Friday, July 15, 2005

Arab Chicago History book to be published August 21

Book on Chicago's Arab history be released August 21

(EDITORS NOTE: a picture of one a grocery store operated by Palestinian Ahmad Ziyad, founder of Ziyad Brothers Importing, who came to Chicago in 1961 can be provided if requested. Ray Hanania,

Only a few books have been published that attempt to document the history of Arab Americans in America. Hanania's Arabs of Chicagoland is the first attempt at documenting Chicago's history.

Arabs first arrived in Chicago in the middle of the 19th Century. Documents kept by social activist Jane Addams at the Hull House museum identified a group of about seven Arab immigrants who lived together in what is today the University of Illinois' Chicago campus. These first Arab settlers participated in craft shows displaying their cultural handiwork.

The first large waves of Arabs to arrive in Chicago began about the same time with Lebanese Christians who migrated through other regions of the country including Michigan and New York to eventually settle in Chicago following the battles at Zahlah in Syria in the 1860s. They were followed by a large number of early Palestinian Muslims from the village of Beitunia.

The area of 18th and Michigan Avenue in Chicago is often viewed as Chicago's Plymouth Rock. These early waves of Arab immigrants, along with Arabs from other Arab countries including Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, lived together in flop houses and apartments, often sharing the same centers for religious services. Muslim and Christian Arab clerics would travel to Chicago from other Arab communities and provide those services.

One of the most influential magnets for Arab immigration to Chicago was the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893. The World's Fair featured a massive display called "Cairo Street" where Arab World merchants sold merchandise. Their tales of business success reverberated among Arabs in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan, and immigrants seeking to earn profits began settling with the intention of making money and then eventually returning.

Several studies were conducted in the 1950s and 1970s by PhD students examining the history of Arab settlement in Chicago and are cited in the book, ARABS OF CHICAGOLAND. And, Hanania was the publisher of the first English-language newspaper in Chicago, The Middle Eastern Voice (1975-1977), which featured interviews and photographs of Arab Americans at the time. Hanania also published The Arab American View (1999-2003). Photographs and first-person interviews with Arab Americans are featured in the book.

ARABS OF CHICAGOLAND includes 205 photographs with more than 757 people pictured of the community's history dating back to the 1920s, collected from families and from Hanania's newspaper archives. The book includes profiles of several early Arab American settlers, including a the transcript of an interview recorded with one Palestinian, Jamal Kateeb, who came to Chicago in 1921. Like most Arab immigrants at the time, he began work as a peddler going door-to-door. The difficulty of selling from a suitcase was often described as "Knocking on God's door." Kateeb describes how he arrived in the middle of winter and in the middle of the night and stood at the corner of where the Arab community was located until an Arab saw them and walked them to a corner coffee shop where they sat and had coffee until the wholesale store that provided sale items to Arab peddlers would open. The license to sell was purchased from two local Chicago aldermen, Hinky Dink Kenna and Bathhouse John Coughlin.

Also featured are Jordanians, Lebanese and Egyptian early settlers.

Today, Chicago is predominantly Palestinian with the community almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims. The majority of Muslims come from Beitunia in Palestine and live along the Southwest corridor of Chicago and its suburbs stretching as far southwest as Orland Park where a new mosque was approved over the intense objection of the community's citizens. The majority of Christian Palestinians live along the Northwest corridor of Chicago through the far Northwest suburbs and originate from Ramallah, Palestine, the sister city of Beitunia. The next largest communities consist of Christian Lebanese, Christian Jordanians and Egyptians of the Muslim and Coptic faiths.

Despite the long history of Chicago's Arab American community, there are no landmarks recognizing their many contributions to the city and the region. Chicago celebrates Arab Heritage Month every November, but the event is ignored by Chicago's major media despite an array of Arab sponsored activities that take place. Although Chicago has more than 75 Arab American restaurants, not one has been featured or included in Chicago's high profile Taste of Chicago festival, although last year Hanania was invited to perform his standup comedy routine at the performance stage hosted by Comcast Cable TV.

"Chicago's Arab American community is significant in the bigger picture of Arabs in America, yet we have been unable to coalesce and work together for the greater good," said Hanania who is an award winning syndicate columnist, journalist, author and humorist.

"I think our real tragedy is that we have allowed the city of Chicago, the second largest city in America, to ignore our community and take us for granted. The book helps to identify many Arab Americans who have achieved success in Chicago and I am hoping it will reinforce the pride that young Arab Americans can experience knowing that despite not being recognized by American society, we have done much to make this a great country."

Hanania is also the publisher of the humor book published in 1996 called "I'm Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing Up Arab in America" (which is available only online from His columns analyzing Middle East issues are distributed by Creators Syndicate ( and his comedy has been performed at festivals and haflis across the United States. In August 2002, Hanania was thrust into the national spotlight when Jewish American comedian an anti-Arab critic Jackie Mason refused to perform on stage with him because Hanania is Palestinian. Today, Hanania also writes print and online columns for the Southwest News-Herald ( on regional Midwest issues and a humor column for the Israeli news web site owned by Israel's largest newspaper Yedioth Ahronot (

Hanania can be reached at Information on the book can be obtained at