On April 7, 1923, the intellectual and business elites of the Lebanese-American community in New York City met for a banquet. The first of its kind to gather so many of the scions of the community, the banquet was organized to celebrate the silver jubilee (25 years) of the publication of Al-Huda, one of the leading Arabic-language newspapers published in the US, and its editor, Na’oum Mkarzel.
However, underlying the event were the tensions that beset the community as it struggled to define itself internally, and vis a vis the larger American society. The speeches and poems delivered were mostly panegyric, yet amidst them were dissonant words that spoke of the two decades of struggle–that sometimes descended into fist-fights along the streets of New York, but more often were on display on the pages of the press–about the identity of the community. Debates, arguments and even legal fights flared up around issues of ethnicity, nationality, women’s role, religion and secularism. Orators and authors, those who frequented coffee shops and visitors to private salons engaged in these discussions. At the same time the community struggled to find a place for itself amidst an American society that was leery of immigrants, especially those who were darker and non-European.
The jubilee and tensions suffusing its planned merry proceedings are now accessible through the acquisition by the Khayrallah Centerof an Arabic-language book titled al-Shawa’ir al-Sharifa (Noble Sentiments). Dr. Helen Samhan, a niece of the editor Na’oum Mkarzel, generously donated the book toward the archive and we have subsequently digitized it to make accessible to researchers.