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Volume 37, Number 5September/October 1986

In This Issue

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The Arab Americans

Written by Gregory Orfalea and Brian Clark
Additional photographs by Burnett H. Moody and Katrina Thomas

Today, Arab-Americans number about three million. Businessmen, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, professors, philanthropists, authors, journalists, engineers and entertainers, they head large corporations, influence the arts, play important roles in all levels of government and help make national policy. They farm, fix shoes, repair cars, deliver mail, and work as stenographers, bank clerks, nurses, cooks, teachers, librarians, waiters and shopkeepers. But, as the following profiles demonstrate, whatever their jobs, Arab-Americans make positive contributions to life in every state in the union.


For a short time recently, dramatic Mount Rushmore National Memorial, in South Dakota's Black Hills, became the site of Gene Abdallah's office. He opened the court and announced the presiding judge at one of several naturalization ceremonies around the country during Liberty Weekend, that together swore in over 25,000 immigrants as United States citizens.

Abdallah, 50, is the U.S. Marshal for South Dakota. From Sioux Falls, he manages a statewide district with four offices and 22 employees. His mandate is to enforce federal laws, protect federal officials, witnesses, property and lands, and serve as custodian of federal prisoners. He and his staff also escort missiles from Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Abdallah's parents were Syrian, his father from Butlahea and his mother from Seidneia, and they came to America around 1894. After settling in Sioux Falls, his father dug basements with a slip (a kind of wheelbarrow without wheels) and a team of drays. Later he had a grocery store. Abdallah remembers that his father was very patriotic. During World War II, he would invite soldiers from the nearby army base over for dinner every Sunday.

Abdallah is conscious of his heritage, but not involved in it. There are no local Arab-American organizations. "If there's a minority here," he says, "I'm it. There are probably fewer Arab-Americans in this state than any other minority." But, he adds: "It's not a disadvantage. I've never been discriminated against in any way. The opportunity to succeed is there for everybody, if they want to go out and do it."

Before his appointment by President Reagan in 1982, Abdallah's career included stints as deputy sheriff, political candidate, car dealer, and sales executive. Abdallah is active in civic and charity work and enjoys South Dakota. " I like the four seasons, the hunting and the fishing, the people, the small-town atmosphere."

Mount Rushmore, says Abdullah, was a perfect location for the Liberty Weekend event, for as many times as he has seen the carved granite faces of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln lit against the night sky, he has never failed to be moved. And though he was also supervising 12 deputies as they protected the senator, congressman, and seven federal judges present, he had time for a thought for those immigrants being naturalized and how pleased they must have been. "It touches pretty close to home," he said.


When Dr. Laila Gabrawy traveled from Egypt to the United States in 1970, her first impression of America was a good one - a woman stranger at the New York airport gave her the money to make a long-distance phone call.

Things were "tough" in the beginning, says Dr. Gabrawy, a graduate of Cairo University who had come to the United States to continue her education in the fields of ophthalmology and eye surgery. But after spending one year at Washington University, St. Louis, and returning to Egypt for another year, Dr. Gabrawy decided she would like to live in the United States. She was back, in St. Louis City Hospital, in 1973 and quickly learned that if one "works hard, things get better." She won a fellowship to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and finally, her training completed, was able to start her own private practice in St. Louis.

Dr. Gabrawy and her 17-year-old son became U.S. citizens in 1978 and while having a very full work schedule, she finds time to enjoy swimming and aerobic dancing, the theater and symphony on a regular basis.

In 1982, she went briefly to Saudi Arabia to help establish the King Khalid Specialist Eye Hospital (KKESH) in Riyadh (See Aramco World, September-October 1984), and carried out some of the hospital's first eye operations.


Though a number of Arab-Americans, such as Danny Thomas, Michael Ansara, Vic Tayback and Jamie Farr, made names in television, none ever won an Academy Award. That is, until F. Murray Abraham won the Best Actor Prize in 1985 for his role as Salieri, the jealous rival of Wolfgang Mozart, in Amadeus.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1940, Abraham grew up with tales of the World War I famine in Syria - his father was the only son to survive - and stories of a grandfather who was a legendary village singer. Actor Abraham's own resonant voice, no doubt, owes to his Syrian grandfather, but he is as proud of his mother's Italian family, as he is of the Arab ancestry of his father.

The Abraham family lived for a while in El Paso, Texas, where Murray worked at the Arab-American-owned Farah slacks factory. In Brooklyn, he lives with his wife and two children, and is emphatic about what counts most: family.

Having recently completed a lead role in The Name of the Rose in Italy, Abraham - whose baptismal name was Farid Mu'rah Ibrahim - has traveled the world, lived in Spain, even visited Antarctica.

On return to the States, however, he is ebullient about feeling at home in America. This summer he celebrated that feeling with New Yorkers: playing Shakespeare in Central Park.


It's not often that a private eye becomes a social worker, but it happened to Aliya Hassan. Licensed as a private detective in the state of New York and a specialist in store security, she moved to Detroit in 1972, and began volunteer work for ACCESS, a new social services center for Arab factory workers in the Dearborn area. Soon, she became the director.

Since then ACCESS' work has grown to offer medical aid, interpreting, help with workmen's compensation and social security to the community at large including the 20,000 Arabs who comprise one-fifth the population of Dearborn. Many are Yemenis who immigrated since the 1960s to work in the car factories.

