Early Lebanese Immigrant Women to the USA
by Dr. Najwa Nasr, Professor of English Linguistics, Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, The Lebanese University
This paper focuses on the early Lebanese immigrant woman into the USA on the turn of the twentieth century, traces her contributions in all the phases of life, and the changes in her status. The American culture demanded change from the immigrant woman in more than one respect, and the mother culture demanded adherence to tradition. Thus, the immigrant woman, men as well, was caught in this dilemma of polarization. It was a dangerous dynamic in which there was both a clash and a compromise of the old and the new.
The status of the woman in the homeland
A woman’s home duties included processing foodstuffs, both for daily consumption and for storage. Though she participated in the local celebrations and rituals, the most important recreation for her was visiting among relatives. Such visits were among the few activities open to women without a male companion. A woman’s sexuality, married or not, encompassed the honor of the family. Females were not allowed to freely intermingle with males. Naff asserts that “unchaperoned premarital courtship was strictly forbidden [and] matchmaking … was a village preoccupation. For the family, considerations of mates [was] interwoven with considerations of honor and status as well as economic ones (Naff, 72). ” The best way to safeguard the honor of both the girl and her family was early marriage; age differences did not matter, and a girl could be married to a man old enough to be her father.
As far as work was concerned, men did not accept that their wives needed to work; it was an insult; the man was the sole provider. Yet, in many villages, many women and girls of low-income families helped by their labors to improve the economic condition of their families and parents. It was acceptable for women to work in the...