arab countries. Some analysts estimate the U.S. figure at closer to 3 million. As late as 1980, about 90 percent were Christians, though the majority of immigrants since 1940 have been Muslims. The greatest concentration of Arabs in the United States is in the greater Detroit, Michigan, area, particularly Dearborn, with a population estimated at more than 200,000. Los Angeles County, California; Brooklyn, New York; and Cook County, Illinois, also have large Arab populations. Montreal, Quebec, has by far the largest Arab population in Canada.
Arab is a general ethnic term to designate the peoples who originated in the Arabian Peninsula. In modern times, it more generally applies to those who speak Arabic and embrace Arab culture. Arabs form the majority populations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Sudan is about 50 percent Arab. Some Arabs migrated northward into the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys about 3,000 years ago, mixing with various Persian and Indo-European peoples to form a common Mesopotamian culture.
From the late 16th century, most Arab lands were controlled or influenced by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Though Turkish influence waned in the 18th and 19th centuries, leading to greater European influence in northern Africa and the coastal regions of southwest Asia, the Ottoman Empire continued to control Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and much of the Arabian Peninsula until the end of World War I (1918).
The term Arab has been used in so many different ways that exact immigration figures are difficult to arrive at. When the number of people arriving in North America from the region of North Africa/Southwest Asia was small, immigrants from the Ottoman Empire were usually classified in the category “Turkey in Asia,” whether Arab, Turk, or Armenian. By 1899, U.S. immigration records began to make some distinctions, and by 1920, the category “Syrian” was introduced into the census, though religious distinctions still were not noticed. Throughout the 20th century, there was little consistency in designation, principally because overall numbers remained small. As a result, Arabs might variously have been listed according to country, as “other Asian” or “other African,” or as nationals of their last country of residence.
The first major movement of Arabs to North America came from Lebanon in the late 19th century. At the time, Lebanon was considered a region within the larger area of Syria, so the term Syrian was most often used. As “Syrian” Christians living in an Islamic empire, Lebanese Arabs were subject to persecution, though in good times they were afforded considerable autonomy. During periods of drought or economic decline, however, they frequently chose to emigrate. Between 1900 and 1914, about 6,000 immigrated to the United States annually. Often within one or two generations these Lebanese immigrants had moved into the middle class and largely assimilated themselves to American life. Although Syrians began migrating to Canada about the same time, their numbers were much smaller. As late as 1961, the population was less than 20,000. Though mostly Christians, they were divided into several branches, including Maronites, Eastern Orthodox, and Melkites. The next wave of Arabs to immigrate to North America, most in the wake of the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, were overwhelmingly Muslim and had little in common with those who had arrived early in the century.
See also Egyptian immigration; Iraqi immigration; Lebanese immigration; Moroccan immigration; Palestinian immigration; Syrian immigration.