Fairouzeh: An Arabiatown In U.S.A

By Hani Yarid

"Not Reading The Culture Correctly Could Be Fatal, A Downright Failure In Getting Assimilated."

Hardworking, achievers, and funny, the long-standing and well-established Syrian Community of Fairouzeh has set a good example for all other Arab immigrants in the States. Though in the America for almost four generations, they are still maintaining the Arab and Syrian motif in every way of their lifestyle, taking pride in their Arabism.

If the Irish immigrants were haunted and taunted by the famous employment sign "No Irish Need Apply," the early arrivals of the Arabs must have failed to read signs to the same effect, maybe.

Early immigrants from Fairouzeh must have been, by large, poor,
ill- schooled, untraveled and, most probably, young, that is to say, not knowing the hazards that awaited them in America.

Surely such venture is almost gone from the world.

Fairozeh, meaning turquoise, a precious gem _ is a sleepy village about 10 km away from Homs, the ancient Emesa which was famous for its Temple of the Sun in central Syria. Personally, I know no place in Syria where hospitality is practiced so fervently as in Homs and Fairouzeh. Fairouzeh's inhabitants, exclusively Asyrian Syrians, are descendants of full-blooded Arab tribes.

Driven by poverty, and, probably, by the harassment of the neighboring Bedouin who used to prey on the crops of their neighbors, they immigrated to U.S at the turn of the century.

Unlike most Lebanese early immigrants who tried to scratch a living by starting as peddlers, Fairouzeans started as shopkeepers, a seemingly easy job that requires great tact. And those guys were "just the job," as the phrase goes. They turned out to have a gift for business, business acumen, once they had the chance despite the sentiment that foreigners are somehow inferior to the American-borns. This sentiment is may be the States' oldest and most persistent bias.

Fairozenans are typical Homsis; they have all the traits that men admire in men: they are gracious, generous, friendly, outgoing, honest, and, above all, happy people and full of jokes. Their sense of humor has done them good; they knew, not by experience though, that "No Funny, No Money." Moreover, they have shown that energy and enthusiasm can offset lack of anything else. In short, this community have all the makings of successful businessmen.

Nowadays they own a big proportion of most of L.A. liquor stores. In fact any faltering store owned by others can be rendered a "busy" and successful business once purchased and run by a Fairouzian.

But why did Fairouzeans succeed whereas other immigrants, Arabs and non-Arabs, failed?

Culture shock may be one of the main reasons why people supposedly "fail" when they leave their Homeland to another foreign country simply for not reading that culture correctly. However, Fairouzeans have adopted to the metropolitan L.A., cleverly enough, though coming from an agrarian and rural background, without losing their own characteristic identity.

Fairouzeans have been early aware of the fact that they donít drive people; they simply live with them. So, they try to be Americans without giving up their rich culture.

They brought with them over the years their ways of life: their favorite drink, Mate, their Divans, their music and songs, their Asyrian church and their Arab values.

True Arabs as they are, Fairouzeans tend not to be insular, like the Oriental communities in U.S.A, by having their own "Arabiatown."

In fact they radiate confidence; they work hard to bring up cultural hybrids out of their offspring fearing not the "too Americanized" way of life. They argue that their confidence stems from their belief that strangers are not stronger nor better than they are.

Their great get-together symbol is a cup (or cups) of Mate over which they chat away about business, news from back home and their never- tired-of "tales" which were once real incidents that befell their grandparents, parents, friends and relatives.

Their sense of humor is so immense that they even make fun of the sad news and incidents they receive so they become part of their heritage which is being restructured "there."

One, of many, of their famous "tales" of which they are never tired of telling, but, of course, with new details every time it is narrated, is the following:

Once, a formally dressed man stepped in a store of theirs and made towards the shopkeeper and his assistant behind the counter asking them: Do you guys carry greeting cards?

The two cousins, being newcomers and illegal immigrants, took to their feet and not to return for a few days later. They simply took the man for an Immigration Officer asking for their Green Cards!!!

Fairouzeh! the "deserted village" near by the Orantos (Nahir el Asi) is being resurrected by its manly children over the seas!

Fairouzeh!What a wonderful name for a "die'yah!