Both Here and There: On the Origins of Lebanese Nationality Between Homeland and Host Society, 1914-1930

Historians of Lebanese American immigration usually frame the subject as a “cross-cultural encounter.” In these narratives, Lebanese immigrants confronted 1920s American nativism, and questions of citizenship, race, and assimilation dominate over more nuanced examples of cultural intersection. Moving away from center-periphery models of Diaspora, this paper instead recovers emigrants as they flowed through global networks of Lebanese communities trading in goods, populations, and ideas. It pursues, specifically, the development of origins discourses within emigrant intellectual networks. By rooting national belonging in a common history, origins discourses proved instrumental in both fashioning Lebanese American ethnic identity and building the Lebanese State.

The defining feature of Lebanon’s early diaspora was its print culture, which connected emigrant intellectuals from Cairo to Kisrawan, Boston to Beirut. Through the press, Lebanese modernists evolved nahda liberal ideas about community, citizenship and the secular state. By World War One, these ideas impacted questions about national identity. Cultural nationalists variously linked the Lebanese people to their Phoenician, Semitic, or Arab pasts, but all groups imagined national origins as functioning “at home” and in the diaspora simultaneously. The debate over origins grew from two contexts: the Lebanese American fight for legal “whiteness,” and the emergence of a Lebanese independence movement agitating for a Greater Lebanon under French Mandate. Retrieving both  contexts and affirming the emigrants’ place in both, the paper demonstrates how emigrant intellectuals constructed “Lebanon the Resident” and “Lebanon the Emigrant” together.