Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Middle Eastern Immigrants

According to a Nepali newspaper, the U.S. military is recruiting over 500 immigrant speakers of Arabic, Hindi, Pashto and other Asian languages in New York City as part of a pilot program. (The last time the military allowed immigrants with temporary visas to enlist was during the Vietnam War.) New York's Middle Eastern and South Asian communities have a rich history; the tenants of 97 Orchard likely heard some of the above languages on the street. Curitorial Director Dave explains.

Was there ever a significant Arabic-speaking population on the Lower East Side or in New York City?

New York’s Arab community, largely Syrian-Lebanese, dates from the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By 1900, half of the Syrians in the United States resided in New York City. The first Arabs did not arrive in the city until the 1870s, but that population grew to several thousand by 1920, mostly located on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Others lived in Brooklyn, eventually the center of the city’s Arab community, although many still commuted to work in Manhattan. New York’s Syrian population was overwhelmingly Christian and large enough to support several churches, newspapers, and ethnic organizations, such as the Syrian Ladies Aid Society, which helped new immigrants. Male immigrants made their living by peddling, factory work, and running small businesses, while the women who worked were concentrated in factories manufacturing negligees, kimonos, lace, and embroidery. Syrian craftsmen were noted for rugs and tapestries.

After 1907, a community of Levantine Jews settled among the Romanians between Allen and Chrystie Streets on the Lower East Side. These approximately 10,000 refugees from upheavals within the Turkish Empire with their distinctive customs, religious practices, and languages were an island in a sea of East European Jews. The majority conversed in Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), but there were also some 1,000 Arabic-speaking Syrian Jews and a slightly smaller contingent whose first language was Greek.

Post-1965 liberal immigration policies encouraged a considerable number of Arabic-speaking Middle Easterners to immigrate to the United States. They had economic motives for doing so, but the constant turmoil in that region also fed their desire to escape. The center of this more recent Arab settlement in New York City was Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue section with its many restaurants, bakeries, and Arab-run shops. This new Arab immigration differed from that of the early twentieth century. While those that came before World War II were typically Christians, most of the newcomers were Muslims. Growing numbers of Muslim New Yorkers attended the seventy old and newly established mosques that existed in 1993 and participated in the annual fall observation of Ramadan. Such occasions brought Arabs together with Muslims from Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as well as African-Americans of that religious persuasion. In April 1991, the newest and largest mosque in New York opened on West 96th Street in Manhattan, with space for 1,000 worshippers. Muslims have also established ten schools in the city to provide religious and secular education for their children.

1 comment:

  1. it would be nice for the middle eastern immigrants mentioned above to be recognized among the other groups the museum acknowledges. it's almost like in so many ways, in a time of islamophobia, and post-9/11 hysteria that history is trying to be erased. little syria it was, here's to a progressive turn for the arts community to reject these foolish prejudices.


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