Sydney Jones Overview 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. Early Lebanese settlers in America came mostly from Beirut, Mount Hermon, and surrounding regions of present-day Lebanon, a nation located at the extreme eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea.
Syria forms Lebanon's northern and eastern borders. Israel lies directly south of Lebanon, with the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Lebanon's land mass is 4, square miles 10, square kilometers , and its population is estimated at between 3 and 3.
The capital, Beirut, was often referred to as the "Paris of the Middle East. Lebanon is named for the major mountain range that runs north to south through the middle of the country.
The Cedars of Lebanon, famous since Biblical times, are now protected in a few mountain groves. Arabic is the official language of the country, and is even spoken by the minority population of Lebanese Jews. French and English are also widely spoken.
The population of the country is made up of ethnic groups from every Middle Eastern country, which is reflective of Lebanon's long history. In Lebanon, there is no religious majority. Both Muslims and Christians have many sectarian subdivisions, 17 in all. Among the Muslim population, the Shi'a are the most numerous with about 35 percent, the Sunni number around 23 percent, and the Druze comprise 6 percent. Christians, who account for under two-fifths of the total Lebanese population, include the Maronites the most numerous and the most powerful at 22 percent, the Eastern Orthodox at 10 percent; Melkites Greek Catholics and Armenians, each at 6 percent, and Protestants at 2.
Through Lebanon's unwritten National Pact of , political power was apportioned between Christians and Muslims. Originally, the ratio was six to five, Christian to Muslim. Since , power has been shared equally by both groups. Various government offices are still reserved for specific sects: Throughout its history, there have been movements within Lebanon to "deconfessionalize"—to create a one-person, one-vote system instead of apportioning representation and political offices by religious affiliation.
These efforts are ongoing at the end of the twentieth century. At the time of the first immigration wave to the West, Lebanon was not yet a sovereign nation; Because the Ottomans administered their subject peoples according to their religious affiliation, early immigrants from Greater Syria identified with their religious sect rather than any nationality.
A sense of national identity did not begin to form among the Greater Syrians until the s, when Lebanon became a separate French protectorate. This identity strengthened in the s, when Lebanon gained independence.
As a witness to the rise and fall of the Mesopotamian, Hittite, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Greek empires, Lebanon has a distinct history. In the second and early first millennium B. Famous as sailors and traders, the Phoenicians lived along the Lebanese coast in the port cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Biblos.
They also founded colonies in North Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean. A succession of peoples, including Persians, Greeks, and Romans, challenged Phoenician power.
With the rise of Islam in the East, the population adopted Arabic culture but also maintained its multi-religious character as the mountains of Lebanon became a haven for various religious sects. After the Ottoman Empire gained general control of the area in , Lebanon continued to maintain a feudal system of rule by local chieftains. After , the year many Christians were massacred by the Druze in Lebanon and Damascus, the French, who had economic and strategic interests in Lebanon since the Crusades, created a protectorate.
During the next 50 years, the people of Lebanon became increasingly interested in Western culture, independence from the Ottomans, and a revival of the Arabic language. England assumed control of what became Palestine and Jordan, and France took over what became Syria and Lebanon. After gaining independence from the French in , Lebanon became known as the "Switzerland of the Middle East.
The political inequities that had existed within Lebanon for decades were exacerbated by severe economic divisions, the resistance of those in power to addressing the needs of the poor, and the weakness of the public sector. For 16 years, Lebanon was torn apart by fighting between Christians and Muslims. Although a tentative peace agreement in ended the war, many problems remain. Several thousand Syrian troops, who entered Lebanon during the civil war, remain in the country.
Relations with Israel have long been contentious and border skirmishes are fought periodically between the two nations. Israel also occupies areas of southern Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Lebanon is striving to reconstruct itself physically, economically, and politically. 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 s, peaked in at 9,, dropped to a few hundred a year during World War I, and rose again during the early "W herever 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. Later, with the passage of the Immigration Quota Act — , it dropped to a few hundred a year. When the second wave of Arab immigration to the United States began in the late s, the descendants of the early Lebanese immigrants were in their third generation and had almost completely assimilated into mainstream America.
In the s and s, the Arabic-speaking population of the United States began to grow again, and Lebanese Americans assumed a higher ethnic profile.
Many factors spurred large-scale Lebanese immigration to America in the late nineteenth century. For instance, many emigrants were inspired by tales of American freedom and equality that were told by American missionaries doctors and teachers. Also, the world fairs that took place in Philadelphia , Chicago , and St. Louis exposed participating Greater Syrians to Americans and American society. For the majority of Lebanese emigrants, the determining factors were economic ambition and family competition.
For many Lebanese families, having a son or daughter in America became a visible mark of status. Young men were the first to emigrate, followed by young women and later wives and entire families. Some villages lost their most talented young people. Between the late s and World War I , Lebanon lost over one quarter of its population to emigration.
During World War I, it lost about another fifth to famine. Immigrants abroad played a major role in the country's postwar reconstruction and subsequent independence. The civil war sparked a new wave of emigration from Lebanon.
Many Lebanese went to Europe. Those who came to the United States reinvigorated Lebanese American ethnic life. Most of the new immigrants were better educated and were more conscious of their Arab identity than their predecessors. Many Lebanese Americans who are Muslims devoutly maintain their Islamic traditions and are cautious about assimilating fully into American culture.
Peddlers who traveled to New England and upstate New York communities, as well as those in the Midwest and the West, often stayed on and opened general stores. Some of the largest concentrations of Lebanese Americans are found in the Northeast and Midwest.
Detroit has one of the largest Lebanese American communities in the country, and there are new communities in Los Angeles and Houston.
Acculturation and Assimilation The first Lebanese who came to America were considered exotic—their baggy pants shirwal and fezzes made them stand out even among other immigrants. Later, when enclave living and the ubiquitous peddler made immigrants from Greater Syria a visible presence, attitudes toward them darkened. During a Senate debate on immigration quotas in , Senator David Reed of Pennsylvania referred to Syrian-Lebanese as the "trash of the Mediterranean. Pictured are some of the Arab American artifacts she has been collecting since Lebanese immigrants to meet regularly with other Americans, and helped them to quickly absorb the English language and American culture.
Many Lebanese American women worked in war-related industries during World War II, which hastened their assimilation into American culture. By the end of World War II, it was not uncommon for Lebanese American women to work outside the home or family business. Lebanese Americans worked hard to assimilate rapidly into mainstream American society. Many Anglicized their names, joined Western churches, and focused their energies on becoming financially successful.
In the late s, Lebanese Americans faced many of the same problems as other Arab Americans. They have often been the victims of negative stereotyping, especially in films, theater, books, and cartoons. Lebanese Americans have also experienced anti-Arab sentiments in American politics. Because the United States has strong ties with Israel, Arab Americans have often felt that American politicians have little interest in understanding Arab hostility toward Israel. During the s, some political candidates rejected financial support from Arab Americans in order not to appear unsympathetic toward Israel.
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: 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.
Kibbee is ground lamb meat mixed with bulgur wheat and eaten either baked or raw. Yellow and green squash, called koosa, are hollowed out, stuffed with rice and ground lamb meat, and cooked in a tomato sauce.