The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 United States Tuesday, July 29, 2014


After a century, US Arabs look for pieces of past
In this early 1950s photo, Hussien Karoub, right, talks with his son Muhammad Karoub at his Karoub Printing business in Highland Park, Mich. AP Photo/Karoub Family.

By: Jeff Karoub, Associated Press

DETROIT (AP).- Tossing and shivering below deck, Hussien Karoub felt ill. In the cold, crowded conditions, sleep came seldom. When it did, it didn't last long: The cries of children and the moans of those even sicker than he was made certain of that.

It was approaching midnight somewhere in the North Atlantic, aboard a vessel carrying the 18-year-old Syrian and many fellow immigrants toward, they hoped, a better life. If nothing else, he knew it had to beat this arduous monthlong odyssey in steerage, enduring conditions that were, in every sense, below those in first and second class.

It would be days before details trickled down about the doomed ship a couple hundred miles away. Above, in his vessel's radio room, came the first distress call from the foundering RMS Titanic: "Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We struck an iceberg. Sinking."

A couple weeks later, Hussien Karoub arrived in the United States even more anonymously than he otherwise might have. Public attention was elsewhere, focused on the Titanic and its tragic end.

That is the story of my grandfather's voyage to America. Or, more likely, it isn't. And that's part of the point.

___

I am a third-generation Arab-American, and I am on a journey to learn more about the journey of my "jiddo," the Arabic word for grandfather. I am sorting through family stories, passed down, that have a way of changing in the retelling. Folk tales are compelling, but I am trying to anchor my story to facts before the channels to history close entirely, in hopes they might offer insight about how I got here.

My quest mirrors those of so many Arab-Americans. They're looking back and trying to unearth their stories, separating myth from truth and — just as important — hoping to show their neighbors that, in the story of America, they are not a "them" but an "us."

Maybe the Titanic tale is true. It's remotely possible, since Hussien Karoub came to the United States in the same year, 1912. My family hasn't confirmed that through records, but by anecdotes like a radio interview from the early 1960s, when he said he came to Detroit in 1915 to make cars after spending three years making hats in Danbury, Conn.

For many Arabs, a version of the story is true. U.S.-bound Middle Easterners were on the Titanic and other ships traversing the Atlantic. In lower Manhattan, an already thriving Syrian community awaited and would be instrumental in identifying and memorializing the dead and helping survivors meet the new world.

"I always tell people who ask that Jiddo's ship crossed paths with the Titanic on the way over from Syria," my cousin Carl, the family's historian, tells me. "The wake from the Titanic nearly capsized his tiny ferry and he cursed the Titanic."

He has no proof, of course. In only a century, the truth blurs in a genealogical game of telephone. Yet why not hitch our tale to that of a great American epic? It's not that big of a stretch. Americans — most Americans, even — have done that since the very beginning.

But I want more than stories.

___

"Who's 'Aszim'?" the voice over the phone asks me. It's Diane Hassan, a researcher from the Danbury Museum & Historical Society. Hassan finds a record saying Aszim was born in Danbury in 1913, which brings us closer to confirming the timeframe of my grandfather's arrival in Danbury. This was my father's first cousin, known to my family by his American name, Jimmy. He was the son of Mohammed, my grandfather's brother.

I've sought Hassan's help because I've hit a brick wall. Ellis Island, the entry point for millions of immigrants, contains records of my grandfather coming in 1920 aboard the Kroonland with his wife, Miriam, and their young son Allie. That was Hussien Karoub's second U.S. arrival, but there is no record in Ellis Island's archive of his inaugural voyage as a single man some eight years earlier.

A short boat ride away, they're asking the same kinds of questions on a much larger scale. A group of New Yorkers have worked with curators from the Arab American National Museum in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn on a new traveling exhibit that documents what had been one of the earliest settlements of Arabs in America.

