The Lebanese who came to Minnesota a century ago

Helen George demonstrates making Syrian flat bread in 1964.
Helen George demonstrates making Syrian flat bread in preparation for the Festival of Nations, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1964.
Courtesy of Immigration History Research Center Archives

A Minnesota woman is on a quest to find Lebanese immigrants who put down roots in the United States 100 years ago — and she's planning to bring their stories to life in a theater production.

It was Kathryn Haddad's own personal story that inspired the project, "The Hour of Separation."

"I'm selfishly wanting to explore my own history," she explained.

Kathy Haddad
Kathy Haddad
Courtesy Photo

Haddad is the artistic and executive director of New Arab American Theater Works in Minneapolis.

"The Lebanese are an interesting population because it is a very old population in the United States," she said. "The largest group of Middle Eastern immigrants came from what is now Lebanon, and was then Syria, 100 years ago."

Her family's immigration story started in 1900. Her grandfather first emigrated to the Dominican Republic — and went back and forth between the United States and Lebanon.

It was the Great Famine of Mount Lebanon that killed more people in Lebanon than anywhere else — that brought many immigrants to the U.S. in waves.

In Minnesota, the Lebanese community put down roots in the west side of St. Paul and in northeast Minneapolis. Churches established 100 years ago are still there today.

"I met an old man whose grandfather was one of the first Lebanese who came to Minnesota," Haddad said. "So I'm really fascinated to interview him."

She's hoping to find more such people in the community here and beyond. Her goal is to gather stories and write a play drawing on their experiences.

She's tapping into archives at the University of Minnesota's Immigration History Research Center for records that don't exist in other places.

Today, similar immigration is happening from war-torn Syria. So Haddad plans to present parallels between what happened 100 years ago and what's been taking place in recent years.

"The strength of family and also history, being a victim of the superpowers, again," she said.

Haddad's search will continue through 2019. She's also gathering up local artists for a 2020 performance.