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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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