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There are many stories in the history of immigration to the United States that have been lost. The history of the first wave of Arab American immigration to the United States at the turn of the 20th Century, however, is well researched and preserved due to the extraordinary work of Dr. Alixa Naff.
An immigrant herself, born in Lebanon in 1919, she witnessed first-hand the hardship of the immigrant life, growing up in Great Depression-era America. Her father had to move many times in search of a job, and several tragedies struck the family. Alixa had to work to help support the family, and she was in her thirties when she was finally able to get to college.
Her senior year work in the field of American history, which was about Arabs in America, impressed her professor so much that a grant was supplied for Alixa to collect more materials from Arab-speaking immigrants. It was the beginning of a research project she would carry on for years, travelling across North America and visiting Arab American communities. She earned her PhD in 1972 and made it her mission to counter stereotypes with accurate information.
Legacy of Alixa Naff
Her book from 1985, Becoming American: The Early Arab Immigrant Experience, is a cornerstone on the subject of Arab American experience. Dr. Naff donated a large collection of interviews and artifacts to the Smithsonian Museum of American History and named it after her parents. This collection is known as the Faris and Yamna Naff Arab American Collection. She settled and died in Mitchelville, MD, in 2013.