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The Origins of Arab American Communities in the US

The presence of Arabic-speaking communities in Michigan, such as that in Dearborn, is largely the product of a wave of Arab immigration to the US that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In contrast to the majority of the Arab world outside of the US, the Arab Americans residing in these communities, descendants of those first immigrants, are primarily Christian.

Most of the early Arabic-speaking immigrants to the US were from a region of the Middle East known as the Levant, which spans across Lebanon, Syria, Israel/Palestine, and Egypt. That accounts for the fact that, today, the majority of Arab Americans living in Dearborn, and for that matter, the entire US, are of Lebanese descent.

Arab American Demographics

There is some difficulty in measuring the number of Arab Americans living in the US, because those of Arab ancestry are included in the “non-Hispanic white” category on the census. But as of 2008, there was estimated to be almost 1.6 million Arab Americans, of which approximately one-third claimed Lebanese ancestry.

Dearborn was found to be the city with the highest concentration of Arab Americans, as the 2010 US Census indicated that more than 30 percent of the city’s population was of Arab descent. This is in marked contrast to the overall presence of Arab Americans in the US, as they are estimated to account for just 0.5 percent of the country’s population.

Why Dearborn, Michigan?

Arabic-speaking immigrants began arriving in Dearborn, Michigan, largely in order to find work in the city’s booming automotive industry, which included the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company. Again, these first immigrants were primarily Lebanese Christians, but with them also came other groups from the Middle East, such as Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriacs.

In more recent years, the Lebanese Christians have been joined by Arab immigrants from other countries such as Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, the majority of whom are Muslim. Lebanese Christians, however, still remain the largest group.

Arab Americans Make Their Mark in Michigan

Today in Dearborn, it would not be uncommon to hear Arabic spoken on the street. Of the many shops and businesses owned by residents of Arab heritage, you can expect services to be offered in both English and Arabic. As a result of the later influx of Muslim immigrants, Dearborn is now also home to the largest mosque in North America, the Islamic Center of America.

The influence of Arab Americans on Dearborn’s culture can be witnessed further through the city’s Arab American National Museum, which is in fact the first museum in the world dedicated to Arab Americans. The city’s annual Arab American Festival is yet another celebration of the city’s vibrant Arab American community.