It's not lost on them that the Little Syria neighborhood in lower Manhattan would become the site of the World Trade Center — the towers whose destruction a decade ago put many of Middle Eastern descent under intense scrutiny and suspicion.

For so many decades, the self-appointed "us" of America had names for the not-quite-white, not-quite-black, not-quite-sure group of "them" arriving from the Middle East: "Orientals," ''Ali Baba," and later, "towelheads."

The increasingly malignant stereotype of Arab and Muslims as terrorists appeared in the 1960s with the Arab-Israeli war but hit warp speed after 9/11. It came in actions — anti-Islamic hate crime cases reported to the FBI spiked after the terrorist attacks — but it came more commonly, casually and sometimes just as cruelly in words:

"Go home."

Go home. It's as perplexing as it is offensive, especially to those whose American story stretches back a century. Where exactly is home for someone who was born in the U.S.? Or came here seeking a better life — and succeeded? Or fled tyranny for opportunity? In times of crisis, the public forgets how long Arab and Muslims have been in the U.S. or what they've contributed.

So, in the face of foes and a forgetful public, it is left to Arabs themselves to remember and remind others of where they've been. That presents difficulties — not only with facts that were never committed to paper but also with facts that bump into something equally potent: family consensus.

I've known since I was little that my grandfather made up his birthdate. Why? Because the village where he was born didn't keep records. His gravestone lists his birth year as 1893; his petition to become a U.S. citizen, filed in 1919, says he was born on Dec. 20, 1892.

That led me to another surprise: learning he registered for the World War I draft in 1917, a full decade before being declared a citizen. The document shows his birthplace as the "Syrian Arab Republic" and his occupation as "grinding for Ford Motor Co." The registration also details back problems, which likely kept him from being drafted. His address is on the same street in the Detroit enclave where, just four years later, he would lead what was likely the first mosque in the United States.

In Danbury, a whole section of town is referred to as "Little Lebanon," where immigrants like my grandfather came to work in fur and hat factories. One Arab immigrant whose time there wasn't lost to history was William Buzaid, who opened a fur-cutting factory in 1910.

Hassan is working with the city's Lebanese American Club to learn more about the paths of its forebears. She welcomes my call for help in finding facts to fill my story, knowing it could in turn help Danbury and Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and many other places where Arab-Americans traveled through or put down roots during the Great Migration of 1880-1924. The peak for those coming from what then was known as "Greater Syria" was from 1910 to 1914.

Even after trying several variations of Karoub — Kharoub, Karoob, Karub, Karroubi — I came up empty. Maybe, Hassan suggests, he was among those who came through Baltimore or Boston. Maybe even Canada. Maybe he didn't enter at Ellis Island at all.

Maybe. A word I can't seem to escape.

___

Devon Akmon also wants to fill in some ancestral blanks. He lacks even more basic facts than I do. He knows this much: He's half-Lebanese, like me, and his family came from northern Lebanon. But who came to the U.S., and when?

"This is the hard part. This is what we don't know," said Akmon, now deputy director of the Arab American National Museum. "They first came to Kentucky. That's the story I want to figure out. ... It's family history. Knowing your family's story only back a generation — it seems so mysterious."

To know more, he said, enhances his "sense of self-worth."

How can details like these disappear so soon? A relative's reluctance to reminisce is a common obstacle for the family historian, and Akmon said his grandfather didn't talk a lot about his past.

It's a challenge in his day job as well. "Trying to do research on Arab-Americans in the early ... 20th century is very difficult," he says. "It's so underdocumented."

That's an underlying theme of the 1985 book, "Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience," by Alixa Naff. It draws on dozens of interviews with pioneer immigrants and their descendants from more than 25 communities, including my uncle — a son of Hussien Karoub who followed him into ministry.

You come away with one overarching feeling: The ancestry quest of Arab-Americans is common to all immigrants, be they Irish, Italians, Germans, Jews or others. It is the story of most everyone in America.

