Cover Photo: Arab Past, American Present: My Family’s Invisible History by Lauren Alwan

Arab Past, American Present: My Family’s Invisible History

“The family legacy included silence as a way to belong.”

In the years my grandparents lived in their rambling, Spanish-style house in Southern California, they kept a Koran and a prayer rug in their bedroom hidden behind an ornate armchair. The chair, from Damascus, stood in one corner, grandly unused, its cushions upholstered in silk and the walnut frame set with mother-of-pearl. I never saw my grandparents use the Koran or the prayer rug. By the time I was born, they had fallen away from their practice of Islam.

Sofa and photographs in the author's grandparents' home, 2003.

The author's grandmother, Fausya Alwan, posing in her wedding dress, 1921.

The family bakery in Brooklyn

Family portrait of the author's father, Muneef Alwan (age 4), and his parents, 1926.

Oriental. For this early wave of Arab immigrants, the misclassification was not only inaccurate, but linked them with the anti-Asian immigration laws in effect at that time.

housing level security,

The author's grandmother, Fausya Alwan (age 80), at her home in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles TimesYears later, an apricot tree sprouted in the backyard, the result of my grandmother eating apricots and tossing the pits into the flower bed.

The house and its garden was all my grandparents seemed to need. Even when their sons left home and the days were gone when my uncles and their friends emptied my grandfather’s pantry, consuming elliptical loaves of bread and fat braids of fresh cheese, the pattern of life in the rambling house was the same.



The Zemberekçi family, photographed in Constantinople, 1919.

Passport photo of the author's father, Muneef Alwan, and his parents, 1928.

The author's grandparents in the garden of their Los Angeles home, 1950.

Fiction and essays in the O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, The Southern Review, ZYZZYVA  (Notable, Best American Essays 2016), Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, The Rumpus, The Millions, Nimrod International, and others.  Prose editor at the museum of americana, staff contributor @LitStack. Follow her on Twitter at @lauren_alwan