There are about 3.5 million Arab Americans in the United States; the majority of these immigrants are of Lebanese descent. As individuals and as a community, they have been demonstrating loyalty, inventiveness, and courage on behalf of the United States for over 100 years.
Lebanese Americans are American citizens of Lebanese descent. This includes both those who are native to the United States as well as Lebanese immigrants to America. The vast majority of them are Christians, in particular Maronites. Lebanese Americans are the largest Arab group in America, comprising 0.16% of the American population (of the American Community Survey estimations for year 2007) and 32.4% of all Arabs. Over three million Americans are estimated to have at least partial Lebanese ancestry according to Lebanese American activists.
The earliest immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean were generally lumped together under the common rubric of Syrian-Lebanese, and it is consequently difficult to separate the number of ethnic Lebanese immigrants from ethnic Syrian immigrants. Neither of these countries came into being as nation-states until the mid-twentieth century; thus records and statistics for both groups are generally combined for early immigration patterns. Such difficulties with early immigration records are further exacerbated because of religious affiliation, both Muslim as well as myriad Christian denominations, which cut across national and ethnic lines in the region.
THE FIRST LEBANESE IN AMERICA
Immigrants from the region of the former Greater Syria account for close to two-thirds of the estimated 2.5 million people in the United States who are of Arabic descent. Christian Lebanese were the first Arabic-speaking people to come to the Americas in large numbers. Their earliest immigration to the United States began in the late 1870s, peaked in 1914 at 9,023, dropped to a few hundred a year during World War I, and rose again during the early
"Wherever they went, Lebanese carried with them their derbakke, as small drum held under the arm and played with the finger tips. To the beat of the derbakke and the music from their voices, they danced traditional circle and handkerchief dances."
The first known Lebanese immigrant to the United States was Antonios Bishallany, a Maronite Christian, who arrived in Boston Harbor in 1854. He died in Brooklyn, New York in 1856 on his 29th birthday. Large scale Lebanese immigration began in the late 19th century, when immigrants from what was at the time part of Syria began entering America. They settled mainly in Brooklyn and Boston, Massachusetts. While they were marked as Syrians, the vast majority of them were Christians from Mount Lebanon. Upon entering America, many of the Lebanese and Syrians worked as peddlers. This wave continued through the 1920s. During the first wave, an estimated 100,000 Lebanese had immigrated to America. Many immigrants settled in North New Jersey, in towns such as Bloomfield, Paterson, Newark, and Orange. Some immigrants set out west, with Detroit, Michigan gaining a large number of all Lebanese immigrants. Others bought farms in states such as Texas, South Dakota and Iowa.
The second wave of Lebanese immigration began in the late 1940s and continued through the early 1990s, when Lebanese immigrants had been fleeing the Lebanese Civil War. Between 1948 and 1985, over 60,000 Lebanese entered the United States. Since then, immigration has slowed down to an estimated 5,000 immigrants a year, and those who do settle these days are predominately Muslim, different from the predominately Christian population of immigrants during the first wave.
Most Lebanese speak Arabic. Arabic is a poetic language and poets are prized in Arab culture. In its first 50 years in America, the Lebanese American community enjoyed a golden age of letters, with the literature of such New York experimental poets as Khalil Gibran, Ameen Rihany, and Elia Abu-Madey casting their influence on literary circles of the Middle East. However, in their desire to embrace American culture, many Lebanese Americans did little to teach their American-born children to read Arabic. Immigration quota restrictions accelerated the problem. Without a continuous influx of new readership, once-flourishing Arab American newspapers and journals experienced a steep decline. Christian churches streamlined their Arabic services, and changed many of them to English. Newly arrived Lebanese immigrants to the United States, however, have reinvigorated Arabic language usage within the community. Many Arabic churches now have bilingual announcements, bulletins, and sermons, and the business signs in Arab commercial neighborhoods are often painted prominently in Arabic. In particular, Lebanese Muslim immigrants have contributed to the increase in Arabic usage and have developed Arabic-language classes for children.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY DYNAMICS
Traditionally, Lebanese families and extended families operate as a unit, relying on each other implicitly in social, financial, and business affairs. The father is the decision maker, and the mother his close advisor. Her domain is the daily life of the children and all that happens within the home; the man's domain is strictly outside the home. The firstborn son plays a special role in the family, for he brings his bride to live with his parents, raises his family in his parents' household, and cares for them in their old age.
