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(Special to the American Press)

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Informer: Arabs among first to arrive in New World

Last Modified: Sunday, November 18, 2012 9:52 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

Editor’s Note: Informer editor Andrew Perzo is on vacation. The following column originally ran in June.

When did Arabs come to the United States, and why did they come?

The first Arabs arrived in the Americas several hundred years ago with the Spanish explorers, whose presence here predated Britain’s.

Later, after the colonies broke with England, the presence of Arabs was common enough to be noted by the lawmakers of at least one state.

In the late 18th century, members of the South Carolina House of Representatives decided Moroccan Arabs were white, and they chose to exempt the North Africans from laws governing black Africans.

During the big immigration wave of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Arabs accounted for tens of thousands of the millions worldwide who flocked to the United States.

Arab traders participated in the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and the 1893 Chicago Colombian Exposition.

In 1892, the first Arabic-language newspaper, Kawkab Amerika, was founded. About 20 years later, nine such papers served 70,000 Arab immigrants.

Most were Arab Christians from the Ottoman Empire — ruler of the Middle East and parts of Europe for 500 years — and they came mostly from what is today Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.

They at first comprised mostly young men who looked for work in the big cities of the East and North, but soon many prospered enough to bring their families here to settle.

The makeup of Arab immigrants changed in the mid-1930s, when, for the first time, Palestinian Arabs — fleeing the pro-Zionist policies of their British rulers — outnumbered all other Arab immigrants to the United States.

They were mostly Muslims, and though many came to the United States to settle, after Israel’s creation in 1948, they considered themselves refugees.

U.S. immigration policy softened in the 1960s, and since then several hundred thousand Arabs have come to the United States — many as refugees from Palestine.

District’s name refers to Columbus

Where did the name District of Columbia come from?

It’s named after Christopher Columbus. But Columbia also refers to the United States’ early goddess symbol, who was America’s answer to England’s Britannia.

The district and the city of Washington are now one. But is it wasn’t always so.

When the district was first formed about 200 years ago, Washington was only one of several towns, including Georgetown, Md., and Arlington, Va.

The city of Washington soon incorporated the others as it grew, but it didn’t keep all the land for itself.

Congress eventually returned Arlington to Virginia in 1846. It kept Georgetown.

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The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email

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