From ages four to seven we lived in Fall River, Massachusetts. A few houses up the block lived Kathy and Carol Fata, who were a year or two older than I was. They were nonetheless friends with my sister and me. In fact they were probably the first real friends I ever had. They were consistently nice to me, and they liked to play with our dog.
They also were Syrian, or so I heard at the time. No one thought this was objectionable and all of us were very fond of them, their parents too.
Here is a short history of the Syrian-Lebanese in Fall River (pdf).
Some sources indicate the term “Syrian-Lebanese” was crafted by the Middle Easterners themselves, most of all in Brazil. When a lot of the Syrian-Lebanese migration to the New World occurred, the modern states of Syria and Lebanon, as we know them (knew them?), did not exist.
The first Syrian immigrants arrived in the United States from Ottoman Syria. Most of them came from Christian villages around Mount Lebanon (before the creation of Republic of Lebanon), while around 5-10% were Muslims of different sects. A small number were also Palestinians.
So it once was called Syria. In the 1920s, these immigrants switched from calling themselves “Syrians” to “Lebanese,” and given the location of Mount Lebanon today they would be Lebanese by nationality.
According to the 2000 Census, there are 142,897 Americans of Syrian ancestry living in the United States. These individuals include or have included Steve Jobs, Paula Abdul, Paul Anka, Mitch Daniels, and Yasser Seirawan. Jerry Seinfeld’s mother is of Syrian Jewish descent. Overall Arab-Americans have a higher than average per capita income in the United States and I suspect lower than average crime rates.
It seems downright bizarre to me to think we cannot take in 20,000 Syrian refugees or, heaven forbid, a greater number yet. There are right now children in Syria who could have lives comparable to those of Kathy and Carol Fata. Or not.