05 March 2008

2377) Turkish Americans by Donald Altschiller*

The history of Turkish American immigration to the United States is not well documented and is generally unknown. Although many immigrants came to America to flee religious or political persecution, the primary motivation of many Turks was . . economic or educational opportunity.

Precise statistics on Turkish American immigration are difficult to obtain. According to U.S. government statistics, the number of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire was minuscule from 1820 through 1860, averaging less than 20 per year. The majority of these individuals (86 percent) returned to Turkey following the establishment of the Republic by Ataturk. Although about 360,000 immigrants from Ottoman Turkey came between 1820 and 1950, only an estimated 45,000 to 65,000 immigrants were Muslim Turks. The majority of arrivals were from the numerous ethnic minorities in the Ottoman Empire, primarily Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and Syrians.

Some historians believe that a large percentage of early Turkish Americans were illiterate but their literacy rate was much higher than that of the Ottoman Empire. According to historian Talat Sait Halman, most of the well-educated immigrants in this group eventually returned to Turkey but the less-educated remained in the United States. These remaining Turks, some studies indicate, retained their Turkish customs throughout the 1940s and 1950s without assimilating into the lifestyle of their newly adopted country.

Unlike the earlier wave of immigrants, the post-World War II generation was highly educated and included almost 4,000 engineers and physicians. These numbers would have undoubtedly been higher but strict U.S. immigration regulations—which were enforced from the mid-1920s until 1965—placed an annual quota of 100 on Turkish immigrants. Again, many of these professionals returned to Turkey after living in the United States for a brief period.

Since the 1970s, the number of Turkish immigrants has risen to more than 2,000 per year. Members of this most recent immigrant group vary widely. Many opened small businesses in the United States and created Turkish American organizations, thus developing Turkish enclaves, particularly in New York City. Still others came for educational purposes. Estimates of the total population of Turkish Americans vary widely, ranging from 100,000 to 400,000.

From the beginning of Turkish immigration to the United States, many immigrants have settled in or around large urban centers. The greatest number have settled in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Rochester. Other concentrations of Turkish Americans may be found along the East Coast in Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, and some have ventured into Minnesota, Indiana, Texas, and Alabama. Many of these communities are served by various local community associations. Membership totals are hard to obtain but range from 50 members to almost 500 members.

The early Turkish immigrants were almost entirely male. In the culture of Anatolian Turkey, men did not feel comfortable bringing their wives and families until they were able to plant secure economic roots in the United States. Many Americans, however, believed that the Turks were prohibited from bringing their wives because of other reasons. According to Frank Ahmed, author of Turks in America: The Ottoman Turk's Immigrant Experience, the Salem Evening News falsely claimed that the Turks did not bring their wives because of Islamic religious strictures. The newspaper wrote extensively about the sizable Turkish community on the North Shore of Boston, including the towns of Peabody, Salem, and Lynn.

These immigrants often settled into rooming houses. Frequently, a Turk would rent the house and sublease rooms to his fellow countrymen. Although the accommodations were spare, the newly arriving immigrants somewhat replicated their village life. They ate Turkish food (pilaf, lamb, vegetable dishes) and slept on mattresses without a bedstead.

Although they were hardworking and industrious, many Turks did not escape the prejudice frequently directed at newcomers. Occasionally, they were called "Ali Hassans" or "Abdul Hamids" and some newspapers would ridicule the "terrible Turk" or Islam. Among the Turks, however, there was much tolerance for Turkish minorities, especially Turkish Jews, who were fully accepted and respected by their recently arriving compatriots.

Turks obtained work in factories in New York, Detroit, and Chicago and also in the New England leather industry. Sizable numbers worked in Massachusetts, in the leather factories of Lynn and Salem and the wire factories of Worcester. Forced to work long hours at low pay in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, some Turkish workers were involved in strikes against management, who generally viewed the Turks as "good workers."

Because of the precarious situation in Turkey and concern for their families, most Turks—one estimate was 35,000—stayed for a decade or less and then returned to their Anatolian villages before the Great Depression. A small number of Turks stayed in the United States, learned English, and married American women. According to one estimate, only a few hundred remained in this country.

As a result, the diminished Turkish American community became more close-knit. Social life revolved around coffee houses and benevolent societies. In Peabody, Massachusetts, coffee houses on Walnut Street became a congregating place for the Turks living in the area. It was here that community members would exchange news about their villages while sipping Turkish coffee and noshing on sweet pastry.

Turquie News, Friday 22 February 2008

*Donald Altschiller is the History Bibliographer at Mugar Memorial Lib. of Boston Univ. He also contributes regularly to LJ, Reference Books Bulletin, Choice, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. he is the author of Hate Crimes.[1]

[1]Hate Crimes
Hardcover: 247 pages | Publisher: ABC-CLIO; 2 edition (April 25, 2005)
ISBN-10: 1851096248 | ISBN-13: 978-1851096244
Crimes committed against individuals because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic background have increased significantly in recent years. What factors in American society have spawned this alarming trend? How are hate crimes different from other crimes committed against individuals? Should the legal penalties be harsher? These questions and many more are explored in Hate Crimes: A Reference Handbook, the first comprehensive reference source on this important topic. The volume features a historical survey of some of the main targets of hate crimes - African Americans, gays and lesbians, Jews, and Asian Americans - a chronology of some of the crimes committed against them, and biographies of individuals combating violent extremist activities. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.