Written By: Paula Hajar and J. Sydney Jones
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 4,015 square miles (10,400 square kilometers), and its population is estimated at between 3 and 3.5 million. The capital, Beirut, was often referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East.” Beirut was also considered the commercial center of the Middle East before the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s.
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. The Armenian population speaks mostly Armenian or Turkish, while Assyrians speak Syriac. French and English are also widely spoken. A land of varied terrain, Lebanon encompasses coastline, mqountain, and fertile growing regions such as the Bekáa Valley, which is a primary cereal-producing region. 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 2.5 percent. Through Lebanon’s unwritten National Pact of 1943, political power was apportioned between Christians and Muslims. Originally, the ratio was six to five, Christian to Muslim. Since 1992, power has been shared equally by both groups. Various government offices are still reserved for specific sects: the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim; the president is always a Maronite, and the speaker of the house is always a Shiite. 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.
From 1516 until 1916, when the Ottoman Empire was dismembered by the victors of World War I, the area that is now Lebanon was part of the Ottoman province of Greater Syria. 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 1920s, when Lebanon became a separate French protectorate. This identity strengthened in the 1940s, 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.C., the Canaanites, who became known as Phoenicians, were the first inhabitants of Lebanon. 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 1516, Lebanon continued to maintain a feudal system of rule by local chieftains. After 1860, 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.
With the fall of the Ottoman Empire during World War I, England and France divided the area into English and French protectorates. England assumed control of what became Palestine and Jordan, and France took over what became Syria and Lebanon. At this time, France divided Mount Lebanon from Syria and, adding the coastal area, created an entity called “The State of Greater Lebanon.” In 1926 the Republics of Lebanon and Syria were created, but it was not until 1941 that each gained full independence, and the last French troops did not depart until 1946.
After gaining independence from the French in 1943, Lebanon became known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East.” However, its delicate political and demographic equilibrium was shattered in 1975 when civil war erupted. 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 1991 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.
THE FIRST LEBANESE IN AMERICA
Immigrants from the region of the former Greater Syria account for close to two-thirds of the estimated 2.5 million people in the United States who are of Arabic descent. 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 1870s, peaked in 1914 at 9,023, dropped to a few hundred a year during World War I, and rose again during the early 1920s, fluctuating between 1,600 and 5,000. Later, with the passage of the Immigration Quota Act (1929–1965), it dropped to a few hundred a year.
When the second wave of Arab immigration to the United States began in the late 1960s, the descendants of the early Lebanese immigrants were in their third generation and had almost completely assimilated into mainstream America. In the 1970s and 1980s, 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 (1876), Chicago (1893), and St. Louis (1904) 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 1870s and World War I (1914-1918), 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 1975-1991 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.
Lebanese Americans have settled all over the United States. 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. Lebanese developed important communities in Utica, New York; Boston, Lawrence, Lowell, and Springfield, Massachusetts; Fall River, Rhode Island; and Danbury, Connecticut. They also settled in New Orleans, Louisiana; Jacksonville, Florida; Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan; and Toledo, Ohio. 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 1929, Senator David Reed of Pennsylvania referred to Syrian-Lebanese as the “trash of the Mediterranean.” Working as peddlers allowed Lebanese immigrants to meet regularly with other Americans, and helped them to quickly absorb the English language and American culture. Service in the American armed forces during World Wars I and II also hastened the assimilation of Lebanese Americans. 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 1990s, 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 1980s, some political candidates rejected financial support from Arab Americans in order not to appear unsympathetic toward Israel.
TRADITIONS, CUSTOMS, AND BELIEFS
Lebanese Americans are a deeply religious people. 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: doors are locked, schedules are tight, and people are preoccupied with their own personal concerns. 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.
Some common Lebanese dishes are described in this section, and it should be noted that the seasoning used in Lebanese cuisine is always subtle. 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. The insides of the squash are often fried in olive oil as a separate dish. The ground lamb and rice stuffing mixture ( mahshee ) is sometimes wrapped in grape leaves ( wara’ ‘anab ) and served with yogurt, or in cabbage leaves ( malfoof ) and served with lemon juice. Sfeeha are small, open square pies of ground lamb meat and pine nuts, sometimes made with a thin tomato sauce.