Hassan herself was born and raised a Muslim, of Lebanese descent, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Her father was one of the earliest Arab immigrants to America, in 1878. He peddled fora while, homesteaded in the Black Hills, and finally started a construction business with his brothers, putting in most of the highways in Sioux Falls.

Having pilgrimaged to Makkah (Mecca), Hassan's favorite story from the Koran concerns a weary Virgin Mary pregnant with Christ, lying down under a palm tree in Bethlehem. She hears a voice which comforts her and tells her to shake the tree to cause fresh ripe dates to fall (Sura 19:23-25). In the Koranic version of the story of Jesus' birth, Mary is a strong presence and, to Hassan, a true inspiration.


His friends claim that George Tanber has nine lives. One was spent photographing sharks in the Red Sea, another trying to get an interview with Idi Amin, one was used up on the death walk with the starving in Ethiopia, and another covering the war in Lebanon. But most remarkable, for someone who has reported on events in 50 countries, Tanber, of the old Arab-American community of Toledo, is only 35!

With a masters degree from nearby Ohio University, Tanber first worked in public relations. He did most of the award-winning promotion work for the Vietnam War Memorial, and worked closely with its architect, Maya Linn. Joining the Toledo Blade newsstaff in 1984, Tanber was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his reportage on the famine in Africa and won first prize in the AP/Ohio Awards enterprising reporting category. The Blade has sent Tanber on the tough assignments: South Africa, Ethiopia, Lebanon. With grandparents hailing from Zahle and Damascus, and familiarity cultivated when he worked for the Beirut Daily Star in the mid-seventies, Tanber often gets interviews with controversial Middle East figures most American reporters can't reach.

An accomplished photojournalist who often combines a sharp camera-eye with gripping copy, Tanber has photographed Alaska for National Geographic, and the poor in Burma for Christian Science Monitor.

For all his travels Tanber's sense of being American is acute. "One thing you learn when you travel in the Arab world (when you've grown up Arab-American) is that you're an American first. The difference in mentality is severe.''


When Sammie Abbott's five-year term as mayor of Takoma Park, a quaint suburb of Washington, D.C., came to a halt in 1985, the Washington Post said it was the end of a "singular era" for the town of 16,500 citizens. During his term, Abbott upgraded the town from its earlier seedy status as "Tacky Park" to a community which restored its historic charm and is a model of resident involvement. The 78-year-old Abbott lost his race to a Yuppie, but had no regrets.

Abbott's lifelong ambition has been the search for social justice. Born to an immigrant Melkite Lebanese family in Ithaca, New York, Abbott was deeply shaken by a bank's foreclosure on his father's store in the Depression. He rode the top of boxcars across the state of New York, organizing unemployed councils, Work Projects Administration workers, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and the farmers, while barely making a living as an itinerant artist. He even helped prepare the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers who went to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.

Abbott volunteered forthe U.S. armed forces right after Pearl Harbor. "I was a believer in the cause, which was the defeat of Hitler and fascism,'' he said, "I thought that was a just war and I still think it was a just war. I was a perpetual volunteer. If there was any gung-ho man, it was me."

A resident of Takoma Park since 1940, Abbott worked as a bricklayer and hod carrier until he was fired during the McCarthy era for his efforts on behalf of the Bertrand Russell peace petition to ban the bomb. He later scratched a living as a free-lance commercial artist.

"I took the Declaration of Independence literally, "says Abbott, "I took seriously that all men are created equal."


George Atiyeh presides over a collection of more than 100,000 books in Arabic. "By providing primary sources of information on the Arab world," says Atiyeh, head of the Near East Section of the African and Middle East Division of the Library of Congress for the last 19 years, "we believe we are contributing to the possibility of better understanding."

He is particularly proud of the Arab-American literature collection he has assembled, especially newspapers and periodicals. "These I collected from different parts of the United States - some I even went into cellars of old houses to collect, "says Atiyeh.

As a result, the Near East Section is an important source of information on the Arab-American community. "We found the first Arab-American newspaper, Kawkab Amrika (The American Star), published in the early 1890s and we have the entire collection of al-Hoda (The Guidance), which started in 1898 and is still published."

Atiyeh was born in Amioun, Lebanon, in 1923, came to the United States in 1951 and became an American citizen in 1969. He received a B. A. and M.A. at the American University of Beirut, and received his Ph.D. in oriental languages and literature at the University of Chicago. He taught at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, for 13 years, rising to chairman of the humanities department before leaving to take his job at the Library of Congress.

Besides his work as a librarian, Atiyeh serves on the board or advisory committee of several Middle East studies organizations, has written a book, Al-Kindi: Philosopher of the Arabs, and prepared a well-respected bibliography on the Middle East.


Mixing "vicerol" at Woonsocket Dye, sweating at the Lafayette textile mill, fighting for Uncle Sam in World War I, Elias Joseph has done it all.

Born in Maara, Syria, in 1901, Joseph at age nine hauled hundreds of pounds of figs to market in Damascus. In 1912, aged 11, he traded in one passport that was to have taken him to Russia, for another to get him to America.

His first exclamation on Ellis Island was "baytal-hurriyah," or "Land of Freedom!" But work called quickly: "We land nine o'clock in the morning, six o'clock I go to work in Woonsocket."

He was an American doughboy in the First World War and on return to the States, opened his cab service with the first closed-car Ford in Woonsocket; he was known as "Taxi Joe" and served the town for 60 years.

