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




WHEN KATRINA SA‘ADE DIED in Long Beach, California, in 1989, at the age of eighty-nine, an intricate journey that had begun in Bethlehem, Palestine, came to a close. Born in 1900 into a family that produced and sold religious objects from the Holy Land, Katrina spent her childhood in tsarist Russia, only to be displaced by the political turmoil there. She returned to Palestine, where her family arranged a marriage to a fellow Palestinian whose family had established a clothing business in Mexico. In 1914 Katrina traveled to San Pedro de las Colonias, in the northeastern state of Coahuila, Mexico, to join her eighteen-year-old husband, Emilio Kabande, who had come to Mexico by way of Cuba. Two years later, she was a widow with two children, her young husband having died in a train crash allegedly orchestrated by the armies of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.1

Relying on family connections, Katrina made her way to Long Beach, where she remarried and later worked alongside her second husband in a five-and-dime store that catered to immigrant workers primarily from Mexico, Italy, Greece, and the Philippines. By the age of thirty-seven she was a divorced single mother, providing for her children through several entrepreneurial activities that included making and selling women’s and children’s apparel. In addition to her mother tongue of Arabic, Katrina spoke Russian, Spanish, and English. She lived, as her granddaughter Kathy remarked, in “five worlds” that were shaped by major historical shifts of the twentieth century: the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Russian and Mexican revolutions, the Great Depression, and World War II.2

Katrina’s movement, multiple homes, and expansive family networks are recurring motifs in the history of the Arab diaspora in Southern California. Ethnically diverse, economically vibrant, and connected to the Pacific and to Latin America, Los Angeles has attracted thousands of Syrian migrants, in particular, since the late nineteenth century.3 A Los Angeles Times article in 1940 claimed that fifteen thousand people made up “the Southland’s Syrian colony.”4 In the twenty-first century, as figures from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey show, Los Angeles has the largest population of Middle Eastern origin and descent in the United States; and people from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan (areas once referred to as “bilad al-Sham” or the “lands of Syria”) make up the largest percentage.5 Often depicted as new arrivals, as emblems of a crisis-ridden Middle East, or as marginal actors in fields of study dominated by the histories of other immigrant groups, Syrians are deeply layered into the western United States. They have shaped communities from Calexico to Calabasas, and their voices speak through a rich and expansive archive—border-crossing cards, naturalization and census records, newspaper articles, photographs, novels, letters, and the retelling by migrants of their journeys to and through Amairka.6

This book reconstructs the lives of men and women whose personal relationships and civic engagements capture a different facet of the history of the peopling of Los Angeles. It weaves Syrians, the first Arabic-speaking immigrants to the United States, into the tapestry of Southern California life. By placing migrations like that of Katrina at the center of a larger narrative about the mutability of the concept of home, the attachment to multiple national identities, and the processes of Arab-Latino/a interaction, it tells a new kind of transnational immigration history. Arabic-speaking migrants and their descendants in Southern California provide a crucial window into understanding migration as a hemispheric process that was sustained by the creative navigation of nation-state boundaries and the fashioning of inter-American imaginaries.7 Arab Routes thus disrupts dominant narratives in the history of Arab American migrants, redresses their erasure from California history, and complicates understandings of Latin American migration and of Mexicanidad.8


The traditional Arab American historical narrative goes something like this: at the end of the nineteenth century, thousands of Arabic-speaking migrants, most from what became the Republic of Lebanon, made their way across the Atlantic to the shores of Ellis Island, relieved by the sight of the outstretched arm of Lady Liberty. They had left lives of poverty and in some cases persecution by their Ottoman overlords. Enticed by ship agents and the stories of wealth abroad, they joined the gigantic wave of people on the move, seeking to make America their home. Lower Manhattan soon became the site of a bustling Little Syria, a community of co-ethnics building lives together as Arabs in the mahjar, the land of emigration.9 New York became the “mother colony,” the staging ground for a vibrant institutional and economic life rooted in peddling and trade, a place out from which families moved to other locations, predominantly in the East and Midwest.10

Like other classic renderings of ethnic-group assimilation, the Arab American one is based on a bounty of evidence, with passenger lists and ship manifests being an especially popular way to access the moment of arrival. Yet the narrative has also been reproduced and remythologized due to the practices of historiography, to the way history is told. These practices involve the repeated use of archives and repositories situated in New York and in Washington; the use of personal papers of people connected to those places but whose papers are housed in other repositories; the allure of Ellis Island as monument, museum, and agent in the immigration industry; and a tendency to position early Arab American history in relation to white ethnics whose stories emanate from the eastern Atlantic.

