The Southern Foodways Alliance has some excellent oral history interviews with several descents of Arab immigrants to the U.S. within their collection. Here is a sampling:
Mary Louise Nosser is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Her parents, John and Effie Nosser, immigrated to Vicksburg from the Mount Lebanon region of Syria (now Lebanon) just after World War I. In 1924 John opened a small grocery store on Washington Street. A year later, he married Effie, and they started a family. Mary Louise remembers growing up in a vibrant Lebanese community, with mom-and-pop grocery stores on every corner and traditional Lebanese feasts every Sunday.
Chafik worked a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but, like many Lebanese immigrants before him, including his grandfather, he spent years peddling dry goods to tenant families. He eventually earned enough to open a small grocery store out on Friars Point Road in Clarksdale, where Louise often made him lunch: a kibbe patty wrapped in homemade Lebanese bread. Customers began asking about Louise’s “kibbe sandwich,” and soon, picnic tables dotted the parking lot, and Louise was serving traditional Lebanese foods to the people of Clarksdale.
At first, life in Clarksdale was difficult. Not only was Elaine a recent immigrant, she was the lone Syrian among a great community of Lebanese. As Elaine puts it, she was the outsider of outsiders. But she managed to get a foothold in the Lebanese community and became a member of the Clarksdale Cedars Club, a Lebanese Social Club. Today, Elaine is the club’s president.
In 1960 Pat took over his father’s cafe. Today, Abe’s Bar-B-Q is landmark restaurant situated at the busy intersection of Highways 61 and 49. Regulars stop in for a Big Abe (a two-layer pulled-pork sandwich with Abe’s signature barbecue sauce), Blues pilgrims grab a plate of hot tamales (an ironic but iconic Delta food), and those in the know ask for the stuffed grape leaves.
Abe’s Bar-B-Q has been in business in the same location since 1937. Pat Davis, Sr. remembers Mexican vendors peddling hot tamales in downtown Clarksdale when he was a kid. At the same time, Pat was helping his father, Lebanese-born Abraham “Abe” Davis, make his own pork-filled tamales by hand in the kitchen of the family’s restaurant.