About America he is certain: "This is the best country on earth."


Lily Bandak’s parents brought her from Bethlehem to Newark, Delaware, in 1960. She says her late father was born in Bethlehem on December 25, his name was Jesus, he was a carpenter, and his mother's name was Mary.

A professional photographer, Bandak, 36, studied in Paris and has a Fine Arts degree in photography from the Philadelphia College of Art. Her first job was serving as private photographer to Jehan Sadat, when Egypt's first lady accompanied her husband to the Camp David peace talks. At the invitation of the Egyptian Embassy, she subsequently went to Egypt to take photographs for an exhibit in Washington, D.C.

The White House director of photography saw the exhibit and invited her to present Mrs. Jimmy Carter with a picture. America, Bandak says, "has given me a chance. In 1978 I graduated and by 1980 my work was in the White House."


Abdullah Najjar of Georgia has spent the past 20 years helping the world fight epidemics and contagious diseases. Najjar, who from 1969 to 1980 was International Services Director of the U.S. Government's Center for Disease Control, in Atlanta, has traveled to dozens of countries as an American specialist in epidemiology. He was head of the malaria section of the U.S. mission to Ethiopia, and did extensive work in health care in Iran.

Najjar came to the U.S. in the 1940's with his parents from Baakline, Lebanon. Now retired, he remains actively involved in Middle East affairs as a member of the Executive Board of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

An expert on Druze affairs, Najjar once typified the Druze as "a traditional, conservative, God-fearing, closely-knit community akin to the Amish and Quakers in some respects."


Fran Jabara is founder and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas. He owns oil, real estate, and consulting businesses, and is a member of several company boards of directors.

His involvement in business isn't surprising; he grew up in the world of commerce. His father came to America at 15 and sold sundries out of a pack on his back while walking through Indian country in the Oklahoma Territory. At age eight, Jabara started working in his father's grocery store in Burden, Kansas.

Entrepreneurship is part of Jabara's community participation. He is chairman of the Kansas delegation to the White House Conference on Small Business, president of the Kansas Coliseum, and president of the Wichita Rotary Club, the 18th largest of the 21,000 clubs worldwide.


Shortstop Sam Khalifa of the Pittsburgh Pirates is playing his first full year in the major leagues.

Born in Fontana, California, Khalifa, 22, grew up in St. Louis and Tucson, Arizona - his current residence. Young Khalifa fielded grounders in 1974 in Tripoli, Libya, "on a sand field which was watered until it was real tight, and then steamrolled." His father, a chemist from Egypt, had taken a job there as a United Nations advisor. Back in Tucson, Khalifa tore up pitcher after pitcher in high school, batting .550 his senior year to lead Sahuaro H.S. to the Arizona state title. Khalifa himself garnered the Arizona Player-of-the-Year-Award as well and became a high school All-American.

Khalifa's coach says, "Sammy's the greatest player I've seen in my 23 years of coaching. He made plays in high school I hadn't seen before. He has what you call come-through ability an innate drive."


St. Paul is a leafy, old factory town on the northern Mississippi River that was designated an All-American City in 1983-84 for, among other things, its unique solar-heated downtown project and novel Neighborhood Partnership Program. St. Paul also won the Sixth Annual Liability Award in 1985 for its use of urban arts to improve the quality of life. And in 1984, St. Paul's mayor was made president of the National League of Cities. That man is George Latimer .

The 51-year-old-son of a Scots-English father whose heritage traces back to 17th century colonial America, Latimer credits his mother, whose parents were Lebanese peddler immigrants, for much of his self-confidence. "Whether she was smothering you with love or all over you about something you were doing," he says, "you never got the feeling you were unimportant."

An activist liberal Democrat with a deep love of candor, initiative, and independent thinking, Latimer was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in the Depression, and grew up in Schenectady where he helped run the family store.

Clearly in love with St. Paul since he took his first job out of Columbia Law School there in 1963, Latimer became mayor in 1976 and has won reelection five times. He has made the city a model mix of tradition and innovation, restoring the loss of 95 percent of the city's trees to Dutch elm disease, as well as saving energy by converting street lamps from sodium to mercury lighting.

Married with five children, Latimer is a Democratic candidate for governor of Minnesota in 1986.


Senator George Mitchell , of Maine, is chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee - a high tribute from peers for a first-term Senator.

Mitchell was born in 1933 in Waterville, Maine, to a Lebanese immigrant mother and an Irish laborer. His mother, Mary Saad Mitchell, worked in the area's textile mills as did many early Syro-Lebanese immigrants in America's northeastern most state.

Senator Mitchell graduated from Bowdoin College in 1954, and took his law degree from Georgetown University in 1960. From 1954-56, he served in the U.S. Army Counter-intelligence Corps.

In the 1960's, Mitchell served as aide to Senator Edmund Muskie, and as Democratic State Chairman for Maine. When Senator Muskie vacated his seat, in 1980, to become Secretary of State, Mitchell was appointed to complete the term, and two years later was elected in his own right.


Soad Helmi, professor of Birmingham Southern College Alabama, works hard to en excellence - devoting her free time to "reading, reading, reading her students with the latest information.

A native of Giza, Egypt, Helmi, 53, became a U.S. citizen in 1974 coming to study in America 11 years earlier. She and her Egyptian American husband, an associate professor of accounting at the University of Alabama, have three sons. Helmi, a Muslim believes you have to reflect your religion in what you do.