Yet Syrians are one of the least studied of America's ethnic groups — partly because they were smaller in number and the formal Arabic language was not widely understood by Western students and scholars before World War II. But Naff says the blame also falls upon Arab immigrants, who "neglected to study themselves."

"The history of their American experience was, by comparison, too insignificant and too fleeting to warrant recording," she wrote.

So, what filled the cultural void? American myth and history. "Lacking ancestral legends and heroes that had an organic relevance to their lives, they adopted American legends as their own — presidents, cowboys, athletes and men like Charles Lindbergh," Naff wrote.

Maybe the Titanic — itself no slouch as an American history tale — looms so large in my grandfather's legend because the sea at that time of its fateful passage was filled with Middle Easterners seeking a new life, including on the "unsinkable" ship itself. There, 154 of the Titanic's passengers were Arabic; 29 survived.

Those who did included 24-year-old Catherine Joseph, who was sailing steerage with her children, 6-year-old Michael and 2-year-old Anna. The passenger record indicates her husband, Peter, sent them back to Lebanon a few months earlier to save money, but called them back to Detroit.

We know these facts about the Joseph family because of "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," which spent several recent months at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, the capital of Arab-America. Visitors learned about passengers and their fates on special tickets handed out at the exhibition's entrance.

It didn't take years for the tales of those on the Titanic to be told. Arabic-language newspapers from New York's Little Syria played a particularly aggressive role in helping to identify victims and provide support to families and survivors — something it was uniquely equipped to do.

"The entire Syrian community of New York identified with the difficulties of those who had left their homeland seeking a better future in a new land," Leila Salloum Elias wrote in 2005 in an essay that laid the groundwork for a new book, "The Dream and the Nightmare: The Syrians Who Boarded the Titanic."

"They were reminded of their own journey across ocean and sea," she wrote. "The Syrian community considered the ship's Syrian passengers as part of it."

What kind of impression did that leave on my Jiddo? I wonder if he was there to see newspapers report, connect and advocate on behalf of those on the ship, and if those efforts helped him decide to launch his own newspaper a few years later in Detroit.

No doubt he was lured like many other immigrants by the promise of Ford's "five bucks a day" to make Model Ts. But he saw another, less material motive: Muslims making Michigan their home would need a spiritual leader. He could put his Islamic studies to work to help build an American community.

More help in my quest comes from the National Archives, the main repository for pieces of the American story. Naturalization records contain details about where and when an immigrant came to the United States — and my grandfather's record is among them, at the Archives' Chicago branch. It teases me even more.

He listed himself as a sewing machine operator. He had a scar on his left palm. His signature — in a sturdy, stylish penmanship for a man who wasn't raised reading or writing English — attests that he is neither polygamist nor anarchist.

I press on. Genealogy specialist Constance Potter runs a general search on several conceivable spellings for Hussien Karoub. As far as the archive is concerned, no record exists of my grandfather's 1912 arrival.

That's unsurprising. Many ports of entry were overflowing with huddled masses. Immigrants' names were taken verbally, so there's no guarantee that our best guesses on spelling match the elusive record. And until 1935, there was no National Archives.

"There were all these years when things could disappear," Potter says.

While she admires my pursuit and recognizes my disappointment, Potter consoles me with an existential parting shot about who we are as Americans.

"Everyone's ancestor was somewhere on July 4, 1776," she says. "Whether signing the Declaration of Independence or somewhere in Syria, they were there."

___

Every quest, particularly when it comes to your own history, eventually arrives at a crossroads with some version of the same question: What is the point?

Why struggle to pin down my grandfather's details, to separate truth from tall tales? Surely it's not to feel more American. The day my family moved from becoming to belonging has long since passed.

Does my faltering attempt to retrace his journey make any difference? After all, he made it. He became one of the United States' first imams, opened the nation's first free-standing mosque and started a newspaper, the American-Arab Message, for a community that would become one of the largest outside the Middle East.

