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  • Much has changed in the last few decades of the history of Syrian Americans in New York City. A hundred years ago, they proudly congregated in Little Syria, at almost exactly the same spot where the World Trade Center used to stand. (Yes, it's true: the center of Arab culture for the United States for the first half of the twentieth century originally stood at the site in America now most commonly associated with the vilification of Islam and Arabs). When the WTC went up, Syrians moved to Bay Ridge, and for a time that was a vibrant Syrian neighborhood. But, with the rise of Hafez Al-Assad in 1971, Syrians in America reacted to his brutal dictatorship by retreating from the public eye. They feared being caught saying or doing the wrong thing, even here, and even if there was not danger, the habit was ingrained in them back home. Syrians still live in Bay Ridge, though. They share the neighborhood with many other Arab communities. They own several shops, but for the most part they keep to themselves. The community has become quiet and diffuse. Syrians do not show themselves openly like many other diasporas. They meet behind closed doors, and they don't talk to many outsiders. Besides Bay Ridge, many Syrians have gone to New Jersey, especially Paterson. Several restaurants and shops dot the downtown area of Paterson. But, once again, there is not quite a neighborhood that is exclusively Syrian. It is not that these people do not have a national identity--they do. They are deeply concerned about the events in their country. It's just that they get together behind closed doors. These days, a lot of Syrian culture exists underground. Walking around Bay Ridge or Paterson, you'll meet some Syrians. But they'll do their best not to draw attention to themselves. Their neighborhood is more abstract than physical--they all know each other, and know how to find each other. They are located very closely inside each other's head, but don't broadcast where they are unless they have to. They're around. You just have to find them.
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