Yemeni americans

by Drew Walker


Yemen (in Arabic, al-Yaman or al-Jumhuriyah al-Yamaniyah) is situated in the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, Oman to the east, the Gulf of Aden to the south, and the Red Sea to the west. The northern border with Saudi Arabia is part of a vast desert and remains mostly uncharted. Yemen's total land area is estimated to be around 156,000 square miles (405,000 square kilometers), which is slightly smaller than the state of California. The land of Yemen can be divided into five major regions: the highlands in the east, the eastern and northeastern desert regions, the central mountains (known as the Yemen Highlands), the western mountains, and the coastal plain found in the northwest. The population of Yemen lives in all of these zones, the altitudes of which range from sea level to more than 10,000 feet. In different areas adequate rainfall and good soil provide for significant agricultural production. Throughout the country, the temperature ranges greatly, from the hot desert to cool mountainous climates.


The long and rich history of Yemen extends back beyond three thousand years. From about 1000 B.C. most of the area today known as Yemen was ruled by three successive historical groups, the Mineans, the Sabaeans, and the Himyarites. These three groups or kingdoms derived their status and wealth through the trade in spices and other products such as frankincense and myrrh. Both frankincense and myrrh were forms of gum taken from trees that covered much of Yemen's lands. These substances had medicinal properties and were highly valued in the ancient world for their ritual and healing powers. With the introduction of the camel as a means of transportation in the eleventh century B.C. , large caravans carried these products from their center of production in the city of Qana (today Bir 'Ali) to the great markets of Gaza in Egypt. Also included in these caravans were gold and other fine goods that arrived in Yemen by sea from India.

The early trade of the Mineans eventually gave way to the Sabaeans around 950 B.C. As a result, the Sabaean capital of Ma'rib attained great status and became a center of early Yemeni culture. Sabaean control lasted for the next 1,400 years, and they maintained an impressive agricultural system in addition to their trade in spices and other goods. To provide irrigation for their farmlands the Sabaeans built a great dam at Ma'rib in the eighth century, which stood for more than a thousand years.

The Himyarites succeeded the Sabaeans, establishing their capital at Dhafar. Trading from the port of al-Muza on the Red Sea, the Himyarites controlled trade in the region until the first century B.C. , when the Romans conquered it. The spread of Christianity in the ancient Mediterranean world diminished the popularity of ritual fragrances. The lack of demand for the region's spices combined with Roman domination eventually led to the demise of Yemeni wealth in the spice trade. By the fourth century A.D. both Christianity and Judaism had been introduced into Yemen, and the Ethiopians occupied the region from early on in that century.

In 570 A.D. , after centuries of neglect, the great dam at Ma'rib broke for the last time and was subsequently abandoned by the Sabaean kingdom, which had for centuries been losing influence in the region. By this time the Himyarites had established an alliance with Persia, which led to the expulsion of the Ethiopian occupation forces. It was not long after these events that Islam came to Yemen in the early to mid-seventh century. After centuries of exploitation by Christians and Jews in Yemen, the spread of Islam was quick and decisive. The Prophet Muhammad sent his son-in-law to be governor, leading to the establishment of the mosques in Janadiyah and Sana'a', still today the two most famous mosques in Yemen. From this point on Yemen was ruled by a series of Muslim holy men and governors known as caliphs and imams. A series of rulers from differing groups came to rule Yemen over the following centuries, founding different dynasties Most prominent among these groups was an Iraqi Shi'ite sect introduced in the ninth century known as the Zaydi.

A turning point in the history of Yemen occured around the early fifteenth century, when reputedly one Sheik 'Ali ibn 'Umar' introduced a Yemeni specialty—named coffee—as a beverage to the greater Mediterranean world. It was at this point that Yemen became an area of conflict between the Ottoman Empire, the Egyptians, and various European countries over the trade in coffee. At first providing an economic boom that lasted for centuries in some areas of Yemen, by the eighteenth century coffee was being grown and sold elsewhere around the world. The result was yet another rapid decline in the position of Yemen in the world economy.