She says, "I feel that Aral have really a lot to contribute American life. We have our culture, have our assets. On the averaverage, the Arab who emigrates to the United States is a special breed. As people, we have a high ratio of creative people, hard-working people, people who contribute."


Joseph Awad is both corporate executive and poet, family man and artist, Arab and Irish, a Northerner by birth and a Southerner by choice.

"It was not until quite recently that I ever thought of myself as an Arab-American," Awad said. Although his paternal grandparents immigrated from a village near Beirut at the turn of the century, Awad's father "took pains to impress on me that we were Americans. I've never known anyone who appreciated more deeply the freedom and opportunity of our country.''

Though born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania in 1927, Awad has lived in Richmond, Virginia since 1963. In addition to his book of poems, The Neon Distances, he is author of The Power of Public Relations (Praeger, 1985). In 1982, he served as national president of the Public Relations Society of America, and says poetry is not the "exclusive preserve of academicians."


Alexander Simon, 47, heads his own real estate development and investment company, Simon & Associates, in Delray Beach, Florida, where he and his brother Roy, an architect, are currently developing Atlantic Plaza, an $8 million shopping and office center.

Simon's mother is from Damascus, Syria, and his father from Douma, Lebanon. His grandfather, Abraham Simon, was the first family member to settle in Florida. Though later a well-known architect he sold clothing along the Florida railroad track to earn passage for the rest of the family.

Today the Simons are well-established and accepted members of the community.

Simon is chairman of the important Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board and he and his brothers - Roy, Charles and Ernest - are active in civic and community organizations, often in leadership roles.


William Abu Assaly, 40, of Denver, Colorado, combines his hobby theatrical makeup - with his profession - pharmacist - by owning a drugstore that is probably the largest distributor of theatrical makeup between Chicago and Los Angeles.

Born in Beiruit, Assaly came to the United States to attend college in 1965 and became a U. S. citizen 10 years later. He received a B.S. in pharmacy from the University of Wyoming, and now owns Hatch's Drugs, across the street from the University of Colorado Health Science School, which includes his theatrical makeup shop.

Assaly is an active political party member and president of the National Association of Arab-Americans’ Denver chapter. He feels achievement is part of the Arab's value system. "Within the Arab community, if you don't succeed you feel like a failure. It's expect you to be above average."


John Sununu’s interests extend beyond the ski resorts and fishing towns of New Hampshire - of which, at 46, he is governor. His concern for world peace and development has prompted work with the National Academy of Science's aid mission to Africa and advocacy of a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement.

Proud of his heritage - he is the son of Lebanese immigrants to New Hampshire - he was the keynote speaker at the 1984 convention of the National Association of Arab-Americans.

Tall, fair-haired Sununu has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and served as associate dean at Tufts University. Until his election as governor in 1982, Sununu was president of JHS Engineering Company and Thermal Research Inc., and is now chairman of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors and Republican Governors Association.


One day at a flea market in 1963, Abe Ajay was struck by Connecticut River Valley cigar molds. "I was entranced with the way the sun would hit them, then fall, and the interesting shadows they made, "Ajay said.

The rest is history-art history. Ajay—a self-described "maverick" in the family of a Syrian candy store owner - left a career as a political cartoonist and commercial artist to, in his words, "go straight." The result is that Ajay's sculptures and paintings are in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum and Smithsonian Institution, to name just a few.

Ajay, born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, has never been to the Middle East, but he says, "Somewhere in my genes is an affinity with Islamic architecture, the tradition of Islamic craftmanship, silversmithing, goldsmithing." Like the Arab artisans, he said, "I like to break down forms and reassemble."


"Slightly breathless, ever so polished, anxious to please... without regional accent, thereby coming to you from everywhere and nowhere at once. Call it Americaspeak."

Thus one critic characterized the voice of Kamal Amin Kasem, better known to millions of fans as disc jockey Casey Kasem . Heard over 1,000 radio stations around the world with the program America's Top 40, Kasem has also done several thousand radio and television commercials, over 2,000 cartoon episodes, and his television show, America's Top 10, is offered by 150 stations. In 1981, Kasem became the first disc jockey to have his star placed on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame, and recently was admitted as the youngest member to the National Radio Broadcasters' Hall of Fame.

That voice comes to you by way of Detroit and Lebanon. Kasem was born in Detroit in 1932, the son of a Druze immigrant grocer from al-Moukhtara, Lebanon. Married to actress Jean Kasem - he has three children from a previous marriage - Casey is a vegetarian and peace activist. Dark-skinned, Kasem said he "always felt I was different" growing up, but that "I was never led to feel anything but pride for my heritage and religion."

Jesse Jackson's most successful fundraiser for his history-making presidential bid in 1984 was hosted by Casey and Jean Kasem. Kasem admitted, he was attracted among other things, to Jackson's understanding of the Middle East. "The key to solving the nuclear problem is to eliminate the fuse where it is the shortest," Kasem noted.

There is, in short, a serious man behind that voice of "Americaspeak."


At age 48, Judge John Ellis is one of the youngest senior circuit court judges in the country, administering to four counties in Mississippi. He fell in love with politics when, as a youth, he organized the area for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign. "Kennedy showed me politics is a matter of working with people and their problems and not being selfish in the way you do it," Ellis said. "I like that."

Judge Ellis' family, like many of Vicksburg's old Lebanese, immigrated to the Mississippi river town from El Munsif, Lebanon, in the 1880's.

