The History of Arab American Immigration 

Arab American Heritage Month, celebrated in April, was only initiated in 2017. However, Arab Americans have had a significant presence in American society since the 19th century. This diverse group has roots in over a dozen countries, holds many different faith traditions and contains many unique cultures. The history of Arab American immigration closely mirrors the stories of so many migrant groups. Arab Americans, like other immigrants, sought political, economic and religious freedom in their new American home. 

The First Wave of Arab Immigration: 1880 – 1924 

The first Arabs arrived in North America as part of the transatlantic slave trade in the mid-16th century. These early Arab Americans hailed from North African Arabic-speaking countries, such as Morrocco, and constituted a minority of the predominantly West Central African slave population in the first American colonies. Aside from a few notable figures, like the explorer Estevanico, very little is known of this first Arab presence in the U.S. 

The first wave of voluntary Arab immigration to the U.S. began in the 1880s and lasted until 1924. At the time, the Ottoman Empire was in decline and was facing ecological and political crises. Disease plagued Lebanese mulberry trees, essential to the lucrative silk industry. At the same time, the Ottoman government had begun conscripting Christians for involuntary military service.  

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