By 1517 the Zaydi imams of Yemen could no longer resist the forces from outside and were absorbed for the first time into the Ottoman Empire, a period of domination which lasted until 1636.


In the nineteenth century Britain and other European powers began to occupy different parts of the Middle East. In 1839 the British, deciding that Yemen was of strategic value to their empire, occupied the coastal port of Aden. As the century progressed the Ottomans moved back into northern Yemen while the British fortified their presence in the south. By an agreement in 1904 that put into writing that which had existed for decades, Yemen was divided into northern and southern areas, with the Ottomans (Turks) controlling the north and the British the south. However, in 1911, following a sustained series of local insurrections, the Turks eventually granted autonomy to North Yemen under the rule of the Zaydi imam, and in 1919 the British granted autonomy of the south to Imam Yayha, who was named king. In 1925 North Yemen became an independent state.

Imam Yayha did not recognizing the distinction between north and south, and pressed hard against the British and neighboring Saudis to gain complete control over all of Yemen. Yayha eventually consolidated his power in the north and ruled until 1948, when he was assassinated. His successor and son, Ahmad, fought against the continuing presence of the British in Aden. He formed a brief alliance with Egypt and Syria, but had little success. When Ahmad died in 1962, his son Muhammed al-Badr had no sooner come to rule than he was ousted in a coup led by a military officer named Colonel Abdullah al-Sallal. Al-Sallal proclaimed Yemen a republic named the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), and he sought control over all of Yemen's territories under this new rubric. Backed by the Saudis, the imam who al-Badr had deposed of had fled to the mountains in the north to form a royalist army. Attacking the forces of the YAR, who were backed by Egypt, these royalists waged a civil war for eight years, until the Saudis and Egyptian agreed to end their support and to arrange an election in which the people of the YAR could decide their own form of government. When this plan failed in 1966, the civil war resumed. By 1967 the Egyptians had withdrawn and YAR leader al-Sallal was overthrown and sent into exile, succeeded by Abdul Rahman al-Iryani. At this time, after years of street fighting, the British finally pulled out of Aden. Adding to the drastic changes that year, with the collapse of the YAR in the south, was the founding of a new state named the People's Republic of South Yemen on the 30th of November. Establishing a firm division between north and south by 1970, the southern government once again changed its name, to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). During the 1970s the two Yemens engaged in a series of short border wars, which after much other turmoil resulted in the drafting of a constitution establishing the unification of north and south. It was not until May 1990 that the full merger finally took place, creating a unified country named the Republic of Yemen.


There is no specific record of when the first Yemeni Americans arrived in the United States. It is most likely that the first Yemenis came shortly after the Suez canal was opened in 1869. By 1890 there are records of a small number immigrating, and there are also records showing that some Yemenis obtained U.S. citizenship by fighting in the First World War.


Many early Yemeni immigrants first settled within pre-existing Lebanese and Palestinian communities in cities such as New York. After orienting themselves to their new surroundings many Yemenis set off for the Midwest and West, where the labor force was quickly growing. Working as farm laborers in California's San Joaquin Valley and as factory workers in Detroit, Canton, Weirton, and Buffalo, many Yemeni Americans prospered in the 1920s. During the depression of the 1930s the flow of Yemeni immigration slowed dramatically but resumed again in greater numbers after the end of the Second World War in 1945. One route of immigration into the United States was through Vietnam, where many Yemenis had worked in warehouses, shops, and on the docks as watchmen. Through a loophole in the immigration laws, many Yemeni immigrants who were not literate in their mother tongue (which was a requirement for all immigrants entering into the United States) could bypass regulations and thus be admitted. Patterns of Yemeni immigration were often in the form of chain migration, in which already established immigrants would secure visas for their relatives in Yemen. With the elimination of a quota system for immigration in 1965, Yemenis gained easier access to entrance and work visas, leading to a great increase in the numbers of immigrants. In the years of immigration before 1970, nearly all immigrants from Yemen were adult males.