Lebanese food is widely available in gourmet food shops and health food restaurants. Pita bread, hummus (chickpea dip), baba ghanouj (eggplant dip), and tabbouleh ( a salad of parsley and bulgur or cracked wheat), have become mainstays on health food menus. Lebanese Americans also eat fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, yogurt and yogurt cheese ( labnee ), pickles, hot peppers, olives, and pistachio nuts. One of the most popular Lebanese desserts is baqlawa , which is filo dough laced with sugar syrup and wrapped around finely chopped walnuts. The national alcoholic beverage of Lebanon is ‘arak, which is a liqueur flavored with aniseed.
Western dress is the norm in Lebanon and among most Lebanese Americans. Religiously observant Muslim women wear the hijab, a long-sleeved coat or dress, and a scarf (often white) that completely covers the hair. Young girls and married women can decide whether or not to wear the hijab.
Traditional Lebanese clothing is worn only by performers at ethnic dance festivals. Men wear the shirwal (baggy black pants that fit at the shin), high black boots, white blousy shirts, dark vests, and a fez. Women wear long dresses with embroidered bodices and side panels, and tall hats with long white veils.
Different sects within Lebanon celebrate different religious holidays. Christians celebrate the feast days of saints, as well as Easter and Christmas. Easter is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox. The Orthodox Easter must also come after Passover, and thus Western Easter often falls on a different Sunday than Orthodox Easter. Muslims celebrate three major holidays: Ramadan (the 30-day period of daytime fasting); ‘Eid al Fitr, a five-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan; and ‘Eid al-Adha, the “Feast of the Sacrifice,” which commemorates Abraham’s agreement with God that he would sacrifice his son Ishmael. Lebanon’s National Independence Day, which is celebrated on November 22, receives little attention from Lebanese Americans.
Except for higher-than-average incidences of anemia and lactose intolerance, Lebanese have no incidence of medical disease specific to them as a group. As a rule, they support the conventional medical establishment.
Most Lebanese speak Arabic. Arabic is a poetic language, and poets are prized in Arab culture. In its first 50 years in America, the Lebanese American community enjoyed a golden age of letters, with the literature of such New York experimental poets as Khalil Gibran, Ameen Rihany, and Elia Abu-Madey casting their influence on literary circles of the Middle East. However, in their desire to embrace American culture, many Lebanese Americans did little to teach their American-born children to read Arabic. Immigration quota restrictions accelerated the problem. Without a continuous influx of new readership, once-flourishing Arab American newspapers and journals experienced a steep decline. Christian churches streamlined their Arabic services, and changed many of them to English. Newly arrived Lebanese immigrants to the United States, however, have reinvigorated Arabic language usage within the community. Many Arabic churches now have bilingual announcements, bulletins, and sermons, and the business signs in Arab commercial neighborhoods are often painted prominently in Arabic. In particular, Lebanese Muslim immigrants have contributed to the increase in Arabic usage and have developed Arabic-language classes for children.
GREETINGS AND OTHER COMMON EXPRESSIONS
Greetings in Arabic are elaborate, and there is usually a response and counter-response to every one. Ahlein —”Welcome”; or the longer Ahlan wa Sahlan —”You are with your people and in a level place”(a greeting appropriate at the door or when being introduced to someone for the first time); the more casual Marhaba —”Hello,” responded to with Marhabteen —”Two hellos”; to which the response is Maraahib —”A bunch of hellos.” Similarly, the response to the morning greeting, Sabaah al-kheir — “The morning is good,” is Sabaah an-noor —”The morning is light.” The evening greeting and response are Masa al-kheir and Masa n-noor. Leave-takings are extremely elaborate: the person leaving says Bkhatrak to a woman, Khatrik and to a group, Khatirkum, which translates as “By your leave.” The response is Ma’a salaame —”With safety,” or “Go in peace”; to which the counter-response is Allay salmak, or Allay salmik to a female, and Allay salimkum to a group—”May God keep you safe.” The holiday greeting is ‘Eid Mubarak —”Holiday blessings”; and Kull sane w’inte saalim —”Every year and you are safe.” Sahteen is the Arabic toast—”May your good health be twofold.” Arabic is filled with references to God. For example, the most common response to Keif haalak? —”How are you?” is Nushkar Allah —”(We) Thank God.” Often heard after a statement of intention are the words In sha Allah — “If God wills it.” Such phrases imply the belief in human impotence to control the affairs of the world.
Traditionally, Lebanese families and extended families operate as a unit, relying on each other implicitly in social, financial, and business affairs. The father is the decision maker, and the mother his close advisor. Her domain is the daily life of the children and all that happens within the home; The man’s domain is strictly outside the home. The firstborn son plays a special role in the family, for he brings his bride to live with his parents, raises his family in his parents’ household, and cares for them in their old age.
