More than 50 AUB community members, local authors and book lovers, as well as friends gathered on the afternoon of Friday, November 4th at Jafet library’s lobby to discuss Dr. Linda K. Jacobs’ book entitled “Strangers in the West: The Syrian Colony of New York City, 1880-1900”.
The book traces the beginnings of the Syrian immigration and settlement in New York City, namely, around Washington Square on the lower west side of Manhattan and is thoroughly and expansively researched, based on a variety of sources including local newspapers, church records, city directories, private archives and photo collections and other documents to conceptualize the emergence and development of this distinctive community.
The book discussion was moderated by Dr. Anaheed Al-Hardan, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies at AUB. Al-Hardan commenced the event by welcoming everyone to the AUB Libraries and to the event, letting them know about the book signing at the end of the discussion, and about the exhibit that the library put together in parallel to this event. She then presented Jacobs, talking about her educational and professional background and highlighting the importance of the topic, book and discussion.
After the welcoming word, Jacobs took the stage and told the story of the Arbeely family, which tells how the “first Syrian immigrant family” constructed an Arab and American identity by deliberately displaying both Eastern and Western faces. She gave a brief biography for each member of the family and spoke about their education and successes and about how they reflected on the Arab cultural and social qualities, even with things like their wardrobe, dancing, sword fights, prayers, or “arguilehs”. At the end of the presentation, Jacobs and the audience were happy to know that there were Arbeely family members present among the attendees during the event.
Unfolding the journey of writing this book, which began by putting the idea into perspective and then gathering all the information and challenging herself to put everything down on paper, Jacobs said that what triggered the whole process was her curiosity to know more about her grandparents and about their history.
Describing her book, Jacobs said that it is the “first and only book of its kind” telling the story of the Manhattan Arab colony “as it was, without racism”.
The audience’s participation was insightful and thought-provoking. Several attendees addressed Jacobs asking her about her book and her presentation, in addition to other areas of research related to Arab immigrants.
Asked about why the University Libraries chose to host this event, Dr. Lokman Meho, Director of the University Libraries said “The library attempts to always play a key role in the AUB community’s cultural and intellectual advancement. After all, the Library is the intellectual hub of the University. We couldn’t be happier to host this event and to welcome Dr. Jacobs at the libraries. “
The book discussion was followed by a book signing event, managed by Librairie Antoine, where event attendees received signed versions of their new copies of “Strangers in the West”.
An exhibit on Arab Immigration to America accompanied the event and will hold at Jafet Library-AUB until November 11th, showcasing photos, books, and content from the Arab press in America, all covering the Arab immigration to America. All exhibited material is from the AUB Libraries’ collections.
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