Acculturation and Assimilation

The population of Yemen mainly speaks Arabic but a small number of other linguistic and cultural groups such as the Mahra, and ethnic immigrant minorities including Somalis and Ethiopians, are also represented. Religion is a major factor in the separation of Yemeni society into subgroups. Among those of the Islamic faith the Sunni sect is the largest, followed by a Shi'ite minority and an even smaller group known as the Isma'ilis. In addition to religious differences, tribal differences play an important social role. Despite the great number of younger men who emigrate abroad to work and often return with foreign practices, Yemenis maintain much of their cultural heritage.

Among Yemeni Americans cultural traditions are maintained to various degrees in the communities in which they live. In places like Detroit or New York a great deal of Yemeni cultural activity can easily be found and participated in. There is overall a strong resistance to acculturation and assimilation. Despite this resistance, however, many Yemeni immigrants adopt American customs and attitudes, which work in complex ways to modify their identities in the United States and in Yemen.


Yemeni culture and its traditions and customs among Yemeni Americans are a rich mixture of Islamic influences and more ancient traditions and practices. Most Yemeni Americans are aware of and take great pride in the long history of their peoples. In many places Yemeni culture displays a mixture of complex traditions that are not seen in the cultures of its neighbors. Yemeni Americans are proud of the beauty of the landscape of Yemen and of their great achievements in architecture and construction, its images often decorating the walls of gathering places and homes. In addition to their traditional skill as builders, Yemeni Americans also point to a reputation for fine craftsmanship that has endured for thousands of years. Most Yemeni Americans adhere to the Islamic faith, and it is there that many of the most subtle and profound traditions, customs and beliefs are found. Christian, Jewish, and other minority influences also add to the cultural and religious diversity of Yemeni Americans.

Different social scientists have noted that within the twentieth century the practice of young men emigrating alone and working abroad after marriage has itself become a custom. Emigrating to many parts of the world, these men form what in many ways has become a key tradition in the lives of men and women in Yemeni society. Among the Yemeni American population one finds a great number of such emigrants, often between the ages of 18 and 45, who maintain economically vital links between Yemen and the United States. The sacrifice made by these emigrants is honored and respected in Yemeni society.

Another Yemeni custom practiced by Yemeni Americans, and is a part of various social situations, is the chewing of a substance called qat. Qat is the name of a seedless plant that grows up to 20 feet high and grows best between 3,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level. Its leaves are harvested throughout the year in Yemen and neighboring countries. When chewed, qat is said to have a stimulant and euphoric effect. Qat is chewed like tobacco. In the United States a bundle of qat sells for $30 to $35. It is estimated that Yemeni Americans may spend as much as $3 million a year on qat . Many Yemeni American celebrations are thought to be incomplete without it.


Yemeni proberbs include: La budd min Sana'a wa lau taal al-safr (You must visit Sana'a, however long the journey takes); Min ratl hakya tafham wiqya (From a pound of talk one gets but an ounce of understanding); Ya gharib kun adib ( A foreigner should be well behaved); Jaarak al-qarib wa la akhuk al-ba'id (Look to your neighbor who is near you rather than to your distant brother); Kun namla wa takul sukr (Work like an ant and you'll eat sugar); Man maat al-yaum salim min dhanb bukra (He who dies today is safe from tomorrow's sin); Yaddi fi fumuh wa yadduh fi 'aini (My fist is in his mouth, but his fist is in my eye, meaning "six of one, half a dozen of the other"); La sadiq illa fi waqt al-dhiq (A friend in time of need is a friend indeed); Qird fi 'ain ummuh ghazaal (A monkey in its mother's eye is like a gazelle, meaning love is blind); Lau kan al-kalaam min fidha fa al-samt min dhahab (If speech is of silver, then silence is golden); 'Asfoor fil yadd wa la 'ashra fi alshajarah (A bird in hand is worth ten in a tree); Ma ghaab 'an al-nadhr ghaab 'an al-khaatir (Out of sight, out of mind); Idha sahibak 'asl la talhusuh kulluh (If you have honey, don't lick the pot clean); and Tal'ab bi hanash wa taquluh dudah (You play with a snake and call it a worm).


Yemeni Americans usually consider lunch the main meal of the day. While at home many Yemeni Americans eat the traditional way—without utensils and using bread to scoop up the food.