As Lebanese American families have adopted the American pattern of nuclear families, the dividing line between gender roles has blurred. Fathers spend more time with their small children, and mothers frequently represent the families in public, for example, at school meetings. Independent households are now the norm, and daughters no longer become part of their marital families. Consequently, sisters share responsibility with their brothers for aging parents.
MARRIAGE AND CHILD-REARING
Because marriage was traditionally an opportunity for a family to strengthen its prestige and economic situation, marriages in Lebanon were often arranged. This custom is still practiced among some conservative Lebanese Americans. To arrange a marriage, parents and other relatives seek out mates for their children. They set up a chaperoned meeting, which allows the prospective couple to get acquainted. Courtship is conducted under the watchful eye of family members and always carries with it a sense of responsibility and purpose. Casual dating is frowned upon by more conservative Lebanese Americans because it can jeopardize the reputations of the couple and families involved. Among assimilated Lebanese Americans, however, dating is the usual form of courtship.
The majority of early Lebanese American immigrants married within their ethnic and religious groups. Many men returned to Lebanon to find a bride, particularly in the years when single men outnumbered single women in the immigrant community. Most of the first American-born generation of Lebanese Americans also married within the community.
Divorce among Lebanese Americans is less common in arranged marriages than in marriages based on love. The basis of the arranged marriage is a contract of shared responsibility and self-sacrifice. There is no expectation that the needs of the individual will be satisfied in the marriage. The purpose of such marriages is to build a family. In fact, divorce on the grounds of personal unhappiness is frowned upon. Since divorce has traditionally been viewed as a source of family shame, families often become involved in solving marital problems.
Lebanese American families often indulge babies and younger children. Boys are coddled, but are expected to be strong and independent. Girls are restrained, taught to work within existing social schemes, and trained to be dependable as well as interdependent. As they mature, girls assume many household responsibilities. They often take charge of the younger siblings or, if the mother is absent, the entire household.
By the time they began immigrating to the United States, the immigrants from Greater Syria had attended British, French, Russian, and American schools in their homeland for half a century or longer. These foreign schools had also stimulated the establishment of local government schools, and many of these schools encouraged the education of girls. When they arrived in the United States, the Lebanese adapted to the American school system and culture. Their attitudes paralleled the evolution of the attitudes of other Americans toward education. By the third generation, the education of girls was considered equal in importance to that of boys. The generation of Lebanese Americans born after World War II attended college at the same rate as the rest of the nation’s youth, studying business, medicine, law, pharmacy, computer science, and engineering. Because the vast majority of third-generation Lebanese Americans are middle class, they enjoy a higher educational level than Americans on average.
Many Catholic Lebanese children receive their education at Catholic schools. Muslim Lebanese immigrants to the United States occasionally send their children to Catholic schools, where there is more discipline and emphasis on respect for authority. Many Muslim immigrants have set up Islamic schools, some as supplements to their children’s education, and a few as full-day parochial schools that teach Arabic language, history, and culture in addition to basic subjects.
THE ROLE OF WOMEN
Women have always been the heart of the Lebanese family. Although men have the final say in family decisions, the opinions of women are also valued. Husbands depend on their wives to maintain the household and raise the children. Many Lebanese American women also work outside the home. They often play key roles in running family businesses, and often take over if their husband dies or becomes incapacitated. As Lebanese American men have become more active in public life, women have begun to follow suit. Donna Shalala, a Lebanese American woman, was the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin and president of Hunter College in New York City, before becoming President Clinton’s secretary of health, education and welfare.
Just as each family must take care of its own, each religious community traditionally takes care of its members. Lebanese Muslims are required to give 2.5 percent of their income, a tithe called zakkat to the needy within the community. Philanthropic efforts within the Lebanese American community also cut across religious lines. One is Save Lebanon, an organization formed in 1982 to bring Lebanese children injured during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, to the United States for medical treatment. More prominent is the Saint Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Established in 1962, it is funded by an organization called Aiding Leukemia-Stricken American Children, American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, and individual donations. Founded by entertainer Danny Thomas (1914–1991), a Lebanese American, ALSAC and St. Jude’s have assumed the leading position in the field of research and treatment of childhood leukemia.
For centuries, religious affiliation in Greater Syria was tantamount to membership in a small nation, or at least a political party. The millet system, which the Ottomans used to divide people into political entities according to religion, gave religion social and political meaning. The millet system also served to create a sense of boundaries among differing sects that went beyond doctrinal disputes. Because brides often converted to the faith of their husbands, all of the major religions within Lebanon competed for converts to their faith. Interfaith marriage was considered taboo.
