Arab-Americans Discover Forefathers in Little Syria

Since the uprisings, more Syrians are arriving in the United States and finding that they have a long and rich history in New York City.

al-monitor Syrian Quarter in New York City between circa 1910-1915. Photo by Library of Congress.
Charlotte Alfred

Charlotte Alfred

@charlottealfred

Topics covered

united states, syria, arab

Jun 11, 2013

When Carl Antoun, a young Lebanese-American, had bugged his grandmother enough times about her past, she directed him to a long-abandoned closet in their basement in New York.

“There was this steamer trunk, and on the side of it was written: '1662 Washington St.' I opened it and found hundreds of pictures, documents and postcards, all perfectly preserved,” Antoun recalled.

He had unearthed part of the lost history of Little Syria, the first Arab-American neighborhood established in the 1880s. Located near the site of ground zero in lower Manhattan, the first wave of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire lined Washington Street with new businesses, newspapers, and music and literary studios.

The grandfather of Antoun’s 94-year-old grandmother had arrived in New York from Lebanon in 1890, setting up a business that imported silk, jewelry and dry goods from Latin America through the nearby New York docks.

Antoun, 22, is now part of a movement pushing to put Little Syria back on the map. He co-founded the Save Washington Street campaign, which is lobbying to landmark the cluster of remaining buildings in Little Syria.

After Antoun put much of the contents of his grandmother’s trunk online, former Little Syria residents and their families have started sending him their own mementos from the neighborhood for his collection.

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