The national dish of Yemen, widely cooked in the United States, is salta. Salta is a heavily spiced chicken or lamb stew served with lentils, beans, chickpeas, and coriander, all on a bed of rice. Another dish is shurba, a more soupy stew made with lentils, fenugreek, or lamb. There are many kinds of bread, of which the most popular made-at-home bread is khubz tawwa. In addition, lahuh, a pancake-like bread made from sorghum, is eaten on special occasions. Bint al sahn is a sweet bread dipped in honey and clarified butter.


Many Yemeni Americans wear traditional clothing around the house and at special secular and religious gatherings. Yemen is well-known and esteemed for its production of beautiful textiles and for the importation of fine textiles from around the world. Traditionally, however, these fine fabrics were often reserved for the rich, who could afford them, and garments made from them long served as markers of class and wealth. Today, however, many Yemeni Americans can afford what used to be materials that only the rich had access to.

For men of the highlands, the most distinctive and important article worn was the djambia, a curved dagger. Different forms of these daggers were used to distinguish classes, and each class was forbidden to wear the wrong dagger. The traditional garment of men from the Tihama area of Yemen is an embroidered skirt, or futah, which is wrapped around the hips and fastened with a belt. In the highlands regions a shorter, calf-length skirt was worn with a jacket, belt, and dagger.

With the exception of an outfit (introduced some fifty years ago) consisting of a black skirt, veil and head covering known as the sharshaf or the loose black coat known as the abaya, the traditional clothing of women varied a great deal. The veil is an important traditional part of women's clothing. While a controversial subject among women and between men and women today, the veil had the effect of a status symbol. Brightly colored cotton dresses with very wide long sleeves, including brass and silver adornment, were commonly worn in different areas.


Music and song are varied in the Yemeni American community, and Yemeni Americans are more or less traditional in their tastes, depending on their access to different forms of music. Traditional music from Yemen, available on compact discs all over the world, consists of small-scale performances of an accompanied voice, strongly related to poetic expression. A range of instruments are used in the accompaniment, including a plucked string instrument called an 'ud, as well as percussion instruments.

The position of Yemen as a vital crossroads between the traffic of the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea led to a great variety in musical expression. Like much of Yemeni culture, the music is often distinct from that of its neighboring Arab lands. Local accents, rhythms and modes of everyday speech and its poetic forms figure strongly in the distinctive styles of Yemeni music and song. In Yemeni American culture and in Yemen, different poetic and musical forms are used in different settings, with special forms such as razfah and balah heard at wedding celebrations, for example.


Many Yemeni Americans gather to celebrate Yemeni holidays when possible. Among these are May 1, which is International Labor Day; May 22, which is the Yemeni Day of National Unity; September 26, which is Revolution Day; October 14, which is National Day; and November 30, Yemeni Independence Day. Of great importance to many Yemeni Americans are the religious holidays of the Islamic faith. While these holidays begin and end at different times each year, the dates for the Roman calendar year 1999 (which is the Muslim year 1420) are listed below. The Islamic year, made up of twelve months of 29 or 30 days each, contains a total of 353 or 354 days and is based on the lunar cycle. Each month traditionally began with the sighting of a new moon.

Ramadan: December 20, 1998–January 18, 1999

The sighting of the new moon, which in the United States is monitored by the Islamic Society of North America, begins the observance of Ramadan, the most important holiday of Islam, which lasts an entire month. It is a time for inner reflection, self-control, and devotion to God. It is a personal time arranged through social means, Ramadan takes on different meanings for every individual each year of his or her life. During Ramadan Muslims are urged to read the Koran or to spend more time listening to its recitation in a mosque.

The most prominent ritual of Ramadan is the required fasting during daylight hours, which entails abstaining from food, drink, smoking, and sexual activity. Nothing may be eaten during this month between the rising and setting of the sun. If an individual is ill, traveling, or pregnant, however, strict fasting need not be observed, with the understanding that he or she will later try to make up for this lapse.

