Arab Routes
Pathways to Syrian California
Sarah M. A. Gualtieri


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Arab Amairka
chapter abstract

This chapter provides the main analytical framework for the book. Building from the story of Katrina Saade, whose journey led her from Palestine to Russia, on to Mexico, and eventually to Long Beach, California, it proposes the "transnational Middle East" and "Arab Amairka" as interconnected concepts through which to organize the lives of Syrian migrants in California. It calls for situating them within Amairka, a geographical description in Arabic for North and South America, as well as a space into which we can map the multiple connections that Southern California Syrians had to pre- and postmigratory spaces. The introduction lays out the central narrative thread of the book, including intercommunal, particularly Latino/a and Arab, connections, solidarities, and tensions.

1 The Syrian Pacific
chapter abstract

This chapter traces the pathways through which Arabic-speaking migrants arrived in Los Angeles, and describes how areas of the city served as steps toward further movement and the consolidation of family networks that spanned the Americas. Drawing on James Clifford's important theorization of routes, over against roots, the chapter uses the concept of routing as an active, ongoing process of travel and of the social contacts associated with it. Specifically, the chapter locates El Paso, Texas, as a central point in Syrian circuits of mobility—a place through which thousands of Syrians crossed and returned, helping to forge a Spanish-speaking Syrian borderland culture and an Arab Latinidad.

2 Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon
chapter abstract

This chapter examines Syrian participation in the legal defense of a group of twenty-one Mexican American men and one Anglo man, seventeen of whom were convicted, in the murder of José Diaz in 1942 near a Los Angeles meeting spot called the Sleepy Lagoon. The case, known as People v. Zammora, fueled tensions that erupted in the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. By homing in on the role that Syrian American defense attorney George Shibley played in the trial, the chapter probes issues of interethnic and international solidarity that arose in and from the case. It further exposes the archival silences in the voluminous Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee papers. Exploring the absence of Shibley from this archive and from the memorialization of the case, including in Chicano playwright Luis Valdez's celebrated play, Zoot Suit, the chapter addresses a broader problem of the erasure of Arabs from Southern California history.

3 Meeting at the Mahrajan
chapter abstract

This chapter shifts to themes of self-representation to discuss the Southern California mahrajan (outdoor festival) as an important site of Syrian community formation and image making. Informed by Robert Orsi's pioneering work on festival culture, this chapter explores the adaptation of this "homeland" event to the California post<->World War II landscape, paying particular attention to issues of institution building, the gendering of traditions considered emblematic of Syrian culture, such as food and music, and the marketing of the festivals to Syrian American youth. Based on oral histories and newspaper and magazine coverage, including of Lebanese American actor Danny Thomas, a mahrajan mainstay, the chapter pushes against the portrayal of the festivals as mere social events organized by Syrian churches and considers them instead as spaces of incubation of an Arab-American activist voice.

4 Fragments of the Past, Identities of the Present
chapter abstract

This chapter revisits the insights of the groundbreaking anthology of Arab American and Arab Canadian feminist writings, Food for Our Grandmothers, to chart second- and third- generation Syrian American engagement with questions of identity through feminist activism, social networking, cultural production, and archiving. The chapter consists of close readings of oral histories conducted with Arab American women in Southern California. Using literary critic Carol Fadda's concept of "rearrival," and anthropologist Nadine Naber's concept of "diasporas of empire," the chapter pays particular attention to how these women narrate their journey through highly assimilated Americanness toward Arabness. Highlighting the importance of mourning, of their travel to Palestine and Lebanon, and of their reassessment of the racialized Californian terrain upon their return, it posits a particular form of Arab American critique of US imperial ventures in the Middle East.

5 Palimpsests in Iconic California
chapter abstract

This chapter engages with several texts to demonstrate how California has acquired an iconic status in narratives of Syrian and Lebanese migration. It begins with a set of photographs taken in the 1940s at Muscle Beach near the Santa Monica Pier that feature acrobats set against the backdrop of a Syrian-owned café. The chapter includes a discussion of Rabee Jaber's novel in Arabic, Amerika, which narrates the experience of its central character, Marta Haddad, as she moves from the East Coast to Pasadena, routing first to New Orleans. It also studies the archive of the "mother of Arab American studies," historian Alixa Naff, after she moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. These literary, personal, and visual texts offer powerful examples to readers on how to reinscribe Syrians into Southern Californian history, while they also suggest new possibilities on how to orient Arab American studies within a Pacific space.

Conclusion: Mestizaje in Arab American Families
chapter abstract

This chapter draws on the discourse of mestizaje, or mixture and cultural hybridity, in order to revisit the central themes of the book. It uses the example of Hadj Ali, better known as Hi Jolly, the Ottoman camel-handler in the US military expedition that set off from Texas toward California in 1857, a mere decade after the United States seized this territory from Mexico. Rather than reproduce the reading of Hadj Ali as an early Arab American migrant, a patriotic Muslim, and one of the first Syrians in the United States, the chapter uses his marriage to a Mexican American women in Arizona as a way to rethink the emphasis on endogamy in the early Syrian American diaspora and to focus instead on interethnic contact and points of origin that tilt toward the borderlands.