Arabs in the North West

Finding Common Ground

In the fall of 2006 a team of ACW members created two panels that contributed to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) and the Humanities Washington (HW) exhibit Washington Stories. The panels were part of an exhibit dedicated to sharing the history of various ethnic communities in the state, highlighting the early Arab settlers and addresses common misconceptions about modern Arabs.

Text from Panel I:
While Arabs have been settling in the Pacific Northwest since the late 1800’s, it’s only in the last few decades that they’ve sought a common identity. Today, Washingtonian Arabs are facing the challenges inherent in maintaining their individual character while uniting under a common label.
The first wave of Arab immigrants arrived in Washington State in the late 1880s, settling in Seattle and in areas as far south as Morton and as far north as Bellingham. Mostly from Syria and Lebanon, then under Ottoman rule and fueled by a strong entrepreneurial spirit, these individuals gravitated toward self-employment, following the peddler to merchant to store owner model. Unlike the first wave, the second and third waves of immigrants were triggered by world events and had less to do with economic opportunity, and more to do with political safety and the desire for education.

Text from Panel II:
Who’s an Arab? Test your knowledge!

True or False:
1. The geographical area containing all Arab countries is commonly known as “Arabia.”
2. Generally speaking, Iranians, Turks, and Afghanistanis are considered Arabs.
3. There are three different Arabic dialects.
4. The Arab League defines an Arab as someone who currently resides in the Arab World.
5. The majority of early Arab settlers in Washington State were Christian.
6. There are no Arab Jews.
7. All Arabs are Muslim.
8. All people who come from the Middle East and North Africa are considered Arab.
9. The U.S. Census Bureau has its own definition of who’s an Arab.
10. Not all Washingtonians who come from Arab countries label themselves as Arab.

Answers: 1(F) 2(F) 3(F) 4(T) 5(T) 6(F) 7(F) 8(F) 9(T) 10(T)