In no other U.S. city outside of Detroit, have Arab-Americans achieved such extensive political, as well as economic, prominence as they have in Vicksburg. When asked the key to the Lebanese' successes in Vicksburg, Ellis hinted at a century-long salubrious relationship with blacks, who form the majority of the town's 25,000 people.


While most of the old 1950's drive-ins have closed in the U.S. - the type you'd pull into in your convertible, and have a waitress attach the tray to your window - Lou's Drive-ln still plays in Peoria.

Forty years ago, before there was a Lou's Drive-ln, Louis Lahood was flying B-17 bombers over Germany. He flew 30 combat missions - in which, miraculously, not one of his crew was hurt - and became, along with America's first jet ace, Jimmy Jabara, one of the most decorated Arab-American veterans of that war. He received the Flying Cross and Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.

Although Lahood made it home to accolades, he remained acutely aware of those who didn't, and in his unpublished memoirs, Wings in the Hands of the Lord, mused about the terrible waste. "You don't have to be a mathematician to realize the hundreds of billions of dollars going down the drain.''


Ahmed Araji is a full professor of agricultural economics at the University of Idaho in Moscow. He believes that agriculture "is probably the most important area for the developing countries."

Araji, a native of Badrah, Iraq, has been a U.S. citizen since 1976. He is active in the Republican Party and tries to provide political leaders with a sounding board on issues concerning Arab-Americans and the Arab World.

Araji has been a consultant to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization in the area of program planning and development, and was recently a Senior UN Economic Advisor to the government of Saudi Arabia. His principal research work for the past eight years has been in evaluating the benefit of public investment in agricultural research and technology. He also provides advice and assistance to both the Idaho and Federal governments.


To Ahmed Sheronick, sectarian violence in Lebanon is an error. "For people of good will, violence is never justified," said the top salesman of the Prudential Life Insurance Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sheronick, who occasionally substitutes as imam for the Muslim community there recalls ecumenical days growing up in Jibjibnine, Lebanon: "Friday - our Sabbath - I'd spend my time evenly between three groups - Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim - because everytime there was a wedding, Christmas or something."

In 1950, however, Sheronick sought a wider horizon: New York. In those early years in America without permanent residence papers, he would wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, thinking, "What if they don't let me stay?" He finally did get his citizenship, and became a successful link in the Prudential chain.


Alice Kuroda, 49, is president of Minerva Research Inc. of Honolulu, Hawaii. The company, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom, does election polling, market research, and attitudinal surveys in the United States, Japan and the Middle East. Prior to forming the company in 1981, Kuroda taught sociology, economics, and quantitative methods courses at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and at Chaminade University in Honolulu.

Born in Jerusalem, Kuroda has been in the United States since she was 20, and a citizen since she was 31. She still has family in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of Jordan and she and her Japanese-born husband, Yasumasa, frequently speak out and write about Middle Eastern issues. In 1978, they wrote the book, Palestinians Without Palestine: A Study of Political Socialization Among Palestinian Youths.


Raouf Halaby, an associate professor of English at Ouachita Baptist University, says his students are intrigued at having an Arab immigrant teach them English.

Halaby, 40, a native of Jerusalem, became a U.S. citizen in 1976. A researcher and prolific writer, he collects and writes about documents, letters, and publications preserved from the early waves of Arab immigration in the late 1800's, and is working on a book about Dr. Michael Shadid, the father of the modern insurance health plan - the Health-Maintenance Organization.

He thinks the older generation of Arab-Americans "assimilated well into American society.. .because they truly believed in the American ideal." But it saddens him that the Arab has become the subject of ridicule in the media. All Arab-Americans, he says, have a responsibility to change that image by getting out and showing that Arabs are contributors to American society.


Samir Abed-Rabbo runs a commercial printing company, which publishes two magazines about Vermont, and a book publishing company, which, in 1985, published the first American-English translation of the Koran.

Abed-Rabbo says, "I have always dreamed of publishing a Koran that is easy and understandable without compromising the beauty of it." This version, by Dr. Thomas B. Irving, dean of arts and sciences at the American Islamic College, Chicago, is rendered in modern English. It is an attempt to translate "the meaning of the Koran," he says, "while keeping the beauty of the Arabic." The first edition was 3,500 copies and nearly 7,000 copies have now been sold. The next step he hopes will be a bilingual edition with Arabic calligraphy on one side and the English translation on the other.

Abed-Rabbo was born in 1956 in a refugee camp, Kalandia, in the Gaza Strip, and he came with an elder brother to the United States in 1974.

While working on his doctorate in international law at the University of Miami, he and 15 students from Arab countries started the magazine, The Search: Journal for Arab and Islamic Studies. In 1980, when editor-in-chief of the publication, Abed-Rabbo began to think of the importance of publishing. "It was then," he says, " I decided to get involved in setting up a publishing house that would help people get across their point-of-view."

Four months after earning his Ph.D. in 1981, he came to Brattleboro, Vermont, and started Maple Leaf Press, a commercial publishing company. The books and magazines he publishes now fund The Search .


When he has consulting assignments overseas, Habib Hochlaf doesn't just do his job. He volunteers his time to teach people how his study can be used for future economic development. "Teaching, training people, that's a contribution," he says, "that's not part of my contract, but I feel pretty good about it."

