Interior of al-Hoda press offices in New York City published in The Noble Sentiments. Newspapers and Journals Collection, Khayrallah Center Archive.
Newspapers and journals were the nucleus of a burgeoning cultural life in Arab America that vitally shaped early communities.
Articles, advertisements, serialized novels, and editorials gave substance and voice to immigrant lives, even as they helped guide them through the process of understanding and integrating into their new homes. Immigrants encountered arguments about religion and the clergy, and pondered questions about gender roles, social etiquette, and racial identity. Newspapers engaged in debates about citizenship and ethnicity, love and marriage in the “modern” world, and child rearing and education. Readers were exposed to news from the Middle East and global events, scanned reports of crime and punishment, and followed the visits of compatriots from neighboring towns and across the world. Newspapers also provided the first venue for immigrant writers to experiment with the Arabic language and mould it to fit novel realities encountered in their new surroundings.
These stories and debates linked immigrants to an imagined community of “Syrian Americans” in the United States, while keeping them tied to their homelands in the Middle East and other mahjari communities across the world.
The Arabic Press has helped plant the love of America in the hearts of millions of peoples speaking the common Arabic language.
Salloum Mokarzel, publisher of The Syrian World, and brother to Naoum, publisher of al-Hoda, c. 1940. Mokarzel Family Collection, Khayrallah Center Archive.
Kawkab Amirka, 15 April 1892. Newspapers and Journals Collection, Khayrallah Center Archive.
In 1892, Kawkab Amrika was the first Arabic newspaper to appear in North America, published by Ibrahim and Najeeb Arbeely. By 1900, half a dozen papers, including Naoum Mokarzel’s al-Hoda and Najeeb Diab’s Mira’at al-Gharb, two of the most widely circulated Arabic newspapers, were printed in cities throughout the United States.
In 1910, and in response to growing need, Salloum Mokarzel patented the first Arabic linotype machine in New York City, which fostered an explosion of presses and publications publishing in the Arabic language well into the 1930s. Outside New York’s printing hub, newspapers emerged across the US including Detroit’s al-Ettehad (The Union), Oklahoma City’s The Syrian Light, Minneapolis’ al-Omma (The Nation), and Houston’s The Syrian Spotlight.
The scope of this publishing effervescence is remarkable: A community that did not exceed 140,000 Arab Americans in 1930 sustained over 81 publications, the equivalent of one newspaper or journal for every 1,800 immigrants. By comparison, in the U.S. in 1930 there was one publication for every 50,000 Americans.