In the field of immigration history, where Arabs have too often been marginalized or made invisible, the existence of these repositories and the insertion of Arab stories into the Ellis Island narrative speaks back to that silence. An overreliance upon them, however, skews popular and scholarly accounts of Arab American history in particular ways: they are oriented toward the East Coast; they are driven by assimilationist, up-by-their-bootstraps stories of immigrant success; they focus on in-group relations instead of contact with other racial or ethnic groups; and they are bounded within nation-state paradigms. The lives of the migrants at the center of this book were not easily contained within these categories.11 They moved in and around the Southwest and came together in organizations celebrating their Pacific orientation. Some spoke Spanish and naturalized as Mexican, and then as US American; and they labored in varied economic niches including as seamstresses, grocery-store clerks, mechanics, merchants, growers, and peddlers. Importantly, they worked and lived alongside Latino/as and formed alliances with them. Arab Routes opens the narrative up to these Syrians of the Pacific not for the sake of finding exceptions or aberrations, but to ask how their stories help to reorient the field of Arab American studies. This endeavor encourages the posing of new questions and devising new methods to answer them. If we continue to think metaphorically of New York as the “mother colony,” then Arab Routes is interested in other kinds of family idioms—her unacknowledged lovers, her forgotten half-sisters, her surrogate daughters, and her renegade sons. This book finds them in places like El Paso, Pasadena, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Pedro de las Colonias. It tells the story of how they shaped a Syrian American culture that was Arabized and Latinized—a culture that was highly flexible and mobile, one that revolved around family networks, religious practices, work, and leisure. Whereas scholars of US migration once focused primarily on how immigrants “became American” by shedding ethnic ties and integrating into a dominant Anglo American culture, this book contributes to a rich body of work that demonstrates how migrants retained, adapted, and forged new solidarities in multiracial environments.12


It was in San Pedro de las Colonias, Mexico, that Katrina learned the Spanish she later used with her customers in a small grocery store in Arizona. When she first left Mexico for Long Beach, she left extended Palestinian family there that would become “the Mexican side of the family.” Three generations later, Katrina’s relatives form part of the large, heterogeneous community of Arab origin and descent in Mexico. They understand their Mexicanness to include Syrian expressive culture, Arabic food ways, and family networks that reaffirm the history of early migrants.

This sense of belonging to a panethnic Latin America, of being Latin American, and expressing this attachment in an Arabized register—what I call Arab Latinidad—is conveyed in the sources in multiple ways.13 Elias Vitar, for example, came to Southern California as a Spanish-speaking migrant of “Syrian race” and Mexican nationality. He was born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1916 and after crossing at Laredo, Texas, traveled west to Los Angeles to work as a lumber salesman. He took up residence east of downtown. His warm hazel eyes look out from the declaration of intention he filed to become an American citizen (see Figure 1), with the Arabic name Elias, rendered into Spanish as “Helias” (mistyped as “Heilas”) and his nickname, “Leo,” firmly signed at the bottom of his photo.14 He is among the thousands of Syrians in Southern California who formed part of a Latin American migration stream, and whose identities point to the multiethnic makeup of the Mexican nation. His story suggests that Mexicanness could be embodied by men and women who also carried with them the cultures of the Middle East.15

FIGURE 1. Declaration of Intention to Become an American Citizen of Heilas [sic] Vitar, 1936. Source: National Archives and Records Administration. Naturalization Records of the US District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division (Los Angeles), 1887–1940.