Hochlaf, 43, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, came to the United States from Tunisia. He took English classes at Georgetown in order to earn a B.S. in soil science and agronomy and an M.S. in international rural development and economic development for Third World Nations.

Hochlaf, a consultant, has done agricultural studies for the World Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development in East Africa, Egypt, and the Caribbean. He has conducted hazardous-waste and environmental studies for oil companies and national and international pipeline contractors.


When Ronnie Barkoot's grandfather emigrated from Lebanon to the United States 80 years ago, he probably never dreamed that his grandson would one day be labeled a "Southern Superman." While Barkoot spends much of his time overseeing the operation of three apartment complexes built and run by his father in Columbia, his greatest satisfaction is teaching karate.

Barkoot founded his first school 25 years ago. His long list of accomplishments is headed by the title of undefeated Karate World Champion from 1960-1968. Currently he has the distinction of being the only person in the world entitled to wear the red, white and blue belt denoting head of the American system of karate, worldwide.

Not only is his family proud of his accomplishments, so is his state. In Columbia there is a street named after him and in 1974 he was listed in "Who's Who in South Carolina."


Dr. Aziz Atiya has received scores of national and international awards during his long and distinguished academic career. But the honor the 88-year-old professor of Middle Eastern studies is most proud of was given to him just this year. It was the Egyptian-American Organization's first "Outstanding Achievement Award," and was granted on April 20 for his work as "An Egyptian-American whose career has been, and continues to be, devoted to distinguished research and teaching in Arabic, Medieval and Coptic Studies." Among other achievements, Atiya created the respected Middle East Center at the University of Utah in 1959. Today, the center has more than 100,000 volumes and is considered one of the finest Middle Eastern libraries in America.

Born in al 'Aysha, Egypt, on July 4, 1898, Atiya was awarded his doctorate in literature from the University of Liverpool, and a Ph.D. in history from London University. For the next 20 years, he was a globe-trotting professor, teaching at universities in Bonn, Cairo, Alexandria, Zurich and Beirut.

Ironically, Atiya never planned on settling in the United States. But after he led an astonishingly successful expedition to the Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai for the U.S. Library of Congress - which resulted in the discovery and microfilming of two million pages of manuscripts in 12 languages - he was asked by the library to come to the United States and edit the work.

Atiya and his family kept their Egyptian citizenship for many years, but in 1974, after more than 18 years in the U.S., they became American citizens. "We were reticent about changing," he said. "But we did it out of our appreciation for America and American liberties and all the wonderful opportunities that we have had here."


Larry Williams is convinced he descends from Algerian traders who, in the 18th century, ran aground on the shoals of the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a boatload of Arabian horses. Wild horses run in various sections of the Outer Banks today and, in the 19th century, South Carolina laws distinguished between "Negro" and "Moorish" residents - before there were any documented records of Arab immigrants to America.

One of the earliest purchasers of land on colonial Okracoke Island was a James Wahab. Larry Williams is owner of the oldest hotel on Okracoke, the Island Inn, which has been in the Wahab family for nearly a century. Williams' mother was a Wahab.

Williams directs the curious to the island cemetery, which is filled with Wahab tombstones dating back to the early 19th century. Many Wahabs intermarried with the Williams and Howard families. One headstone of a Salina Ballance Williams has an Arab term of endearment carved in it, "Baba."

Larry Williams noted that a Ph.D. thesis done in the mid-1930's at the University of North Carolina confirms his beliefs about Arab ancestry. Williams scoffs at the U. S. Park Service's token attempt to disprove his theory when they examined the skeleton of one wild horse and concluded none of them were Arabian in origin.

In the meantime, Larry Williams continues to run the lovely, quaint Island Inn, pointing out to visitors a daguerrotype of his Wahab grandmother - a dark-eyed, dark-skined woman with a beak of a nose.


The'' Pennyless Aristocrat'' - the odd name of a popular women's apparel store in downtown Portland - reflects Farida Derhalli's view of herself. "That's how I've always thought of myself," says the former Palestinian refugee.

Derhalli's father, Munib, was a native of Jaffa and a supervisor with the old Palestine Railroad in Jerusalem, but, in 1948, he and his family became refugees in Lebanon. Munib worked with other refugees for the Swiss Red Cross and later UNWRA on the West Bank of Jordan, while his three sons were sent to the United States for college.

They attended Wajla Walla College and Oregon State University, and became successful: Sami, with Portland General Electric; Zoudhi, with Cascade Corporation; and Farouk, as a stockbroker. Little by little, the rest of the Derhalli family followed the path to America, Derhalli in 1969 from Ramallah on the West Bank.

Two years ago, Derhalli went into debt to open the "Pennyless Aristocrat" store. She had worked a number of years in the Jantzen and Nike Corporations - and has a master's degree in marketing - but a layoff turned her into an entrepreneur. She decorated the store with her own antique furniture and though people from her neighborhood chipped in to help paint, many bet she wouldn't make it. They're losing. Business is up 20 percent.


Murray Toney is the oldest living Arab-American -106 years - 76 of them spent in the Pittsburgh area. About his hometown of B'soma in Syria, he has said: "If you owned a cow, you had everything!"

A pack peddler in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, when he first arrived here, Toney spent a night in jail when he misunderstood a train conductor's English and went to the wrong town.

One of the 15 founders of the Orthodox church and its cemetery in Bridgeville, Toney made his living for many years as the owner of a dry goods store and grubstaked many Syrian immigrant peddlers. Typically, the man who came to America for opportunity was generous with those of his community in need. When people wanted to pay back their loans he said, "I say, no, no-keep it!"