Although Lebanese Americans include Christians and Muslims, Christians are in the majority. Many Lebanese Jews and a smaller number of Druze are also a part of the Lebanese American community. The vast majority of Lebanese Christians in America belong to one of three Eastern-rite Christian churches: the Maronite, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Melkite/Greek Catholic. Orthodox and Melkite liturgies are in Arabic and Greek; Maronite liturgy is in Arabic and Aramaic. In the United States, all three are sung partly in English.
The differences among these churches are jurisdictional rather than dogmatic. In particular, they differ on the question of the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith. Since its beginnings in the fourth century, the Maronite Church has been steadfast in its allegiance to Rome and the West, and resistant to the Arabic identity embraced by the Eastern Orthodox and Melkite/Greek Catholic churches.
All three churches administer confirmation at Baptism, and use bread soaked in wine for the Eucharist. The marriage ceremony in each rite contains similar components: the blessing of the rings, the crowning of the bride and groom as queen and king, and the sharing of bread and wine—the couple’s first meal together. In the Orthodox and Melkite churches, the bride and groom walk around the altar as a symbol of their first journey together as a couple.
Orthodox priests can marry, but those who do cannot climb the clerical hierarchy. While Melkite and Maronite Catholic priests in the Middle East are encouraged by their own Eastern canon law to marry, they are forbidden to by Western canon. Unlike the Roman Catholic church, Eastern-rite churches have icons rather than statuary.
Most Lebanese American Muslims arrived after 1965. Generally, Muslims pray five times a day and attend Friday prayers. When no mosque is available, they rent rooms in commercial and business districts where they can go for midday prayers. These small prayer places are called masjids . Muslims are supposed to fast during the daylight hours for the month of Ramadan. Many, including young school-children, do keep the fast.
EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC
Upon their arrival in the United States, many Lebanese engaged in peddling. These peddlers carved out routes from New England through the West. Many developed a regular clientele, and eventually opened their own general stores. Some of those who stayed in the city developed their small dry goods businesses into import/export empires. By 1910, there were a handful of Lebanese American millionaires. Other early immigrants were factory workers, particularly those that settled in Detroit and Dearborn, Michigan, where many Lebanese worked in the auto industry.
The occupational profile of Lebanese Americans is very broad, although they are still disproportionately concentrated in retail occupations. Lebanese Americans tend to be self-employed and enter managerial and professional positions at a higher rate than Americans as a whole. Lebanese Americans are well represented in medicine, law, banking, engineering, and computer science.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Lebanese American political involvement has revolved around American policies in the Middle East, particularly those relating to Israel. Through the Eastern Federation of Syrian-Lebanese Organizations, which was established in 1932, Lebanese Americans quietly protested the 1948 partitioning of Palestine. Following the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Lebanese Americans began to work with other Arabs to form organizations that promoted their common interests.
Members of the Association of Arab American University Graduates, which was established in 1967, focused on educating the American public about the Arab–Israeli conflict. Five years later, the National Association of Arab Americans was created to lobby the American Congress and White House administrations on Middle Eastern issues. In 1980, former senator James Abourezk established the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to combat defamation of Arab Americans in the media. As conditions in the Middle East continued to worsen during the 1980s Lebanese Americans, along with other Arab Americans, became the targets of government surveillance and civil rights infringements. When the United States bombed Libya in 1986, for example, it was revealed that the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) had a list of thousands of Arab (including Lebanese) and Iranian students, permanent residents, and even U.S. citizens, for possible detention in internment camps in the United States.
From 1985 to 1987 it was illegal for Americans to visit Lebanon. The travel ban was allowed to expire in 1997 with assurances from the Lebanese government of cooperation on anti-terrorism measures and security. Among the Arab American organizations who lobbied was the American Task Force for Lebanon. This group of prominent Lebanese Americans meets regularly with congressmen and administration officials to advise them on American support for the reconstruction of Lebanon, and the normalization of diplomatic relations between Lebanon and the United States.
Lebanese Americans have traditionally supported the Republican party due, in part, to its support of business interests. Lebanese Americans have also been influenced by the Arab American Institute (AAI). The AAI, which was founded in 1985, is designed to foster Arab American participation in American politics, support candidates who champion Arab American causes, and encourage Arab Americans to run for public office. During the 1988 presidential election, the AAI had gathered more than 300 Arab Americans to serve as delegates to the national Democratic convention. At the 1988 Democratic Convention, Lebanese Americans successfully introduced platforms that supported Palestinian statehood and the restoration of Lebanon as a sovereign state. This convention also marked the first time that an Arab American, served as co-chairperson of the Democratic National Committee.