Like Elias, most Syrian immigrants to Los Angeles were what historian Leslie Page Moch calls “step migrants”—their journey to Southern California involved multiple stops, stages, or “steps.”16 Los Angeles represented the second, third, or greater long-distance migration for them; and they came to the city for a multitude of reasons. Some had family members there, while others searched for years for the familial. They pursued a variety of trades and professions and lived in different locations. Although narratives of migration often assume a linear trajectory, the movement of the Syrian American diaspora was multilineal. Many families moved several times within the city itself and not infrequently back to places they had been before.

New York was a common point of entry to the United States for Syrians, but many came in from Mexico and Canada, having first lived in other parts of the Americas. Naturalization records for Southern California, for example, reveal three main pathways to Los Angeles: (1) Syria to France (through Cherbourg, Le Havre, or Marseilles) on to New York City and then to California; (2) Syria to France (again through Cherbourg, Le Havre, or Marseilles), to Canada, and then to California; or alternatively, (3) Syria to Mexico to El Paso and ultimately California. These government records capture only points along the journey. Augmented by other sources, they indicate the interstices of transatlantic and intrahemispheric travel, and the intricacies of the social worlds that migrants inhabited and shaped along the way.17

Scholars have argued that migrants used this last pathway (from Mexico) as a “back door” to the United States, particularly as a way to evade medical inspection after the passage of the Disease Act of 1891, which gave US immigration officials the right to turn away any migrant suspected of harboring a “loathsome and contagious” disease. To be sure, one disease, trachoma, an infection of the eye, was a major concern for Syrian migrants in the early twentieth century. Oral histories often reveal that the most dreaded part of the inspection process at Ellis Island was the flipping back of the eyelid with a “buttonhook” tool normally used to pull shoelaces tight. A diagnosis of trachoma meant exclusion, separation from family, and in some cases a decision to attempt entry into the United States via alternate routes perceived to be more porous and less regulated. In 1907 the US Immigration Bureau expressed concern with a so-called “smuggling ring” in El Paso orchestrated by a Syrian interpreter who was allegedly demanding bribes from Syrians, some of whom were seeking treatment for trachoma.18

Other records suggest that Syrians “dressed up” or performed as Mexicans in order to pass more easily across the border. The commissioner-general of immigration and naturalization wrote to the inspector in charge at El Paso to inform him that: “the inspectors, assigned to bridge duty . . . are by no means vigilant in the performance of their duties, since they apparently pay little attention to persons [who] have the appearance of being Mexicans, which has led to that form of disguise being adopted by aliens of other nationalities who are desirous of finding an easy means of ingress to this country.”19

These reports reveal more about the state’s concern with policing the border and producing a discourse around a “fit” citizenry, than they do about the lives of Syrian migrants. Moreover, while the US government relied on systems of classification that favored homogeneity and single categories, the lived experience of Syrians was far more complex and liminal. Syrians who came into the United States from Mexico were not just dressed up as Mexicans, and sojourns in Mexico or other parts of the Americas were not merely way stations to the United States. They were crucial chapters in the development of transnational families and of diasporic identity, chapters that allow us to understand the ease with which Katrina Sa‘ade slipped into Spanish when relatives from Mexico visited her in her Long Beach home.

Taking account of these different registers of identity, Arab Routes builds on the critical turn in ethnic and American studies that moves away from a focus on a single ethnic group often contained in a particular location (the Mexicans in Chicago, the Italians in New York City, and so on), to demonstrate the importance of circulation over against settlement, and of the existence of multiple ethnicities within a migrant group.20 Many of the migrants whose life histories are at the center of this book were Syrian-born, Arabic- and Spanish-speaking individuals. They were both Syrian and Latin American, indicating the overlap of identities often thought of as discrete and bounded by rigid communal and national ties. This suggests the extent to which patterns of migration and identity—including ones typically thought of as exclusively Latino/a—have been Arabized in significant ways.

