INDIANAPOLIS – You might one day see a plaque outside Lucas Oil Stadium that has nothing to do with football.
“If you look at Lucas Oil Stadium, you wouldn’t imagine that there was a vibrant, Arabic-speaking community here,” Dr. Edward E. Curtis IV told WRTV.
Dr. Curtis is to apply for a marker to be placed outside the football stadium located at 500 S. Capitol Ave. to recognize what was once the historic Syrian quarter of the city.
“What was here 120 years ago was the heart of Arab Indianapolis,” Dr. Curtis said.
Willard Street once ran through what is today known as the home of the Indianapolis Colts.
From 1890 to 1920, Willard Street was filled with people who immigrated to the United States from the Eastern Mediterranean, now known as Syria and Lebanon.
During its 30 years of existence, it was a diverse community welcoming immigrants from Italy, Poland, Greece, Hungary and African Americans. According to Dr. Curtis, the Syrian Quarter was known for its roast lamb, Turkish coffee, water pipes and narrow townhouses.
“People would sit outside on their stoops, especially on Sundays, where they would share food…and sing their songs. And they lived as a multiracial neighborhood of black, white, and brown people. We just don’t know. not.”, Dr. Curtis said.
After World War I, Arab Americans gained access to more housing in Indianapolis. As a result, according to Dr. Curtis, Arabs scattered from east to west in search of more land to set up their grocery stores, which was an important part of Arab culture.
Curtis, chair of liberal arts and professor of religious studies at IUPUI, is on a mission to bring Arab American history out of the shadows. Specifically, Arab Americans in the Midwest.
“I grew up in rural southern Illinois. My grandmother – was like my second mother – raised me to be proud of my Arab heritage,” Dr. Curtis explained. “When I moved to Indianapolis several years ago, I just didn’t know there was such a rich history here.”
When the professor began researching the presence of his ancestors in their migration to the United States, he found not only the heartbeat of the Arab community of Indianapolis, but several monuments associated with Indiana’s history also marked the history of Arab Hoosiers.
What Curtis discovered in his research was so profound that he created a map: “The Indianapolis Arab Heritage Trail“.
“The first Arab American statewide official was a woman in the 1960s (Helene Corey). Nobody knows her, but she should be a household name in Indiana,” Curtis noted. “Arab Americans served in the military during World War I and after, and they are commemorated in the War Memorial. One of the most important stores in Monument Circle (Shaheen Oriental Rug) is today the entrance to the Hilbert Circle Theater, where the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra plays, and it is part of the 1920s of our Indian past and our Arab past.
The Arab Indianapolis Heritage Trail is just one of many efforts by Curtis to highlight the contributions of Arab Americans to the culture and economic growth of the city and state.
In his 13th book, “Arab Indianapolis,” Dr. Curtis documents the history of the Arab Hoosier. It’s a story that he says is “hidden in plain sight.”
“I think it has as many pictures as there are words,” jokes Dr. Curtis.
In addition to photographs and history, Arab Indianapolis also offers interviews, vignettes and recipes.
“It really speaks to the Arab past of Indianapolis. But also the present. I partnered with the community to create portraits of people, contemporary Arab-Americans in Indianapolis; we asked them to share their historical photographs. This so really celebrates the past and present of the Arab Indianapolis,” Dr. Curtis said of his book.
In recognition of Arab American Heritage Month in April, Dr. Curtis enjoys sharing his heritage with others. He says he recognizes that Arab Americans make up a relatively small percentage of the country’s population, but he doesn’t want its history to be “something pushed aside.” part of“The History of America.
“Arabs are not new to this place that we now call the United States. Before the country was established, there were… Arabs here,” Dr. Curtis explained. “Oftentimes we’re seen as outsiders because we can’t assimilate into this culture. But that’s simply not true. And Arab American Heritage Month shows how much Arab Americans have contributed.”
Arab Indianapolis is available for pre-order ahead of its June 7 release date on beltpublishing.com. WFYI also presents a one hour documentary about Dr. Curtis’ book, “Arab Indianapolis: A Hidden History,” June 16.
WRTV digital reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.