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“Fire in the city air and I

feared for my sister’s life in

a way never before,
And then, and now, I fear
for the rest of us.”
“Right now,
-Suheir Hammad
The face of terror
Like “My Palestinian cousins in
Texas have beautiful
brown little boys.
-Richard Montoya Many of them haven’t
gone to school yet. And
now they have this heavy
word to carry in their
backpacks along with
weight of their papers and
Arab Americans
By Aaron and Tracy
Defining the term Arab American
The term “Arab American” refers to
immigrants to North America from the
Arabic-speaking countries of the Middle
East and their descendants
Cultural Fiction
Cultural Facts

Common factual words to describe the Arab American population:

-Law abiding
-Family oriented

Important Values of the Arab American culture:

-Education and Learning
-As detailed by the FBI

The Middle East (or West Asia) sits where Africa,

Asia and Europe meet.
-There are 20-23 Arab countries in North
Africa and the Middle East
*225-280 million people

-One of the fastest growing groups

worldwide; especially in Western countries

-Population of 3-3.5 million in United States

In the United States
-The Lebanese population is the largest
group of Arab Americans and account for
39% of the population

-1/3 of the Arab American population live in

California, Michigan, and New York
-also large populations in: Illinois,
Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Arab American History

Two Major Waves of Immigration

-From the 1870’s to World War II

-large numbers in the 1880s

-From World War II to the present

Problems with charting immigration
-Immigration officials used different classifications
-until 1899 immigration statistics logged
Arabs in the same category as Greeks,
Armenians, and Turks

-Used different labels/names to describe

population at different times
-for example until WWII Syrian or Syrian-
Lebanese was the most common
The First Wave
1870’s to World War II
-most Arab immigrants came from the Greater
Syria region, especially present-day Lebanon

-were mostly Christian

-remember the Middle East is where
Christianity developed

-estimated 130,000 Arab Americans by the late

1930s and right before WWI up to 350,000

-considered themselves sojourners; not part of

American society
Reasons for 1st Wave Immigration
-economic necessity
-the economy suffered crippling blows in the mid-1880’s
when trade routes shifted away from Syria
-the second major blow was in the 1890’s when
Lebanese vineyards invaded by phylloxera (a grape
eating insect) and left in ruins

-Rapid population increase Syrian

-agriculture and industry could not keep up
-the subsistence economy could now only support one
child and other children had to fend for themselves
Reasons for 1st Wave Immigration
-Personal Advancement
-lured by the promise of the New World great wealth

-To escape religious persecution and the lack of

political and civil freedom by the Ottoman
-Christians were not accorded equal status as their
Muslim neighbors

-For safety of their families

-leaving to avoid the massacres because of religious
Reasons for 1st Wave Immigration
-Other reasons
-Improved transportation and communication worldwide

-development of steam navigation made sea travel safer

and shorter

-aggressiveness of agents of steamship companies in

recruiting new immigrant passengers
1st Wave Immigrants
-illiterate in any language
-unskilled workers
-mostly factory workers and miners
1st Wave Immigrants
Becoming Peddlers
-was a way to escape poverty and unskilled labor jobs
-did not require training, capital, or in depth knowledge of
-usually a better-established fellow Arab immigrant would
help get “suitcase” to start
-still required hard work and long hours but a greater
opportunity for profit
-start of Arab Americans opening dry-good stores
The Second Wave
-This wave of immigrants came from all
parts of the Arab world
-especially from Palestine, Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Yemen

-Had larger numbers of Muslim community

-In the 1990s it is estimated at less than 1

million to today it is estimated at 3 million
Second Wave Immigrants
Reasons for Immigration
-economic need and attraction of a major
industrial society

-regional conflicts and civil wars

-major social and political changes

-especially for wealthy or middle class
-wanted U.S. for democratic haven

-psychological piece
-the world seemed smaller and the thought of
migration is more acceptable
Second Wave Immigrants
-relatively well-off
-semi or highly educated professional
-students at American universities who decided to
-wanted to educate American society on the Arab
-created more political and champion organizations
to support the Arab communities and their
Life in America
-Large engagement in commerce

-Dreams of retiring in old village or


-Primary long term contacts were with other

Arab Americans

-Formed own residential communities

Major differences between 1st and
2nd Waves
1st Wave immigrants first thought of
themselves as sojourners and once
decided to stay assimilated to fit in

2nd Wave immigrants had a revival of the

heritage and identity as an ethnic
community, came to the country prepared
to stay from the beginning
The two immigrant waves had differences
based on characteristics and the different
challenges faced in social and political

The two communities began to come

together in the 1960s, especially after the
1967 Arab-Israeli war
-compare this concept to the out
pouring of patriotism in American after
September 11.
-Metropolitan Detroit is home to roughly 300,000 Arab
Americans and is one of the largest populations of Arabs
outside the Middle East

-Arab-Americans have been in the United States for many

-The earliest records show descendants of Middle
Eastern families who settled the Detroit area starting in
the 1890s (mostly merchants and peddlers)

-Up to 5,000 Arabs emigrate to the Detroit area each year

Religious Demographics
-63 percent of all Arab-Americans are Christians
-35 percent of all Arab-Americans are
Catholic or Eastern Orthodox

-24 percent are Muslim

-The remainder belong to other religions or no

Things to Know
Arab Americans: a complex culture

-Politically Diverse: monarchies, socialist parties and

militant parties, etc.

