Veiled Identities: Arab American Gender Identities Throughout the Twentieth Century
Al-Dookhi, Alyssa Bader Abdullatif Farhan
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Arabs have been immigrating to the United States since the late nineteenth century, and there are approximately 850,000 people of Arab ancestry living there today. Arabs arrived in the U.S. in two major waves; the first began around 1875, the second just after the Second World War. In Arab homes across the U.S., tensions between traditional Arab culture and mainstream American culture created a unique Arab American identity. These tensions also created unique gender identities among people who considered themselves both Arab and American. Immigrants and their children reconciled their traditional ideas about gender with those of American mainstream society. They did this for a variety of economic, social, and political reasons, but most importantly because first-generation Arabs in America wanted to assimilate into American society to avoid the stereotypes and xenophobia of native-born Americans. The first wave of Arab immigrants came to the U.S. beginning in the early 1870s. They came mostly from small farming villages in modem-day Lebanon which was, at the time, a province of the Ottoman Empire called Greater Syria, which also included modern-day Jordan and Palestine. The first wave lasted until the mid-1920s, when poverty and changes in American immigration laws made the journey impossible for many. The occupation of Palestine brought many politically-minded college students and professionals to the U.S., mostly from Palestine, breathing new life into long-standing Arab communities. In the political climate resulting from the creation of the Israeli state, they also exchanged radical ideas with second- and third-generation immigrant descendants who now -identified as Arab Americans, unlike their parents and the recent immigrants, who considered themselves Arabs in America. As stated above, this first generation arrived with traditional Arab ideas about gender and family that affected the way the viewed themselves later as Americans.
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