The archive of California’s Syrian population is replete with evidence that speaks to the Latin Americanness of many families, yet because of scholarly conventions that tend to bind migrants in nation-state boundaries, these families are lost in the analysis. There are compelling books on the Lebanese in Brazil and Argentina, the Syrians and Palestinians in Mexico and in Colombia, and many other case studies of Arab communities in particular countries.21 A newer body of scholarship in Middle Eastern migration studies addresses the bias in the historiography (one that deemed migrants lost to the nation), and argues for the centrality of migrant histories in shaping the economic, political, and social realities of the modern Middle East. It has also more recently demonstrated the significance of Arabic-speaking migrants from geographical Syria to the colonial tropes of progress and modernity.22 All of these works tell important stories of migration and integration into sometimes fraught national projects.23 Yet when people are on the move, the story becomes more complicated.24

A photo from the twentieth annual commencement ceremony of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in Pasadena, California, in 1951, for example, contains language that is instructive. Among the thirty graduates are three young women with Arab last names: Mary Ann Kuri, Agnes Necebia Haddad, and Bertha Marie Touche.25 Bertha was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, to Palestinian parents with US citizenship. We find a link to California in her father’s 1924 border-crossing card at El Paso, Texas, indicating that he was on his way to Venice, California, presumably to attend to the affairs of his recently deceased father.26 Was Bertha Mexican, Palestinian, Syrian, or American? This book finds answers in the spaces and places in which these categories commingled, overlapped, and resonated. It unbinds migrants from national boundaries in order to identify the effects of multiple migrations and to recognize that many migrants embodied a kind of national simultaneity. Their stories remind us that “transnationalism challenges concepts of citizenship and of nationhood itself.”27

To say that Syrians were part of the heterogeneity of the Mexican nation is not to say that they were Mexican in the same way that the Spanish-speaking migrants and their children who formed the backbone of a vibrant, yet often vilified, Latino/a community in Southern California were. Rather, it is to argue that understanding Syrian identifications with Mexicanness—as a product of having Mexican-born children, of having lived in Latin America, speaking Spanish, and of having relationships with Mexicans—pushes Arab American studies out of a US-centric framework and underscores the fruitful intersections with Latin American, Latino/a, and Asian American studies. These intersections, captured in the lives of those in the spaces in between national categories, can serve to unravel multiple discourses of exclusion. Jonathon Fox describes, for example, the ways that different groups, notably bilingual indigenous and immigrant populations, have been “culturally excluded from the [Mexican] national imaginary,” a process that US-based scholarship has also documented in various ways.28

And while this book does not claim equal degrees of expertise across the archival terrain of the United States, Mexico, Syria, and Lebanon, it does propose a method for exploring the lives of those who moved across them. It builds on recent scholarship that pluralizes Mexicanidad, incorporating multiple ethnic groups within it, and by positioning Syrians within Latin American migration streams to California. Most especially, it conceptualizes Los Angeles and its surroundings as an “intersecting node for many journeys” and the historical ground on which were forged forgotten alliances, and connections between Middle Eastern American and Latino/a activist projects.29 Thus, the central narrative thread of the book is one of intercommunal, particularly Latino/a and Arab, solidarities and tensions.

A case in point, Syrian petitions for US citizenship reveal that those who served as witnesses (testifying that they knew the applicant and that she or he was in good standing) very often had Spanish surnames. That Syrians developed trusted friendships with people particularly of Mexican origin and descent is hardly surprising given the patterns of residential segregation in pre–World War II Los Angeles—patterns that drew non-Anglos into close contact with each other. However, these solidarities and “strange affinities” should also be connected to the Latinidad of the Syrian diaspora and to histories of community building, language acquisition, and identification that occurred prior to migration to Los Angeles, most notably in Latin America.30 These connections were sustained by back-and-forth travel to Mexican towns like San Pedro de las Colonias and Monterrey, and help to explain Syrian racialization as relational and ethnic identity as flexible.31


1. Kathy Kenny, “The Power of Place: Katrina in Five Worlds,” Jerusalem Quarterly 35, no. 5 (Autumn 2008): 14; and Kathy Saade Kenny, Katrina in Five Worlds: A Palestinian Woman’s Story, 3rd ed. (n.p.: Five Worlds Press, 2010), 26–27. Katrina lost her second child, Elena, to the flu—six months after Emilio died. I am following the spelling of Emilio (not Emelio) that Kenny used in her 2010 publication, Katrina in Five Worlds.