The last ten days of Ramadan are thought to be of special significance, particularly the 27th night. The end of Ramadan and the beginning of the 'Eid-ul-Fitr festival is a time for mutual congratulation and greetings. Two of the most universal Arabic greetings are 'Eid mubarak (a blessed 'Eid) and ' Kullu am wa antum bi-khair' (may you be well throughout the year).

'Eid-ul-Fitr: January 19, 1999

This festival, the Festival of Fast-Breaking, takes place immediately after the end of Ramadan. Often likened to Christmas, it is a time for obligatory charity and generosity. Yemeni Americans may wear holiday attire, attend a special community morning prayer, and visit friends or relatives. Although the celebration lasts three days, most of the main festivities occur on the first day.

Hajj: March 18–March 26, 1999

The hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when Muslims from all over the world converge on Mecca, Islam's holiest site. With roughly two million Muslims participating each year, the hajj is thought to be the world's largest international gathering, during which God is worshiped at the Sacred House called the Kabah. Few Yemenis in the United States undertake the hajj, but it is obligatory to make the pilgrimage at least once in every Muslim's lifetime; thus great efforts to attend should be made if conditions permit.

'Eid-ul-Adha: March 27, 1999

Known as the Festival of Sacrifice, 'Eid ul-Adha celebrates the commemoration of Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice everything for God, including the life of his son Ishmael. God's sparing of Ishmael through the substitution of a sheep in his stead is celebrated by slaughtering an animal and distributing its meat among family, friends, and the needy. Traditionally this provided the means by which many poor Muslims were able to enjoy the uncommon luxury of eating meat during the four days of the festival.


Among the health issues within the Yemeni American community, the chewing of qat has recently come to the forefront. Thought to have negative addictive effects, different Yemeni Americans are starting to question the wisdom of its excessive use. In addition, as in many newer immigrant communities, the issue of health insurance is perhaps the most important health care issue faced by Yemeni Americans.


The official language of Yemen and that spoken by the vast majority of Yemeni Americans is Arabic. Among the population of Yemeni Americans one can find a variety of Arab dialects, including the following: the Sanaani or Northern Yemeni dialect, spoken by some 7,600,000 in Yemen; the Ta'izzi-Adeni or Southern Yemeni dialect, spoken by approximately 6,760,000 in Yemen; the Hadrami dialect, spoken by approximately 300,000 in Yemen; the Mehri dialect spoken by nearly 58,000; and the Judeo-Yemeni dialect, spoken by approximately 1,000. In the population of Yemen overall the literacy rate is estimated to be between 25 percent and 39 percent. Amongst the literate, there is a standard form of Arabic which one finds used for education, official purposes, books, newspapers and formal speeches.


Some common greetings and expressions in Arabic are as follows, and they are pronounced roughly as they are spelled: Ahlan! (Hello!); Sabah il-kheyr (Good morning); Sabah in noor (to return someone's wish good morning); Keyf il-hehl? or Keyfek? (How are you?); Tamam, Ilhandulillah or Bi kheyr, ilhandulillah (Fine); It sharafna (Nice to meet you); Ma'assalama (Goodbye); Minfadlak or minfadlik (Please); Shukran! (Thank you); Al-fi shukr (Thank you very much); Na'am (Yes); La (no); and Yala! (Let's go!).

Family and Community Dynamics

In many parts of Yemen it is still not uncommon for young men of 16 years to marry, produce children, and emigrate. Spouses and children often remain behind as the money obtained from work is sent from the United States families back home. This money is often used to purchase land and help develop a homestead for the family. In the United States many male immigrants live in inner-city apartments or houses with several other men in the same situation. Whether as single men or in family groups, a great many Yemeni immigrants live in communities with high Arab populations and frequent places where Yemenis congregate.

While very important in Yemen itself, the practice of Islam takes on different degrees of importance in America, depending on one's work and living situations and access to religious centers. In areas with larger Arab populations, access to newspapers, magazines, books, and other media in Arabic help maintain a sense of community and common interest.


While the educational levels of Yemeni Americans range across the spectrum, many first-generation immigrants have a standard education and are employed as laborers in farm and factory work. Knowledge of the Koran and other sacred literature is highly respected, as is higher education. Since the 1970s a growing number of Yemenis have come to the United States to pursue college degrees.