Of his secret of living over a century he said: "Try and do good for people, that's all."


When he came to the United States in 1956 from his native village of Abou Mizan in Lebanon, Philip Saliba had no notion that 20 years later he would be named head of the Antiochian Orthodox Christians in North America; he was not even a priest when he became a U.S. citizen.

But his growing prominence after ordination brought him in contact with U.S. Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Ford, Carter and Reagan, as well as Pope Paul VI, in search of a just and durable peace in the Middle East.

Metropolitan Philip's love for America and his dedication to his church have been linked from the start. The year he graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit -1959 - was the year he was ordained a priest, and in his first pastorate in Cleveland, at Saint George Church, Saliba also served on the Mayor's Civic Committee and the Television and Radio Commission of the Cleveland Area Church Federation.

Elected to preside over the see of New York in 1966, Saliba was enthroned at the "mother cathedral" of U.S. Eastern Orthodoxy, Saint Nicholas Church in Brooklyn. In 1975, a holy synod united various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America under Saliba's leadership.

A15-year resident of Englewood, New Jersey - where many Arab-Americans from the old Brooklyn community have moved - Philip Saliba continues his spiritual work and concern for Middle East peace. He has received many awards, including the Order of the Bush Unburned from the archbishop of Mount Sinai, and the latest - a New York Mayor's Liberty Award - for foreign-born citizens whose accomplishments exemplify the meaning of Liberty.


He practised internal medicine for 18 years, was chief of staff at St. Mary's Hospital, and presided over 550 doctors as president of the Knoxville Academy of Medicine. But last year Joseph Hart gave it up to run his father's 60-year-old Oriental rug store. Main motive? "Heritage," said Harb, "this business is a deep part of me."

And with good reason. For although there are 150 Harbs in Knoxville today, Harb's father, Wadiyah, was the first to come to the area - in 1926 from Ramallah - and for decades had the only store at which a Tennessean could buy an oriental rug.

"At first, my father was not allowed entry at Ellis Island because a doctor thought he had trachoma when in fact he had a common cyst," Joseph Harb recounted. "He was sent back and stayed nine months in France. When I think of him coming over a second time to make it, it reminds me of the Statue of Liberty."


For a self-described "fly-fishing nut," Laramie, Wyoming, is about as close to heaven as political science professor Sami Hajjar will ever get on earth. "I've had opportunities to teach at other places, but I love Wyoming, and the fishing is only part of the reason. It's not Harvard, but the University of Wyoming is one of the finest midsized institutions (10,000 students) in the country," said Hajjar, who is within 20 minutes of some of Wyoming's best trout fishing.'

A native of Beirut, Lebanon, he came to the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1963 to work on his doctorate in political science. He began teaching at the University of Wyoming in 1966, received his doctorate from Missouri in 1969, and is the most senior member in the school's 14-man political science department.

Hajjar, 46, said he first came to Laramie to replace a friend who was on a one-year sabbatical, and because he was "fascinated by the West and the 'Cowboy Culture.' It had a special mystique for me, just as the Middle East has for many Americans."

Hajjar said the region's harsh winters are well suited to the life of a professor. "It is conducive to reading, writing and indoor work. When it is cold and snowy, I don't have the itch to go out," he said.

But the academic does more than fish and study. He has served as a consultant for a number of companies, traveling extensively in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. And he has been a member of Wyoming Governor Ed Herschler's staff for more than 18 months, working as director of the Department of International Business. It is his job to promote international trade for the state and to seek foreign investment.


When she sees the troubles of the Middle East on television, Wanda Skaff of Omaha, Nebraska, gives thanks that her grandparents came to America, but says, "I'll always value my heritage and I'll never be ashamed of it."

Skaff's grandparents emigrated to Nebraska around 1895, her mother's side from Damascus, Syria, and her father's from Fih, Lebanon.

This 39-year-old native of Omaha is the hostess at the Crystal Room, Mutual of Omaha's executive dining room. She supervises a staff of 22 in the 52-table dining room.

Active in Arab-American organizations, Skaff loves cooking and enjoys preparing Middle Eastern food. She often uses the bread, and olives, to introduce people to the culture of the Middle East, and to help them begin opening their eyes to the people who came from there. It is her way of countering stereotypes.


Fred Milkie's story is a fishy tale. In 1913, his father, George Milkie, came to the United States from Bishmizeen al-Qura, Lebanon, just to visit relatives in Buffalo, but, when World War I broke out, he figured he'd better sit tight. Two severe winters in Buffalo, however, convinced him to go elsewhere, and he set out to find other relatives in Washington, D.C.; but he ended up in Washington - the state - instead.

There were few Arabs in the northwestern corner of the country at the time. George Milkie worked a while in a steel mill to support the war effort, then turned a different twist on the Syrian peddler tale. Instead of offering notions, he carried fresh fish in a basket door to door.

Later he used a horsedrawn cart, buying the fish at the waterfront where the daily catch came in. His third method of fishmongering was in a Model T Ford and, finally, by refrigerated truck.


Although Abbas Hamdani, 60, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was born and brought up on the west coast of India, he grew up surrounded by generations of scholars in his Yemeni father's family who studied Islamic texts and Yemeni manuscripts preserved from the Fatimid period. Today, he puts this early immersion in Middle Eastern history and culture to use as professor of medieval Islamic and modern Middle East history at the University of Wisconsin.

