Searching for Little Syria: The Preservation of Intercultural Spaces
In the 1880s, a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan was the landing point for thousands of individuals who immigrated from present-day Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Known as Little Syria, it became a vibrant center for Arabic music, art, food, and culture. It was home to the first Arabic-language newspapers in the US as well as a literary movement that included writers Kahlil Gibran and Ameen Rihani. Little Syria flourished for decades until most of the community was displaced by the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in the 1940s. But recently, several historians, artists, and preservationists have been working to revivify this long-lost neighborhood and protect the physical history that remains. In this essay, I examine the efforts underway to conserve this cultural space. Emphasized by these commemorative projects is a ceaselessly unresolved cycle of builds, erasures, and border crossings. How might these ventures chart new terrains for Arab-American subjectivities? How do they bring attention to the intersections of Little Syria’s history with present-day realities? This paper contemplates attempts to recreate, preserve, and renew intercultural spaces as a means to remember what has been lost while traversing the unpredictable frontiers of change.