Hussien Karoub had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood. He died at 79 in 1973. I was only 4 then, but I remember a warm, gentle man. My strongest memory is looking up to see him smile at me as I tore through his house with joyful abandon. Yet his legacy lives on through his descendants, including doctors, musicians, teachers, business owners as well as a lawyer, lawmaker and a journalist. And veterans of foreign wars.

We are Muslim, Christian, and other — a fitting multireligious legacy for a man who was both praised and criticized for embracing other faiths and not seeing his own as monolithic.

A century on, we are Arab-Americans, though we have become less Arab and more American. Yet there's a pull to learn a little more about the front end of the hyphen. Maybe the urge is strongest when you feel fully connected, when reaching to the past runs no risk of giving up the present. But as the generations pass, the yesterdays become more remote. The trail fades.

It doesn't surprise Elias that my family's lore includes a Titanic tale. She once interviewed a man whose grandfather asserted that as many as 15 people from her Syrian village perished when the great ship went down. No record supports that fact, but Elias later learned where the story came from.

"If someone left a village, let's say in March 1912, to go to 'Amreeka' and they were never heard from again," Elias says, "it was just assumed they were on the Titanic."

Speaking to so many descendants of Titanic survivors and victims, Elias realized the value of trying to know her own story: "Do you know how many said, 'I wish I had asked more questions'?"

I can't ask Jiddo any more questions about his path to America. The Titanic tale? It probably wasn't true, but no matter. I can continue chipping away at the myths, the facts and the blanks, knowing that his trip was the catalyst for my family's larger one — our evolution from being a "them" to an "us."

In fact, as I look back at his journey through the prism of my place in this country, I spot something new, something I didn't quite expect: The immigrant Hussien Karoub, it seems, was about as "us" as you can be.




Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.



Last Week News

December 29, 2012

The New Orleans Museum Art explores the boundaries between the real and fabricated

National Gallery announces first major monographic exhibition, dedicated to the art of Federico Barocci

FBI removes many redactions in Marilyn Monroe file recently obtained by The Associated Press

Exhibition focuses on the self-portrait as a genre throughout the 20th and into the 21st century

Mexican historian and educator Artemio Benavides Hinojosa dies at the age of 79

Praying Hitler by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan in ex-Warsaw ghetto sparks emotion

Spink to offer fine and rare stamps and covers of China and Hong Kong in January sale

Los Angeles Modern Auctions' 20th anniversary season totals over $5 million

Artistic positions from five decades of photogaphy on view at Fotomuseum Winterthur

Pakistan's Rohtas Gallery for 30 years has defied dictatorships and fundamentalists

Paintings at the National College of Arts in the eastern city of Lahore outrage Islamic hard-liners in Pakistan

Art Rotterdam announces gallery selection 2013, all Dutch top galleries are present

Hundreds of interactive paper boats by Aether & Hemera sail into Canary Wharf

Not a hint of 'Bah, humbug' as Waverly auctions Dickens book collection for 17 times high estimate

Luciano Rigolini's "Concept Car" on view at Musée de l'Elysée

Sweater knit by Myanmar's Suu Kyi sells for $49K

Steven Holl Architects' Daeyang Gallery and House wins 2012 Annual Design Review Award

National Gallery of Canada seeks nationwide participation in creating artwork

December 28, 2012

Archaeologists discover objects, more than 700 years old, at Nevado de Toluca in Mexico

Royal Collection of Graphic Art invites visitors to journey into the realms of detail

Oregon man convicted in murder-for-hire plot and looting ancient Indian graves dies

Magnificent 18th-century furniture by Abraham and David Roentgen on view at Metropolitan Museum

Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei publishes his "Little Black Book," WEIWEI-ISMS

Famed designer Wendell Castle exhibits at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft

Maestro of lights creates monumental sculpture on The Bay Bridge in San Francisco

CAC Málaga presents exhibition by the artistic duo Markus Muntean and Adi Rosenblum