Hamdani, his wife, and two daughters came to America in 1969. Prior to that, after receiving his Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of London in 1950, Hamdani taught jslamic history at the University of Karachi and the American University of Cairo. The family's first U.S. passports were special bicentennial editions: they became citizens in 1976.

Hamdani notes an increasing interest in the Middle East at Wisconsin, which he attributes to media coverage of Middle East conflicts. But, he says, while students come to class to learn the reasons for the conflicts, they soon develop an interest in the peoples and cultures of the area.

He is a member of several Middle Eastern studies groups and was the second president of the American Institute of Yemeni Studies.

A Muslim, Hamdani participates actively in the Islamic-Christian Dialogue of Milwaukee. He loves America and is saddened that stereotyping and negative publicity have made it difficult for Arab-Americans in the United States. "Things would be wonderful if the Arab-Israeli conflict were solved. It would have a great impact on American life and on relationships between Jewish and Arab-Americans. But that's a long way off."


Ray Risho , 45, of Missoula, Montana, was raised in the Assyrian culture and religion of his immigrant parents. Risho spoke Arabic at home and took classes in Aramaic, the liturgical language of the Assyrian Orthodox Church.

He grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a block from the weaving factories where his father was a loom fixer. Both his parents were born in Damascus, Syria, and came to America as children at the turn of the century.

He doesn't know why, because there were many other Arab-Americans in the neighborhood, but he found being an Arab-American a source of embarrassment. It wasn't until a few years ago that he felt confident enough about his identity and roots to acknowledge his heritage. "I began to see that my roots are significant for my life, and for my kids, and that I shouldn't be ashamed when people ask me (what I am)." He is now a member of several Arab-American organizations.


A thoracic surgeon specializing in cardiovascular cases, Dr. Zahi Masri , 51, of Louisville, Kentucky, helps many people each year, including some well-publicized patients. One of his partners at the Humana Heart Institute International is Dr. William C. DeVries, the surgeon who has implanted Jarvik-7 artificial hearts in four patients.

Dr. Masri is the senior member of the surgical group that runs the institute and, besides more routine cardiovascular operations, does open heart surgery and heart transplants. He also teaches surgical procedures and the diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases to physicians and medical students from around the world.

Dr. Masri was already a physician when he arrived in America in 1965, but came to train in general, and then cardiac and thoracic, surgery at Misericordia Hospital in Philadelphia and the University of Louisville Hospital.

A native of Nablus, on the occupied West Bank of Jordan, with a medical degree from the Cairo University and several years of experience in general practice in Kuwait, Masri decided that America was not only a good place to study, but an excellent place to settle and to practice. He and his wife Susan, also Palestinian, became citizens in 1976.

"My kids have assimilated better than I -they have pure American accents." Five of the six Masri children are in college studying to be either doctors or lawyers.

Because Masri and the rest of his family are part of the "Palestinian diaspora," he is pleased to note that many Palestinians in the United States are professionals and wishes there were fewer misconceptions about them.


When people in Gallup, New Mexico, have questions about Zuni or Navajo Indian jewelry, statues or rugs, they often go to an Arab-American -Mohammad Rasheed - for answers. Rasheed, 51, who operates the Desert Indian Traders store in Gallup, is something of an expert on native American art work. The Deirdebwan native has lived in New Mexico for nearly 13 years.

"I love many parts of the Indian artwork. Rug weaving, for example, is very beautiful. But it's also dying out with the older women. It takes many weeks to create a rug and the financial return is not great. The younger ones are not so interested," he said.

Though Rasheed has had his ups and downs during his time in the United States, including three heart attacks and bypass surgery, he said he feels privileged to live in this country. "I love it here, I have worked hard and it is finally paying off for me."


When asked how long he labored on the northern railroads of America, Arthur Seeb was precise: "38 years, 4 months and 13 days." The name of his employer may have changed - Great Northern, Burlington Northern, Amtrak - but the cold north plains and the vast sky he would see as a brakeman or conductor did not. Perhaps more than any American, Seeb "owned" that stretch of track; he only turned in his blue conductor's cap within the past year.

Seeb's parents came to the United States from Ain Arab, Lebanon in 1906 and were married the next year in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Seeb's father peddled notions on the northern circuit out of Cedar Rapids and ended up homesteading in Williston, in North Dakota. Arthur was born there in 1918, and Williston was the end of the line for most of his life on the trains.

One of his eight children followed in his footsteps: Joseph Seeb'works the counter at Williston station today.


When Safi Kaskas of New Orleans, Louisiana came to America from Beirut in 1969, he had $68 in his pocket. Since then he has become chairman of Mid-America Holding Company, which is engaged in insurance and finance, established four successful rug stores, founded the New Orleans Polo Club, and co-founded both a university and a mosque.

Though he is a staunch American - he became a citizen in 1976 - Kaskas resists the notion of America as a melting pot. "We should melt into which culture?," he asks. "I want my culture to enrich the pluralism of the United States. I feel I should be proud of who I am, or where I come from, but my loyalty should be to the United States."

In keeping with that philosophy, he says, "When my children were born, I chose names that give them an indication of where their origins are." They are called Omar, Yassir, Maha, Suzanne and Miriam.

This article appeared on pages 16-25 of the September/October 1986 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.


Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for September/October 1986 images.