2. Kenny, Katrina in Five Worlds.

3. I use the term Syrian to refer to persons originating in the late Ottoman provinces of bilad al-Sham, or “geographical Syria,” with Damascus, al-Sham, standing in for the whole. This area included what became the nation-states of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the territory under the Palestinian Authority. I use Syro-Lebanese to indicate the intertwined histories of these two polities (Syria and Lebanon), and to acknowledge that while many immigrants to Southern California in the pre–World War II period came from what became the Republic of Lebanon, the term Syrian prevailed in the documents used for this book. The term Lebanon gained wider currency in the diaspora after the termination of the French Mandate (1923–1946).

4. Los Angeles Times, September, 2, 1940.

5. The totals are as follows: Lebanese, 19,757; Syrian 8,285; Jordanian, 2,852; Palestinian, 4,878. The other large national grouping is Egyptian at 16,555, as well as “Arab” at 10,476 persons. See 2017 American Community Survey, “People Reporting Ancestry—1 Year Estimates,” Los Angeles County, available at Factfinder/census/gov. Thanks to Rita Stephan and Angela Buchanan for helping to secure these statistics.

Note that Arabic words in Arab Routes are transliterated according to the system found in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, with certain modifications. Aside from ayn (‘) and hamza (’), all diacritical marks have been omitted. In cases where a spelling is commonly found in either French or English, I have followed that usage: for example, “Beirut,” not “Bayrut,” and “Homs,” not “Hims.” I have transliterated individual and family names as the individuals themselves chose to do so; thus “Tamoush,” not “Tahmush.”

6. Amairka is the transliteration of the Arabic colloquial word for America. It connotes both North and South America, and it is used more often than the classical (fusha) Amrika in everyday speech. These tropes of newness and crisis can be found in the mainstream press as well as in the ethnic studies canon. Ronald Takaki’s history A Different Mirror is an example of this slippage at play. In this impressive work of comparison and synthesis, he does not mention Arabs in America but does use the Middle East as a powerful metaphor of violence and disorder. See Takaki, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1993), 4.

On the problem of situating Arabs exclusively in the Middle East and not as part of multiethnic America, see Therese Saliba, “Resisting Invisibility: Arab Americans in Academia and Activism,” in Arabs in America: Building a New Future, ed. Michael W. Suleiman (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999), 308; and Ella Shohat, “The Sephardic-Moorish Atlantic: Between Orientalism and Occidentalism,” in Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora, ed. Shohat and Evelyn Alsultany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2013): 42–62. See also Amira Jarmakani’s essay on the politics of invisibility within US feminist conferences, which reinscribe “the Arab as perpetually foreign.” See “Arab American Feminisms: Mobilizing the Politics of Invisibility,” in Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence and Belonging, ed. Abdulhadi, Alsultany, and Naber, 227–241 (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011), 235. On the “newness” of Arab immigrants in California, see Mehdi Bozorgmehr, Claudia Der-Martirosian, and Georges Sabagh, “Middle Easterners: A New Kind of Immigrant,” in Ethnic Los Angeles, ed. Roger Waldinger and Mehdi Bozorgmehr (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1996), 345–378.

7. With imaginary (in French, imaginaire), I am using Arjun Appadurai’s definition, “a constructed landscape of collective aspirations.” See his Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 31.

8. Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp uses the helpful concept of “amplified Mexicanidad” to capture a “sense of feeling Mexican by Mexican nationals but remaining open to a range of individual and collective interpretations.” See So Far from Allah, So Close to Mexico: Middle Eastern Immigrants in Modern Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), 18. For help thinking through Mexicanidad, see Laura Gutiérrez, Performing Mexicanidad: Vendidas y Cabaretas on the Transnational Stage (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010).

9. The Arabic word mahjar is the noun of place derived from the verb hajara “to emigrate.” See Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, ed. J. Milton Cowan (1961, repr., Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1980), 157.

