Zeinab's Odyssey: Gender, Mobility, and the Mahjar

Episode 478

How do social categories like gender and race impact migrant trajectories as they move through different imperial, national, and liminal spaces? In this episode, we explore this question through the incredible journey of Zeinab Ameen, one of many Syrian migrants featured in the work of our guest Randa Tawil. Zeinab Ameen was born in late Ottoman Lebanon. Like hundreds of thousands of other people of her generation in the Ottoman Empire, she and her family decided to emigrate to America during the early 20th century. The result was a tale of tribulation that spans more than three decades. In telling Zeinab’s story, we’ll visit a number of other global ports, including Marseille, Liverpool, New York City, and Veracruz. We’ll also visit both land borders of the United States--the Canadian border and the Mexican border, as well as the Midwest, one of the great centers of the Syrian-American mahjar.

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Contributor Bios

Randa Tawil is an Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Texas Christian University, where she teaches courses on race, gender, and migration. Her research interests include history of migration, Middle Eastern diaspora, and film, and has written several articles on these issues for the Washington Post. Follow me @randa_tawil and visit randatawil.com
Chris Gratien is Assistant Professor of History at University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on global environmental history and the Middle East. He is currently preparing a monograph about the environmental history of the Cilicia region of the former Ottoman Empire from the 1850s until the 1950s.

Further Listening
Stacy Fahrenthold 404
WWI in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora
Deporting Ottoman Americans 390
Syrian in Sioux Falls
Devi Mays 417
Mexico and the Modern Sephardi Diaspora
Sophia Balakian 469
Refugee Families in the Era of Global Security
Rawan Arar, Andrew Arsan, Reem Bailony, Neda Maghbouleh 436
Narrating Migration


Sound production by Chris Gratien
Additional credits to Gedney Barclay, Daniel Cairnes, Rawan Arar, and Sam Dolbee
Bibliography and images courtesy of Randa Tawil


A Syrian Woman Waiting in Vera Cruz 1907. Source: National Archives and Records Administration
Île de Frioul sketch. Source: Archive Départementales Bouche-de-Rhône


Tawil, Randa. "A "Flying Carpet to Doom": Retracing Gender and Orientalism through the Transnational Journeys of a Syrian Migrant Woman, 1912–1949." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, vol. 43 no. 1, 2022, p. 120-144. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/fro.2022.0004.

Abdulhadi, Rabab, Evelyn Asultany, and Nadine Naber, eds. Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging. Reprint edition. Syracuse University Press, 2015.

Albrecht, Charlotte Karam. “Narrating Arab American History: The Peddling Thesis.” Arab Studies Quarterly Vol 37 Winter 2015 100-117.

Arsan, Andrew. Interlopers of Empire: The Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Fahrenthold, Stacy D. Between the Ottomans and the Entente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908-1925. New York, NY, United States of America: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Fairchild, Amy L. Science at the Borders: Immigrant Medical Inspection and the Shaping of the Modern Industrial Labor Force. 1 edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Gualtieri, Sarah M. A., Arab Routes: Pathways to Syrian California. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020.

Luibheid, Eithne. Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality At The Border. 1 edition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2015.

Lowe, Lisa. Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2015.

Pastor, Camila. The Mexican Mahjar: Transnational Maronites, Jews, and Arabs under the French Mandate. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

Shah, Nayan. Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.


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