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Gibran's Message to Young Americans of Syrian Origin

Gibran's Message to Young Americans of Syrian Origin by G.K. Gibran, Author of "The Prophet," "Jesus the Son of Man," etc.

(Written Especially for The Syrian World)

Reprinted from the First Issue of The Syrian World, July, 1926

I believe in you, and I believe in your destiny. I believe that you are contributors to this new civilization.

I believe that you have inherited from your forefathers an ancient dream, a song, a prophecy, which you can proudly lay as a gift of gratitude upon the lap of America.

I believe you can say to the founders of this great nation, "Here I am, a youth, a young tree, whose roots were plucked from the hills of Lebanon, yet I am deeply rooted here, and I would be fruitful."

And I believe that you can say to Abraham Lincoln, the blessed, "Jesus of Nazareth touched your lips when you spoke, and guided your hand when you wrote; and I shall uphold all that you have said and all that you have written."

I believe that you can say to Emerson and Whitman and James, "In my veins runs the blood of the poets and wise men of old, and it is my desire to come to you and receive, but I shall not come with empty hands."

I believe that even as your fathers came to this land to produce riches, you were born here to produce riches by intelligence, by labor.

And I believe that is in you to be good citizens. And what is it to be a good citizen?

It is to acknowledge the other person's rights before asserting your own, but always to be conscious of your own.

It is to be free in thought and deed, but it is also to know that your freedom is subject to the other person's freedom.

It is to create the useful and the beautiful with your own hands, and to admire what others have created in love and with faith.

It is to produce wealth by labor and only by labor, and to spend less than you have produced that your children may not be dependent on the state for support when you are no more.

It is to stand before the towers of New York, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco saying in your heart, "I am the descendant of a people that builded [sic] Damascus, and Biblus, and Tyre and Sidon, and Antioch, and now I am here to build with you, and with a will."

It is to be proud of being an American, but it is also to be proud that your fathers and mothers came from a land upon which God laid His gracious hand and raised His messengers.

Young Americans of Syrian origin, I believe in you.


Partial Transcript of Interview with Mary Farha, donor of poster

Conducted by Alexa Naff, September 22, 1988

Naff: Mrs. Farha donated today to the Arab American Collection a lovely framed copy of Gibran's "Message to the Syrian Youth." I'm going to get a brief life history from Mrs. Farha. Born in 1916, she is 72 years old.

Q: Let's talk about the immigration of your...Your father came first? Before your mother?

A: Yes, he came to New York and then...the purpose of his coming to America was that he had heard of Rockefeller, and he wanted to become an entrepreneur like Rockefeller.

Q: Where did he hear of him?

A: He was educated in a Presbyterian missionary school, and he knew five languages.

Q: Did he? At the age of 16 when he came?

A: Yes, he knew Turkish and Greek and English--part English from the Missionary-and Lebanese, Arabic.

Q: Wonderful--then he really did have a good education. You said that he was born in 1879?

A: Yes.

Q: Came at the age of 16? Immigrated in 1896 and came through Ellis Island to New York?

A: Yes.

Q: Your mother...

A: They came to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Q: Was your mother educated also?

A: My mother read and wrote Arabic beautifully. She used to read the newspapers and the novels and stories and the Bible. But she just could not learn English. She was too busy. She had 10 children. My father would not allow us to read and write Arabic. He said, "You are an American. You're never going back there. You' re going to live here all your life and so you pledge allegiance to that flag, and that's the end of it." So he made us become as American as we could possibly be.

Q: This brings me to the artifact which you donated today, which was this beautifully framed copy of Gibran's message to the young Syrians in America. When do you think your father got it and why do you think he was so attracted to it that he wanted to frame it that beautifully?

A: Well, he had 10 children; three boys and seven girls, and he wanted us to know about Gibran because he had met him in New York when he went on buying trips [for his hotel linen business], and they would have sahras [festive evenings]…


Arab American Immigration

The early immigration of Arabs to the United States, from about 1880 to 1940, and their rapid assimilation is a complex and largely unfamiliar story. Thousands of young Arabs arrived in America shortly before World War I. The great majority came from villages in the Mount Lebanon area of the Ottoman Empire, now western Syria. Speaking Arabic dialects and holding Christian, Islamic, and Druze faiths, they quickly established family and trading networks across America. Nearly 90 percent of the early Arab immigrants began as peddlers. Despite its hardships, peddling fulfilled aspirations for economic and social mobility. Early Arab peddlers often planned to return to their villages and use their profits to elevate the status of their families. But by the 1920s, as they noted the business success of their friends and neighbors, the slowing of immigration, and conflicts in their homelands, most Arabs in America decided to stay. In time, trucks replaced wagons and packs, and imported goods joined the inventory. Many successful peddlers eventually opened stores. They created Arab American communities that remained stable despite remarkably fluid membership. Most Arab Americans were successful and quickly merged into the mainstream of American life, though elements of their Arabic cultural heritage persisted.


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