The role of women in the Yemeni American community is complex due to the great disproportion of males to females within the population. The position of a woman in Yemeni society varies according to her age, social class, and occupation. The practice of veiling depends on what part of Yemen she comes from. A woman's educational level has a strong influence on how she relates to older women, who are often less educated. In addition to homemaking, women have traditionally taken part in farming activities and also business ventures. Conflicts between economic necessity and tradition often arise for Yemeni American women. In more traditional families, barriers of language and customs regarding the roles of women in public can lead to an existence more cloistered and isolated than that of non-Yemeni women.


Although the number of traditional weddings in the Yemeni American community is small, those that do take place are impressive social events. Often the match between a bride and bridegroom are still selected by their respective parents. Due to the traditional Yemeni separation of the sexes, most often a man relied on advice and information from his mother, sisters, and aunts in choosing a bride. When looking for a wife, the family of the groom helps the man determine the right candidate from his neighborhood or village or within his own family among his cousins (a practice that Islamic law allows). While the mother evaluates the women of the potential brides' families, the father does the same for the men of these families, and they discuss their impressions.

When they reach an agreement on a candidate, a date is set for the future groom and his father to visit the house of the potential bride's family in order to discuss the matter. At this time the potential bride has a chance to look at the man; if very traditional, she may serve tea to the visitors. It is often the case that the man will know very little if anything about his bride-to-be and that the young woman will know much more about him. During this meeting the father of the man asks the father of the bride-to-be if he agrees to the union. At this time it is the custom for the father of the woman to ask for time to discuss it with his wife, daughter, and other family members. After some time, if the father of the woman agrees, a time is scheduled for the ceremony of the betrothal, held on a Thursday or a Friday.

The groom and his father, accompanied by three or four male friends or relations bringing raisins, qat, and other gifts, pay a visit to the house of the father of the bride. An engagement ring is handed over to the father of the bride along with a gift of clothes for the mother and bride. Dates for the wedding are considered, and a bride price is decided upon. It is the custom that the greatest share of the bride price, which is paid by the father of the groom, is later spent purchasing jewelry and clothing for the bride. Valuables bought with this money are the bride's alone and often remain her prized possessions for many years afterward. The actual ceremony of the betrothal is quite informal, with a great deal of conversation concerning the firm promises between the two families to marry their children.

The wedding lasts for at least three days. In the presence of a scholar of Islamic law called a qadi, papers of marriage are signed. In this ceremony it is the custom for the groom to ask his future father-in-law "Will you give me your daughter in marriage?" The father of the bride answers, "Yes, I will give you my daughter to be your wife." The qadi then asks the father of the bride if his daughter agrees to the arranged marriage. After answering that she agrees, the groom and father of the bride clasp right hands. As they do this the qadi lays a white cloth over their hands and recites the first sura of the Koran known as the fatiha.

The celebration of the marriage is then inaugurated when the father of the groom throws a handful of raisins onto the carpet. All those present at the ceremony try to pick up as many raisins as possible—they are thought to be signs of a happy future for the newlyweds. It is another custom for all those present at the wedding to give money, whose sums are announced, one after the other, by a crier.

The most important and most public part of the wedding celebrations takes place on the Friday following the marriage ceremony. At this time a lavish feast is prepared including a variety of meats. Lunch is a big affair that day, as is the gathering of men to chew qat and socialize. Women guests often help out in the extensive preparations for the feast. After going to midday prayers in a group, the men march through the street with the groom, who is dressed in a special costume and carrying a golden sword, singing, beating drums and making merry. That afternoon the qadi joins the men and recites poems and imparts moral knowledge, interspersed with breaks of music.

While this takes place, all the women gather at the house of the bride while a makeup artist arranges the bride's hair and paints fine patterns on her hands and feet. The palms of the bride's hands and the soles of her feet are painted red with henna dye. The women eat sweets together at this time. Music is played during this gathering as well.

