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Dearborn, MI – What was a thriving enclave and first stop for Arab immigrants a century ago – and home to writers Khalil Gibran, Ameen Rihani, Elia Abu Madi, the PEN League and early Arab American newspapers – is today, a decade after 9-11-2001, the site of the former World Trade Center and the proposed Park51 development.

The fascinating, little-known history of the Little Syria neighborhood of early 20th century New York City is the subject of a traveling exhibition currently being developed by Arab American National Museum curators and a group of passionate New Yorkers.

A benefit to support the historical documentation of Little Syria and the creation of this new traveling exhibition begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 26 at The University Club in New York City and includes a cocktail reception, brief program and elegant meal.

Tickets and a variety of sponsorships for this event may be purchased online at

About Little Syria

From the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, an area of Manhattan’s lower west side was the home to a vibrant and productive community of early Arab Americans. Dubbed the “heart of New York’s Arab world” by The New York Times, the Washington Street neighborhood was commonly referred to as both the “Syrian Colony” and “The Mother Colony” because of its large concentration of immigrants from what was Greater Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and Jordan).

It was here that many immigrants from the first wave of Arab immigration to the United States got their start in a land of new opportunity. Their experiences, all but lost to living memory, parallel those of other immigrant groups of The Great Migration period. This exhibition seeks to resurrect and document the stories and history of this early community while educating the public on important legacies of Arab Americans in New York.

Little Syria was a neighborhood of many firsts. It was the home of literary greats Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani, both members of the first Arab American literary society known as Al-Rābiṭah al-Qalamiyah (The Pen League). Some of the first Arabic language newspapers including Al Hoda, the originator of the Arabic linotype, got their start in the Washington Street neighborhood.

New York’s first Arab Christian churches, Saint Joseph’s Maronite Church and St. George Anitochian Orthodox Church, began their congregations by providing places of worship for the then burgeoning Arab American community. Moreover, many residents of the neighborhood began their lives in America as peddlers, merchants, restaurateurs, and laborers in local mills and sweatshops. It was here that they laid the foundation for generations to come in the United States.

Little Syria will document and celebrate the rich history of New York’s first Arab American community. The exhibition will provide a space for reflection and discussion on the presence of Arab Americans in lower Manhattan; a particularly important and timely subject given the events of the past decade that have affected this part of New York City. Furthermore, the exhibition will build community history and collective memory, thus serving as a source of pride for all Arab Americans.

Little Syria Benefit Honorary Host Committee
Amer Bisat – Honorary Host Chair
Qais Al-Awqati
Inea Bushnaq Engler
Nimet Habachy
Suzan Habachy
Stephen Hindy
Sami & Rania Idilby
Ahmed Issawi
Abdeen Jabara
Mona Khalidi
Rashid Khalidi
Marnia Lazreg
Susan Peters
Souhad Rafey
Mariam C. Said
Simon Shaheen
Omar Wohabe
John Zogby

Image: Courtesy of Library of Congress

The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves, celebrates and educates the public on the history, life, culture and contributions of Arab Americans. It serves as a resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in this country. The Arab American National Museum is a project of ACCESS, a Dearborn, Michigan-based nonprofit human services and cultural organization. Learn more at and

The Arab American National Museum is a proud Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Read about the Affiliations program at

The Museum is located at 13624 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, MI, 48126. Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under, free. Call 313.582.2266 for further information.

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