Journeys: Wanderings in contemporary Turkey at Espace culturel Louis Vuitton

The Lower Mississippi River Museum provides education about Lower Miss. River

'Invisible Exhibition' in Warsaw offers an opportunity to understand what it is like to be sightless

Rosphoto announces exhibition of the work by Sergey Sveshnikov on view at the hall of the Dom Kino

New Aboriginal art movement showcased at National Museum of Australia

Denver Art Museum to inaugurate textile galleries with campus wide exhibition

Norton Simon Museum presents "Studies in Desperation: A Suite by Connor Everts"

Affordable Art Fair to launch in Hong Kong, March 2013

Dusseldorf Photo Weekend to take place again starting in February

Galerie Kadel Willborn to open branch in Düsseldorf

Are museums the cinemas of the future?

Florida man pleads guilty in NY in dinosaur dispute

December 27, 2012

Israeli dig uncovers ancient Judaean temple dated to the early monarchic period

After a successful year, Bonhams ends 2012 with over 30 new world auction records

New display of American art at Detroit Institute of Arts commemorates the Civil War

Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum among the many highlights of TEFAF Maastricht

Bonhams to offer the renowned Oldenburg family collection of classic automobiles

John Van Doren and Dorsey Waxter announced the opening of a new gallery in New York

Art13 London announces focus on Contemporary photography, prints and editions

Despite changes in style, majestic pipe organs endure at Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant parishes

Mathematics is anything but boring at New York City's newest museum: MoMath

Expert, appraiser, and television personality Lark Mason predicts top 10 collecting trends for 2013

Colour Rain at the Bamboo Grove: Seminal Austrian artist Hubert Schmalix turns 60

Prestige watches, sapphires and gold sparkle in Government Auction's New Year's Day Auction

Stephenson's plans festive New Year's Day auction of items from prime Philadelphia estates and residences

Homelands: One of the year's most anticipated exhibitions, opens in 4 cities across India in 2013

Auckland Triennial curator asks 'If you were to live here...'

Larasati announces sale of artworks by renowned Southeast Asian and Indo-European masters

Major new multimedia project by Tadasu Takamine at Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito

Carl Morris' "History of Religions" returns to the Barker Gallery at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art

Fred Wilson's artworks explore museum practices within a museum setting

December 26, 2012

In 150th anniversary of his birth, Edvard Munch at pains to win favour in native Norway

Captivated by darkness: Charles Meryon and the French etching revival on view at the Hamburger Kunsthalle

The collection of Barbara und Axel Haubrok on view at Deichtorhallen Hamburg

Guggenheim Museum in New York presents exhibition featuring recent acquisitions

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth celebrates 10th anniversary of building designed by Tadao Ando

BACA Award 2012 winner Mary Heilmann exhibits at Bonnefantenmuseum

Estorick Collection launches its first virtual exhibition: Futurism and the Past

Van Abbemuseum is given collection of 20th century book art and reference works on modern Russian art

Japan's iconic A-bomb comic strip author, Keiji Nakazawa, dies at the age of 73

New York Public Library unveils renovation plan by British architect Norman Foster

Manchester Art Gallery presenting major exhibition of works by artists who work with paper in revolutionary ways

First extensive overview of 17 years of fashion photography by Viviane Sassen on view at Huis Marseille

"Better Books: Art, Anarchy and Apostasy" exhibition at ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art

Powerhouse Museum publishes The Oopsatoreum, Inventions of Henry A. Mintox

Kentaro Kobuke's first solo show in Hong Kong opens at Identity Art Gallery

First large solo show of Adrian Paci in Kosovo opens at the National Gallery in Pristina

Antiquorum Auctioneers to sponsor Geneva Time Exhibition

Everson receives major grants to support revitalization of Gustav Stickley House

Wisconsin man's Little Free Library copied worldwide

Lake Placid's Mirror Lake Inn, an Adirondack jewel

December 25, 2012

Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: One of the most important museums reopening in 2013

