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Bint Arab

Arab and Arab American Women in the United States

by Evelyn Shakir

 

This is the first book-length account of Arab American women.

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Cover image for Bint Arab

August 1997

Praeger

Pages 248
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Current Events and Issues/Society

Shakir tells the long neglected story of the bint arab—the Arab woman—in the United States. Drawing on primary sources such as club minutes, census records, and dozens of interviews, she explores the experience of late 19th- and early 20th-century immigrants—mostly Christian peasants from Lebanon and Syria—and their American-born daughters. Later, she moves on to the well-assimilated granddaughters (many of whom have reidentified with the Arab community and begun to fight its political battles). The work concludes with those women—most of them Muslim—who have emigrated over the last quarter century from many Arab countries, particularly Palestinians.

While attempting to correct stereotypes that picture Arab women as passive, mindless, and downtrodden, Shakir gives voice to women caught in a tug of war, usually waged within the family, between traditional values and the social and sexual liberties permitted women in the West. Complicating that battle has been the American suspicion of Arab peoples, which has sometimes pushed women—as guardians of a culture under attack—to resist the blandishments of American society. However, the sense of embattlement has sometimes had the opposite outcome, legitimizing women's activities in the public and political realm. Leavened with personal reminiscences by the author, this book introduces a gallery of spirited women, speaking candidly about their differing backgrounds, values, and aspirations. Essential for all scholars and students of America's social and religious diversity.

Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroductionThe First Wave, 1875-1925MiriamKatreenSyrian ImmigrationWomen ImmigrantsPeddlersMill Girls, Factory Hands, and EntrepreneursStudents and TeachersClubwomenMaking a MatchFrom Second Generation to ThirdFighting "Political Racism": PaulaReconnecting: LindaWomen for Women: CherylColor and Religion: KhadijaThe Second Wave, 1945-PresentProloguePalestinians: Emily, Ihsan, Najeebi, Suhair, Suad, Nuha, and Nawal, MonaCollageEpilogueAppendixBibliographyIndex

Reviews/Endorsements

Reviews

Weaving together the personal narratives of a number of women of different generations and experiences (including those in her own family), Shakir compares their lives and experiences as they negotiated their way between the demands of their own cultural traditions and the opportunities provided by their new adopted country. A rich and complex portrait of Arab women and their culture emerges, one that should serve as a corrective to the negative and simplistic stereotype about Arab womern in the West.—Choice

A sweeping mosaic, rich and colorful in human experience, brought to life in a collection of observations of life in their lands of origin and, primarily, in the U.S., where events in the Middle East continued to shape their identity.—Al Jadid

A gem of a book....[and a] valuable insight into the changing generational perspectives of what it means for an Arab-American woman to be a good daughter, sister, wife and mother.—Journal of Palestine Studies

Shakir presents the material in a coherent, logical manner, adding comments or background where necessary, but never judging. ^IBint Arab^R is a worthwhile book for Arab Americans and all others interested in knowing more about the women of this little-known ethnic group.—International Migration Review

A major and enjoyable contribution to the understanding of Arab and Arab American women....[Shakir] gives voice to women's struggles when they navigate between their Arab family values and those of their new country.—MESA (Middle Eastern Studies) Bulletin

American libraries and bookstores have long been waiting for a book like Evelyn Shakir's Bint Arab....Shakir has written a thoughtful and moving text that brings to light, through a skillful blend of scholarship and oral storytelling, the largely untold history of a century of Arab immigration to the United States....Never before has the Arab-American experience been chronicled in just this fashion....Shakir should be thanked for having had the courage to write it.—Wellesley

[T]he women's voices which Shakir enlists to flesh out the big picture bring fresh insights to an otherwise stale story. Compelling as they are diverse, the stories stand on their own as worthy of interest. They touch on every conceivable subject--marriage and divorce, religious fundamentalism and modern feminism, cultural racism and social embarrassment, domestic violence and interdenominational marriages. The Lebanese and Palestine women assembled by Shakir, immigrants and native born, engage the reader's interest as they wrestle with various pressures and demands placed on them to conform to mainstream culture....[A]dds a new dimension to the understanding of what, for the lack of a better term, has been called the Arab-American experience.—Journal of American Ethnic History

Shakir manages to provide an interdisciplinary approach in her work, giving the reader an insight into Arab customs and traditions, and into the women's intimate consciousness....The book is a valuable reference on the American society seen through Arab women immigrants' eyes....It is with great joy and interest that I read this book!—Journal of Third World Studies

Endorsements

As the first full-length study of Arab American women, past and present, ^IBint Arab^R is an exciting new supplement to courses on Islamic and Middle Eastern cultures. Its in-depth portraits not only make good reading but also help shatter Western stereotypes of the Arab woman. This is a book that will appeal to students at every level.—Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad^LProfessor of History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations^LGeorgetown University

In this well-researched and well-written work, Evelyn Shakir tells the story of Arab women who have come to the United States, from the earliest peddlers to the most recent Palestinian refugees. Through oral histories and personal memories , she breathes life into a cast of diverse, lively, and memorable characters. ^IBint Arab^R is a welcome and needed contribution to the literature of American ethnic and women's history.—Rudolph J. Vecoli^LProfessor and Director, Immigration History Research Center^LUniversity of Minnesota

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