-Religiously Diverse: Islam (primary), Christian, Jewish,

Bahais, Alaouis, Zoroastrians

-Contributions of their rich cultural heritage: Religion,

Philosophy, Literature, Medicine, Architecture, Art,
Mathematics, Natural Sciences
Things to Know
Cultural Knowledge

-The Arab American culture operates in a

patriarchal context

-Kinship structure is called the Hamula

-details a family lineage through a
common male ancestor

Things to Know
Rules of Socialization

• Expect minimal eye contact

• Especially between different sexes!

• Never show the soles of your shoes

• Don’t slouch in chairs

• Handshaking

• Gender Differences
Post-September 11
-Destruction of civil liberties
-Racial Profiling
-Loss of safety
-Family members would just disappear
-Worry about informants and spies
-Challenges to applying for citizenship
-Living in a world of political conflict

-Life under a microscope of World Focus

September 11, 2001
Not Just Our Day of Devastation
 Fact vs. Fiction

-Deliberate mythmaking by film and media

-The U.S. government selling of a political agenda

-Public susceptibility

 Fear and Grief helped perpetuate these beliefs

History Repeats Itself…

*Backward movement on racism based on fear

-Japanese Americans 1940’s

-Native Americans

-Nazis Genocide
Arab American Communities

What they hope for…

…to eliminate crime in their neighborhoods

…to feel safe

…to watch their children thrive

…to not be the face of terrorists

What they got instead
-Living in fear

-Always under suspicion

-hate mail/death threats

-informants and spies in their communities

-loss of culture due to fear

Definition of Cultural Competence
 A working definition:
– to seek to understand the various and
integrated factors that make up the diverse
ethnicity of Arab-Americans, and apply these
concepts to a workable service plan that
shows honor and respect within each cultural
– Ethnicity = Arab (like Latino-Hispanic)
Culture/Nationalism = Lebanese, Egyptian
Cultural Awareness
 Generalist- need to understand the culture
around you. Are they Arab, Persian,
Turkish, Afghani, or another group?
– If they are Arab, need to find out level of
traditional practice in the home, within the
cultural/nationalistic framework.
 Advanced- need to understand the various
life stages of Arab ethnicity. How they
view death, honor, illness, and religion.
Knowledge Acquisition
 Generalist level- important to know the
demographics of Arab population.
– Census 2000
 under-representation
– Zogby International and other polling
 Advanced level- important to know specific
theoretical contexts for Arab Americans.
– Ethnicity, culture, minority, class, nationalism,
Special Tools
 Generalist level- case studies, cultural
guides, media, and related sociological
journals. Empowerment perspective
through passive-aggressive means.
 Advanced level- need assessments, focus
groups, community centers, economic
primer programs. Task-centered
perspective utilized in a seemingly passive
way. Learn the Arabic language.
Implications, Implications,
 Micro-
– traditional Arab families have not utilized
social workers in the past, they will not
usually want to engage in a work relationship.
They see their families as their support
network and service provider
– start with a general knowledge base and then
ask rather sensitive questions to determine
cultural/nationalistic affiliations and level of
More Micro
– Use genograms and ecomaps to show the
client their familial and community resources
– Empower clients towards self-determination
whenever possible
– Keep up relationships with clients who have
done well in working relationships. They may
be cultural guides/interpreters some day
– Learn some basic Arabic phrases to read and
Implications on Mezzo
 Agency-
– sensitive program development that utilizes
the strong familial and community ties
– focus on programs that build pride and
 Economic/business
 Heritage and Community Centers
 Higher Educational opportunities
 Legacy and long-term programs (community bldg)
Implications on Macro
 Community/National
– Advocate for policies that:
 protect Arab freedom, less stringent/intrusive
 promote growth of Arab communities
 promote understanding of Arab population
 display accurate data on Arab demographics
– Census 2000
 help empower Arabs to advocate for themselves
through sneaky, passive means ;)
 Remember that Arabs are proud, and
sensitive to any type of shame.
 They are a hurting people who feel that
they are not always at home, but are
more like refugees until they are accepted
 They want what everyone else wants in
 They are fighting in our armed services
Case Study - Implications
 ACCESS- in Dearborn, MI
– Serves greater Detroit Metro area
– Close to 400,000 Arab Americans in the area
The Process
 Important to continue to gain knowledge,
because we probably will not be working
in such a context like ACCESS
– research, cultural guides, travel to Arab
communities, confer with Arab program
workers, know current events here in U.S.
and abroad that affect Arabs, attend events,
and review the literature often.
Graduate School
*Price for books: $500/semester

*Cost of Graduate school: $20,000/year

*Average amount of sleep: 5 hours/nightly


*Using our cultural competency knowledge to

counteract racism: Priceless
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