Posted by on June 05, 2014 in Blog

In celebration of the first annual Immigrant Heritage Month, AAI will highlight outstanding Arab American immigrants and their descendants who have had an indelible impact on the vibrancy of our nation. From creating the first artificial heart to sending the first shuttle into space, the Arab American community has been an important part of American growth and success. The portraits of Arab Americans shared here will remind us that the United States is a nation defined by our diversity and the contributions of countless immigrants from all over the world.

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese American artist, writer, and philosopher was born in the town of Bsharri in modern day Lebanon in 1883. Raised in an underprivileged and destitute family, Gibran rose to the level of world renowned author and artist despite the adverse circumstances he often landed into.

In 1895, Gibran and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Boston, where his mother started working as a seamstress peddler selling lace and linen items door-to-door. Gibran enrolled in a special class for immigrants to learn English and also attended art school in a nearby settlement house. He established himself in drawing and watercolor and with support from his teachers, was able to start publishing some of his artwork.

Gibran returned back home to Lebanon, where he pursued his higher education, and submerged himself in his cherished Arab heritage and culture. There, he started a student literary magazine with a classmate and was elected “college poet”.

Upon returning to the United States in 1904, Gibran settled in Little Syria, a neighborhood dubbed the “heart of New York’s Arab world” and became the center of business, culture and intellectual pursuit for Arab Americans. Gibran wrote weekly columns for some of the first Arabic language newspapers in the United States, including the newspaper Al-Mohajer (The Emigrant). A vibrant and productive community of largely Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, Little Syria was also home to Ameen Rihani, considered to be the founding father of “Adab Al-Mahjar” (Immigrant Literature). Gibran and Rihani were both members of the first Arab American literary society known as Al-Rabi’ah al Qalamiyah (The Pen League). Rihani’s seminal novel, The Book of Khalid deals with Arab/American relations, religious conflict and the American immigrant experience, and was illustrated by Gibran.

Gibran’s most famous work, The Prophet, was published in 1923 and is currently being adapted into a motion picture. In this composition of 26 poetic essays, Gibran discusses the nature of life, from the mundane to the ineffable. Having been translated into more than forty languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.

In honor of Gibran, the Arab American Institute Foundation launched the Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Awards Gala in 1999 to recognize individuals, corporations, organizations, and communities whose leadership and actions promote democratic and humanitarian values across racial, ethnic, and religious lines.  The awards are named after Gibran to praise his message of human endurance and triumph that was so evident in his life and work. The awards also symbolize Gibran’s pride in his Arab heritage, respect for the freedom he found in the United States and his universal love of humanity.

Gibran died in New York City on April 10th, 1931. He is the third best-selling poet of all time after Shakespeare and Laozi.

One of the greatest thinkers of all time, his ideas and thoughts still resonate today.

Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.