When the sun sets and evening prayers have ended, the men take to the street to arrange for a part of the festivities called the Zaffa. Standing in a line outside the house the groom, his father and his brothers face toward the groom's house. In another line stands the qadi , who gives recitations. During this time the men slowly, step by step, approach the house, all the while singing. While they are doing this all of the women climb onto the surrounding roofs trilling loudly in a high pitch, mixing with the singing of the men to make the greatest noise. When the groom gets near the house he runs and jumps over the threshold into the house, after which the guests dance for a bit and go home, ending the official part of the ceremony. If the bride has not yet arrived, she arrives soon afterward accompanied by her father, brothers, and other male relatives. At this time she enters the house of her husband she is officially a member of her new husband's family.


Most Yemeni Americans are Muslims. In the traditional practice of Islam, the observance of daily rituals and prohibitions are mandatory, especially the practice of praying five times a day. The first is the morning prayer. If there is a local mosque, men attend this prayer there. The morning ends with the midday prayer, which takes place when the sun has reached its highest point in the sky. After this people eat their midday meals. When the sun is at a 45 degree angle to the surface of the earth, it is time for the afternoon prayer. The next prayer of the day, the evening prayer, takes place at sunset. About an hour or more later, when the sky is completely dark, the last prayer of the day is done. When possible, Yemeni Americans make every effort to follow these prayer rituals, although in many work situations in the United States this simply cannot be done.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Employment and economic traditions among Yemeni Americans varied throughout the twentieth century. Earlier, in the second half of the twentieth century, many worked as factory workers in industries such as automobile manufacturing. Later, farm work became an occupation for many. More recently, Yemeni Americans have worked as small local merchants, and a number of others are working as scholars and attending universities for higher degrees. Yemeni Americans are often proud to boast of their strong work ethic.

Politics and Government

A number of Yemenis earned U.S. citizenship by fighting for the United States in the First World War.

Individual and Group Contributions


Dr. Nasser Zawia is Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and the Division of Environmental Health at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Zawia also heads various committees on drug use and is an adviser to the governor of Tennessee on the issue of drugs. Zawia's primary research focus is on the adverse effects of environmental agents on the development of the brain. Zawia also worked as a staff fellow at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS/NIH). Known for his work on heavy metals and developmental gene expression, Zawia has written extensively in the field of toxicology and is widely published in both national and international journals.


Mr. Shaker Alashwal is the founder of the Yemeni American League for college students and graduates. He is also co-editor of Yemen News, a community newspaper for Yemeni Americans. In addition to his work as an community organizer and editor, Alashwal is a writer who has published in local and international newspapers on issues relating to Yemen and Yemenis in America.


The poet Ali Mohammed Luqman was born in Aden, in 1918. Luqman became interested in writing early, beginning to write poetry while still in his teens. In 1936 he went to India, where he attended al-Ghira Muslim University. Afterward he attended the American University of Cairo, earning a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1947. Returning to Aden, Luqman became the editor of his father's newspaper, Fatat al-Jezira. In 1943 he published his first collection of poetry, entitled Overwhelmed Melody. Luqman is noted for being the first poet to introduce Arabic poetic plays in the region of Aden. Although he produced a great deal of work in poetry, Luqman wrote in many other genres of literature. In many cases throughout his life political circumstances forced him at times to write anonymously. When political turmoil erupted in southern Yemen he moved to Taiz in northern Yemen and then to the United States, where he died in December 1979, among his wife and four sons.


Tawfig Jabr Hassan, MD, is a successful physician affiliated with Oakwood Hospital, in Dearborn, Michigan. Tawfig is also the city commissioner for the City of Dearborn. Abdullah Faris works as a high-tech engineer in California's Silicon Valley.


Mr. Ali Alazzani is an accomplished and well-known Yemeni activist. He has been the leader of different Yemeni and Arab American organizations. He is currently retired and acts as an educational consultant for the Department of Education for the State of California.

Saleh Muslah, M.D., M.A.C.P., was appointed consultant to the Governor John Engler of Michigan on issues concerning Michigan's Arab American communities.