As Lebanese American families have adopted the American pattern of nuclear families, the dividing line between gender roles has blurred. Fathers spend more time with their small children, and mothers frequently represent the families in public, for example, at school meetings. Independent households are now the norm and daughters no longer become part of their marital families. Consequently, sisters share responsibility with their brothers for aging parents.
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
Lebanese Americans are a deeply religious people. In Lebanese culture, age is greatly respected, and respect for parents is extremely valued. Family is at the core of Lebanese social identity and loyalty to family has traditionally superseded all other allegiances. Each person is expected to protect the family's honor. In Lebanese culture, roles are often defined by gender, and this social definition anchors both men and women in their respective roles. Women are to be protected by other family members. Men are the undisputed heads of families, and take the concerns of other members into consideration. In Lebanese American families, the welfare of the group is considered more important than the needs of the individual. Lebanese Americans are known for their elaborate and warm hospitality and it is considered rude not to offer food and drink to a guest.
Americanization, with its emphasis on youth, personal achievement, individualism, and independence, has eroded some of these traditional beliefs and practices. The Arab respect for age, though still stronger in comparison to the larger society, has decreased. Though the family is highly valued among Lebanese Americans, the belief in family honor has lessened, in part because families are not longer living together in close circles. Family roles are less gender-defined in the United States. Hospitality has also changed: doors are locked, schedules are tight, and people are preoccupied with their own personal concerns. New immigrants who come expecting the kind of help from settled relatives that they themselves would have offered back in the village are often sorely disappointed; they soon discover that they are expected, like everyone else in America, to make it on their own.
GREETINGS AND OTHER COMMON EXPRESSIONS
Greetings in Arabic are elaborate, and there is usually a response and counter-response to every one. Ahlein—"Welcome"; or the longer Ahlan wa Sahlan—"You are with your people and in a level place"(a greeting appropriate at the door or when being introduced to someone for the first time); the more casual Marhaba—"Hello," responded to with Marhabteen—"Two hellos"; to which the response is Maraahib—"A bunch of hellos." Similarly, the response to the morning greeting, Sabaah al-kheir— "The morning is good," is Sabaah an-noor—"The morning is light." The evening greeting and response are Masa al-kheir and Masa n-noor. Leave-takings are extremely elaborate: the person leaving says Bkhatrak to a woman, Khatrik and to a group, Khatirkum, which translates as "By your leave." The response is Ma'a salaame—"With safety," or "Go in peace"; to which the counter-response is Allay salmak, or Allay salmik to a female, and Allay salimkum to a group—"May God keep you safe." The holiday greeting is 'Eid Mubarak—"Holiday blessings"; and Kull sane w'inte saalim—"Every year and you are safe." Sahteen is the Arabic toast—"May your good health be twofold." Arabic is filled with references to God. For example, the most common response to Keif haalak?—"How are you?" is Nushkar Allah—"(We) Thank God." Often heard after a statement of intention are the words In sha Allah— "If God wills it." Such phrases imply the belief in human impotence to control the affairs of the world.
- ^ "B04003. Total Ancestry Reported". 2007 American Community Survey. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on 2008-11-15.
- ^ Every Culture - Lebanese American
- ^ American Fact Finder
- ^ Lebanese Americans
- ^ Middle East Curriculum
- ^ Lebanese Americans: Information and Much More from Answers.com
- ^ Lebanese Americans, Celebrities, Photos and Information
- ^ a b U.S. Arab population doubles over 20 years - News
- ^ The Arab American Institute