10. Representative work that propels this narrative includes Alixa Naff, Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985); Philip M. Kayal and Joseph M. Kayal, The Syrian-Lebanese in America: A Study in Religion and Assimilation (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1975); Najib E. Saliba, Emigration from Syria and the Syrian-Lebanese Community of Worcester, MA (Ligonier, PA: Antakya Press, 1992); Adele L. Younis, The Coming of the Arabic-Speaking People to the United States, ed. Philip M. Kayyal (Staten Island, NY: Center for Migration Studies, 1995).

11. I prefer to use the term “migrant” because it better connotes ongoing movement and relocation which characterized the lives of those at the center of this book. However, I use “immigrant” when I am drawing on scholarship that also uses this term, or when I am describing government regulations, such as a tax imposed on “immigrants.”

12. Scholars working on Californian immigrant communities have been especially adept at advancing this model of cultural adaptation. Representative work includes George J. Sánchez, Becoming Mexican-American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Mark Wild, “‘So Many Children at Once and So Many Kinds’: Schools and Ethno-Racial Boundaries in Early Twentieth-Century Los Angeles,” in Western Historical Quarterly 33, no. 4 (Winter 2002), 453–476; and Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Little Manila Is in the Heart (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013).

13. There is a rich debate on definitions of Latinidad and Latinidades. I have found helpful Paul Allatson’s summation that “Latinidad, and the less common Latinismo, are designations for panethnic Latino/a identifications, imaginaries, or community affiliations that encompass, but do not supersede, diminish, or destroy, national origin or historical minority identifications.” See Key Terms in Latino/a Cultural and Literary Studies (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 138–139.

14. The declaration of intention was the first of a set of documents filed in the process to become an American citizen, also known as naturalization. After filing these first papers, an immigrant eligible for citizenship would have to wait three years to file the petition for naturalization. If granted, this would be followed by a certificate of citizenship. The whole process took a minimum of five years. See “Declaration of Intention of Heilas [sic] Vitar,” Naturalization Records of the US District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division (Los Angeles), 1887–1940; microfilm roll 234; microfilm serial M1524; National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, DC; downloaded from

15. See Alfaro-Velcamp, So Far from Allah, Chapter 1. On multiracialism, particularly as it relates to indigenous migrant communities from Mexico, see Jonathon Fox, “Reframing Mexican Migration as a Multi-Ethnic Process,” Latino Studies 4 (2006): 39–61.

16. For a discussion of step migration, see Leslie Page Moch, Moving Europeans: Migration in Western Europe Since 1650 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992).

17. On this point, see Andrew Arsan’s Interlopers of Empire: The Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 8–13.

18. Ann R. Gabbert, “El Paso, A Sight for Sore Eyes: Medical and Legal Aspects of Syrian Immigration, 1906–1907,” The Historian 65, no. 1 (2002): 15–42; Velcamp, So Far from Allah, 37; Deirdre Maloney, National Insecurities: Immigrants and US Deportation Policy Since 1882 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 117–119.

19. F.P. Sargent to T. Schmucker, February 11, 1907; correspondence contained in the “Seraphic Report 1906”; record group (RG) 85; INS Records #51423-1A; NARA.

20. See, for example, the work of Natalia Molina, How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); Natalia Molina, Daniel Martinez Ho-Sang, Ramón A. Gutiérrez, Relational Formations of Race: Theory, Method, Practice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019); Nayan Shah, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and the Law in the American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); and John Rowe, ed., Post-Nationalist American Studies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

21. This tendency to bind the history of migrants within national spaces is evident in the canonical work in the field, The Lebanese in the World, edited by Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi. The anthology divides the Lebanese diaspora into three major geographical groups, America and Africa, as well as Australia. This paradigm makes it difficult to capture the ways in which the lives of migrants seeped across these borders. See The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration, ed. Hourani and Shehadi (London: Centre for Lebanese Studies, I.B. Tauris, 1992).