Cindy Sherman at the Walker Art Center is a comprehensive survey of the acclaimed artist's many guises

Dialogue between two masters of color, Johannes Itten and Paul Klee, at the Kunstmuseum Bern

Only known work in Canada by the great Venetian artist Titian, featured at the National Gallery of Canada

Treasures of the Alfred Stieglitz Center: Photographs from the permanent collection opens

Exhibition looks at the V&A's engagement with and changing view of art and design from Africa

Exhibition documents American artists' continuing fascination with the American landscape

Canadian Pioneers: Masterworks from the Sobey Collections on view at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

Design Museum in Ghent exhibits works by revolutionary Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata

Fifth year of Artist Rooms On Tour announced: 16 venues will display Artist Rooms in 2013

Diana Venet's collection of jewelry made by artists on view at Valencian Institute for Modern Art

Robert Frost's Christmas cards collected by Dartmouth College in New Hampshire

A huge collection comprising 10,000 of ames Comisar's TV memorabilia items needs a home

Tale of lost military jacket prompts curiosity

Belvedere opens a new exhibition floor space to feature young contemporary artists

Ben Ali's ill-gotten gains draw crowds of Tunisians

The Story of the 47 Ronin at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Pssst: An Exhibition for Kids at the MMK in Frankfurt

Grateful Dead exhibit extended in Cleveland

December 24, 2012

Exhibition of large paintings by Neo Rauch opens at Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz

Seven hundred years of French painting on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia presents the first major exhibition in Australia of artist Anish Kapoor

The Museum of Modern Art explores development of one of Modernism's greatest inventions: Abstraction

Review of the auction year 2012: Koller extends its position as the leading Swiss auction house

Kimbell Art Museum announces first ever loan of 20th century works from the Art Institute of Chicago

Gallery reinstallation project enters exciting new phase with 'Empire of Things'

The San Diego Museum of Art hosts interactive art exhibition from the Centre Pompidou

Charles Ginnever's Rashomon and Amy Kaufman's drawings on view at San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva organizes biggest in-depth Edy Ferguson solo exhibition to date

Available now to download: Free PDF of The New Explorers Guide to Dutch Digital Culture

Let it snow! Exhibition of children's book art opens at Bruce Museum in Greenwich

Pearl Lam Galleries presents its first design art exhibition at its Hong Kong Pedder Building gallery space

The American Museum in Britain hosts Superstars 2012

"Beatrice Gibson: The Tiger's Mind, featuring Jesse Ash" at Index-Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation

Builder of California 'Phonehenge' sentenced to jail

Survey comprising works by Lara Favaretto from the past 15 years on view at Sharjah Art Foundation

'Places of Memory-Fields of Vision' opens at the Contemporary Art Center of Thessaloniki

Mali Islamists destroying more Timbuktu mausoleums

Most Popular Last Seven Days



1.- Archaeologists discover Roman 'free choice' cemetery in the 2,700-year-old ancient port of Rome

2.- Romanians must pay 18 million euros over Kunsthal Museum Rotterdam art heist

3.- Hello Kitty designer Yuko Yamaguchi defends cute character as cat turns 40 years old

4.- eBay and Sotheby's partner to bring world class art and collectibles to a global community

5.- Exhibition on Screen returns with new series of films bringing great art to big screens across the globe

6.- Marina Abramović reaches half way point of her '512 Hours' performance at the Serpentine Gallery

7.- The Phillips Collection in Washington introduces a uCurate app for curating on-the-go

8.- United States comic icon Archie Andrews dies saving openly gay character

9.- New feathered predatory fossil, unearthed in China, sheds light on dinosaur flight

10.- Exhibition at Thyssen Bornemisza Museum presents an analysis of the concept of the 'unfinished'



Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 

Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Rmz. - Marketing: Carla Gutiérrez
Special Contributor: Liz Gangemi - Special Advisor: Carlos Amador
Contributing Editor: Carolina Farias

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org theavemaria.org juncodelavega.org facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site