Individual and Group Contributions
Casey Kasem, (1933– ) is America’s most famous disc jockey and originator of radio show American Top 40, the host of American Top 10, and the principal voice-over for NBC-TV.
Norma Kamali (1945– ) and Joseph Abboud (1950– ) are prominent New York fashion designers. J. M. Haggar (1892–1987) founded a major manufacturer of men’s slacks; and Mansour Farah (1895–1937) established Farah Brothers, a large competitive pants manufacturer.
FILM AND TELEVISION
Jamie Farr (1934– ) played Corporal Klinger for 11 years on the popular television series M*A*S*H ; actor-singer-comedian Danny Thomas (1914–1991) starred in the popular 1950s television situation comedy Make Room For Daddy ; his daughter Marlo Thomas (1943– ) is an Emmy Award–winning actress who starred in the 1960s television situation comedy That Girl ; his son Tony Thomas (1948– ) is a television and film producer who has won many Emmys for his work on Golden Girls and other television series; Tony Shalhoub starred in the television show Wings ; Vic Tayback (1930–1990) played Mel in Alice ; Kristy McNichol (1962– ) was one of the co-stars of Empty Nest ; Kathy Najimy (1957– ) was a co-star of the film Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg; guitarist and musician Frank Zappa (1940–1993) was a legend in the rock world; and Callie Khoury (1957– ) was the first woman to receive an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, for Thelma and Louise.
GOVERNMENT SERVICE AND DIPLOMACY
Career diplomat Philip Habib (1920–1992) helped negotiate an end to the Vietnam War and the Israeli war in Lebanon in 1982; Senator James Abourezk (1931– ) from South Dakota was the first Lebanese American to serve in the U.S. Senate (1974–1980), and he founded the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Nick Rahal (1949– ) has served as a U.S. congressman from West Virginia since 1976; Donna Shalala (1941– ) was the president of New York City’s Hunter College and serves as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Clinton administration; George Mitchell (1933– ), was a Senator from Maine who served as the Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995.
LITERATURE AND JOURNALISM
William Blatty (1928– ) is the author of the book and screenplay The Exorcist. Vance Bourjaily (1922– ) is the author of Confessions of a Spent Youth, and The Man Who Knew Kennedy. Khalil Gibran (1883–1931), poet and artist, is the author of The Prophet, perhaps the best-selling volume, after the Bible, of all time; Gibran’s exhortation “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” in his “Letter to Syrian Youth” was quoted in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address and remains the most-quoted sentence of any inaugural address in American history. American-born poets who are descendants of the Greater Syrian diaspora include D. H. Milhelm (1926– ), Sam Hazo (1928– ), Joseph Awad (1929– ), Sam Hamod (1936– ), Lawrence Joseph (1948– ), Gregory Orfalea (1949– ), and Elmaz Abinader (1954– ). Journalist Helen Thomas (1920– ) has been the UPI White House correspondent for half a century and opens and closes every White House press conference.
MUSIC AND DANCE
Paul Anka (1941– ) wrote and recorded popular hit songs beginning in the 1950s, including “Diana,” “She’s a Lady,”and “My Way.” Rosalind Elias (1931– ) is a soprano with the New York City Metropolitan Opera; Elie Chaib (1950– ) is a 20-year veteran dancer with the Paul Taylor Company.
Ralph Nader (1934– ) is one of America’s most prominent consumer advocates. He is the author of Unsafe at Any Speed and founder and head of Public Citizen, an organization that has spawned a number of other citizen action groups such as Congress Watch and the Tax Reform Research Group. Najeeb Halaby (1915– ) is the former head of the Federal Aviation Agency and was head of Pan-American Airlines. Candy Lightner (1946– ) is the founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Christa McAuliffe (1948–1986) was the teacher aboard the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger. Paul Orfalea (1946– ) founded Kinko’s, the world’s largest international chain of copying and business service stores.
SCIENCE AND MEDICINE
Heart surgeon Michael DeBakey (1908– ) invented the heart pump and pioneered the bypass operation in the United States. Harvard University professor Elias J. Corey, (1928– ) won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1990. The St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, founded by Danny Thomas, is the leader in the field of research and treatment of childhood leukemia.
Race-car driver Bobby Rahall won the Indianapolis 500 in 1986; the late Joe Robbie (1916–1990) was owner of the Miami Dolphins.