22. See Arsan, Interlopers of Empire; John Towfik Karam, Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007); Stacy Farhenthold, Between the Ottomans and the Entente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

23. More recently, there has emerged an interest in exploring the “Pink Tide,” or a set of solidarities between Latin America and the Middle East that organize around shared critiques of neoliberalism and American hegemony. See the special issue on the Latin East by Alejandro Velasco, Omar Dahi, Sinan Antoon, and Laura Weiss, “The Latin East,” NACLA Report on the Americas 50, no. 1 (2018): 1–7.

24. To be sure, several excellent studies have adopted a transnational or diasporic approach to the study of Middle Eastern migrants. They have recognized the multiple connections that migrants have to home- and host-country (and problematized these distinctions), and emphasized the cross-border reach of nationalist organizations and networks of merchants. See, for example, Camila Pastor de María y Campos, “The Transnational Imagination,” in Palma Journal 2, no. 1 (2009): 31–71; Arsan, Interlopers of Empire; Akram Fouad Khater, Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender, and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Ilham Khouri-Makdisi, The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010); Stacy Farhenthold, “Transnational Modes and Media: The Syrian Press in the Mahjar,” Mashriq and Mahjar 1 (2013), 30–54; Jacob Norris, Land of Progress: Palestine in the Age of Colonial Development, 1905–1948 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Dalia Abdelhady, The Lebanese Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

My goal is to push for an elaboration of the transnational that probes the layers of multiple migrations within and across nations. Too often transnational work forgets that trans denotes moving through space and across lines as well as changing the nature of something. As Aiwah Ong notes, “Besides suggesting new relations between nation-states and capital, transnationality also alludes to the transversal, the transactional, the transrelational, and the transgressive aspects of contemporary behavior and imagination that are incited, enabled, and regulated by the changing logics of states and capitalism.” Quoted in David Thelen, “The Nation and Beyond: Transnational Approaches on United States History,” Journal of American History 86, no. 3 (1999): 965–975, 968.

25. Hollywood Monthly Magazine, June and July 1951, 5.

26. Note that on the registration of her birth, her father is listed as white, but on his border-crossing card of 1927 into El Paso, his race is listed as Syrian. To complicate matters, he is classified as Mexican on the website, not on the card itself. For the first document, see “Report of Birth for Bertha Maria Touché (Sept. 30, 1931),” Decimal Files, Compiled 1910–1949; RG 59, General Records of the Department of State, 1763–2002; series ARC ID 2555709; series MLR no. A1 3001; series box no. 446; file no. 131; NARA; downloaded from For the second document, see “Border Crossing at El Paso, TX of Jose Jacobo Touche, Aug.19 1924,” Nonstatistical Manifests and Statistical Index Cards of Aliens Arriving at El Paso, Texas, 1905–1927; NAI 2843448; RG title, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787–2004; RG 85; microfilm roll no. 119; NARA; downloaded from

27. Linda Basch, Nina Glick Schiller, and Cristina Szanton Blanc, Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialized Nation-States (Langhorne, PA: Gordon and Breach, 1994). The quote “transnationalism challenges concepts of citizenship and of nationhood itself” appears on the book’s dust jacket.

28. Fox, “Reframing Mexican Migration,” 42.

29. On Los Angeles and Pacific migrations, see Henry Yu, “Los Angeles and American Studies in a Pacific World of Migrations,” American Quarterly 56, no. 3 (2005): 531–543.

30. I borrow this term “strange affinities” from Grace Hong and Roderick Ferguson, The Gender and Sexual Politics of Comparative Racialization (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).

31. I am drawn here to Natalia Molina’s “relational notions of race.” See How Race Is Made in America, 2–3. Arab Routes resonates not only with Arab American studies but with research on other ethnic communities such as Vivek Bald’s work on the “lost histories” of South Asian working-class migrants in New Orleans and Harlem, Karen Leonard’s work on Mexican Punjabis in California, and Neda Maghbouleh’s book on Iranian American racialization “on the limits of whiteness.” See Vivek Bald, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); Karen Leonard, Making Ethnic Choices: California’s Punjabi Mexican Americans (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994); Neda Maghbouleh, The Limits of Whiteness: Iranian-Americans and the Everyday Politics of Race (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017).