Ms. Ashwaq al-Qassim was a champion of peace, a promoter of dialogue and an advocate of tolerance in and outside of the Yemeni American community. Ms. al-Qassim redefined the word "dedication" and was a great thinker on the subject of ethics. Al-Qassim was an activist, a human rights advocate, artist, and co-founder of Bosnia Link. In addition, she was a founder and a supporter of many nonprofit and non-governmental organizations.


Online newspapers published for the Arab American community and of interest to Yemeni Americans include the following. More information and URLs can be found in the media website for Yemen at .

Yemeni Issues.

Newsletter of the Yemeni American League (in English).

Yemen Times.

Published weekly on Mondays (in English). Established in 1991, it has become highly influential. In 1995 the paper and its editor/publisher, Professor Abd al-Aziz al-Saqqaf, won the National Press Club's International Award for Freedom of the Press.

Organizations and Associations

Yemen American Cultural Center.

Address: 2770 Salina, Dearborn, MI 48120.

Telephone: (313) 841-3395.

Fax: (313) 841-3395 or (313) 843-8973.

Online: .

Yemen American League Chapter and Contacts. New York.

Contact: Shaker Alashwal.

Address: 198 Court Street # 6, Brooklyn, NY 11201.

E-mail: New Mexico.

Contact: Abdullah Sofan.

E-mail: Detroit.

Contact: Abdulwali Altahif, and Haffiz Azzubair.


Yemen Links on Arab.Net.

Set of links ranging from homepages of Yemeni American students to websites of Yemen newspapers.



Comprehensive news site about Yemen affairs around the world. Includes a Yemen internet search engine.

Online: .

Museums and Research Centers

American Institute for Yemeni Studies.

Contact: Dr. Maria deJ. Ellis, Executive Director.

Address: P.O. Box 311, Ardmore PA 19003-0311.

Telephone: (610) 896-5412.

Fax: (610) 896-9049.

E-mail :

Sources for Additional Study

Friedlander, Jonathan, ed. Sojourners and Settlers: The Yemeni Immigrant Experience. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1988.

Haiek, Jospeh R., ed. Arab American Almanac. 3rd edition. Glendale, CA: The News Circle Group Publishing Co., 1984.

Staub, Shalom. Yemenis in New York City: The Folklore of Ethnicity. Philadelphia: Balch Institute Press, 1989.

"The Yemeni Immigrant Community in Detroit: Background, Emigration, and Community Life." In Abraham, S., and Nabeel Abraham, eds., Arabs in the New World, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983.

User Contributions:

Rania Elmadari
I really like this web page, I like how it helps people understand us Yemenis and our way of life. Only if it was easer to find so everyone can be able to read it. Over all its a good website.
Abdullah Abdulhakim
In the article, the following was mentioned:

"By 1890 there are records of a small number immigrating, and there are also records showing that some Yemenis obtained U.S. citizenship by fighting in the First World War."

What is the source of this information and how can one obtain these records?

thanks for this informative page!
I really like this website.I am yemeni in New york and i am proud to be yemeni .
i love this we. and i want to learn more about yemenis
In Sojourners and Settlers: The Yemeni Immigrant Experience by Jonathan Friedlander (1988), on p. 57 he writes:

No one knows exactly when Yemenis first arrived in the United States...Almost certainly, a handful had come by 1890, and a few acquired US citizenship by fighting in World War I.

This is followed by footnote 8:

Dweik (1980:3) has confirmed this on the basis of church records in the Buffalo area.

Badr Dweik, The Yemenites of Lackawanna, New York: A Community Profile. Special Studies Series, 130. Buffalo: SUNY, Council on International Studies. 1980
im not from yemen but was rasied by yemenis ,in my heart im yemen.this educated me so much,i only knew about Queen sheba .thanks for the info.
Thank you for this article. I am Yemeni-American. My father arrived here on a student visa in the early 1960s. Since then he has gone on to achieve his PhD in zoology & is a distinguished college professor of biology. I went to school in Ann Arbor, MI, and many of the Yemenis there are quite educated. In the Dearborn/Detroit area, I have seen more recent Yemeni immigrants who work as laborers--but who knows what the future will bring for their children?

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