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What a Verdant Landscape Can Conceal: The Experience and Historical Memory of Arabic-Speaking Immigrants in Vermont

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02/06/2006

In walking through a Vermont graveyard, one hardly expects to see Arabic lettering marking polished granite stones; yet in several across the state, one finds such commemorative pieces, a testament to Arabic-speaking settlers. Traces like this in the landscape stand out against popular symbols of Vermont's past and the composition of its population. The idea of Arabic-speaking, Ottoman-era immigrants (primarily from the territory that comprises the modern state of Lebanon) settling in both rural agricultural towns as well as industrial ones across the state is surprising, and deserving of further inquiry. Physical remnants - a gravestone engraving, a letter from the 'old country,' a cherished family recipe for kousa (stuffed squash) or Syrian bread, an Arabic Bible - are a starting point. However, it is ethnographic material and oral history interviews conducted with descendants of Lebanese immigrants that allow one to move deeper into this history. In the end it is multi-generational voice and memory objects that provide structure for this immigrant narrative. In this presentation Amy Rowe examines the forces that drove the ancestors of Vermont Lebanese to leave their homeland and why they chose to make Vermont their new home. Specific attention is given to perspectives on intermarriage, kinship, and the 'inevitability' of assimilation. The backdrop to the investigation is the underlying tension between the reality of local Lebanese history and how Vermont's history is commonly configured - in a manner that does not typically disclose the nuances of the population's diversity. What processes are at play that conceal this immigrant narrative?

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