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date: 18 November 2019

Arabic-Speaking Migrants in 19th- and 20th-Century Latin America

Summary and Keywords

Global transoceanic migration booms of the 19th century brought with them more than a quarter of a million migrants from the Arabic-speaking eastern Mediterranean destined for Latin American cities, towns, and rural outposts across the region. Over the course of the early 20th century, a near-constant mobility of circulating people, things, and ideas characterized the formation of immigrant identities and communities with roots primarily in the Levantine area of the Middle East. Over time, historians of this migration have come to interpret as central the transnational and transregional nature of the ties that many individuals, families, and institutions in Latin America carefully maintained with their counterparts across the Atlantic. As the 20th century progressed, Middle Eastern migrants and their subsequent generations of descendants consolidated institutions, financial networks, and a plethora of other life projects in their respective Latin American home places. Meanwhile, they continued to seek meaningful participation in the realities of a Middle East-North Africa region undergoing deep shifts in its geopolitical, social, and cultural landscapes from the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the end of World War I, through the tumultuous century that followed.

Keywords: migration, diaspora, Middle East, North Africa, transregionalism, transnationalism

Middle Eastern Arrivals in Latin America’s Migrant Boom, 1880–1914

The 19th-century transoceanic migration that transformed American landscapes across the hemisphere brought Latin America into more significant contact with the Arabic-speaking eastern Mediterranean region than ever before. With the arrival of some quarter of a million migrants from the Middle East primarily, and North Africa to a much lesser extent, new religious, political, and cultural formations became inscribed in Latin American landscapes from the US-Mexican border to the southernmost reaches of Patagonia. Though scholars of the colonial Americas have pointed out that the Iberian Atlantic and the Mediterranean worlds were indeed characterized by their interconnectedness as far back as the 16th and 17th centuries, it was this later period that marked a landmark turning point in the phenomenon of Middle Eastern migration to Latin America.1 Known commonly by historians of this period as the global migration “boom,” this was an era during which macrostructural factors such as improvements in steamship technology enabled transoceanic migration to reach an unprecedented scale. As historian Michael Goebel notes, “this mass migration lastingly modified identity narratives within Latin America.”2 Though the migration of Middle Eastern migrants as part of the 19th- to 20th-century migration boom is less studied than that of much more numerous European arrivals, it nevertheless represents an important piece of the hemisphere’s history of mass migration.

The explosion of migratory links that bound Latin America to the Middle East came about as more and more migrants from the Syrian territory of the Ottoman Empire began staking their futures in outmigration to the Americas, Africa, Australia, South Asia, and elsewhere. Across the current-day geographies of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, individuals and families weighed what Devi Mays describes as “a shifting constellation of political, social, economic, and personal exigencies.”3 For many—especially the legions of peasants who made up the bulk of the first generation of Syrian emigrants—their decision was related to the increasing socioeconomic precarity that they faced as the Middle East became more deeply integrated into global economies. For example, the decline in Mount Lebanon’s silkworm economy squeezed the household finances of many peasants who decided to leave. Whatever the combination of macrostructural vs. intimately personal factors that resulted in migrant decisions to leave Ottoman Syria, the ultimate result was that by World War I, approximately one in five Ottoman Syrians had emigrated and was living elsewhere.4 Within certain regional or religious subsets of the population, the rate of outmigration could even be significantly higher. This was the case, for instance, among Ottoman Jews, a full third of whom left for international destinations as part of a massive outmigration that began in the early 20th century.5 The majority of migrants who left ended up in the Americas, with notable concentrations in the transatlantic migration hubs of Buenos Aires and São Paulo. Thus, by the onset of the First World War, Arabic-speaking immigrants were a fixture in sociocultural landscapes across the American hemisphere.6

The spread of Middle Eastern migrants throughout the Americas (and beyond) came to be known in Arabic as the “mahjar”—from the root of hijra (ح‎-ج‎-ر‎) meaning to leave or emigrate. With the addition of the letter “م‎” (mim), the word is rendered to basically mean the place of emigration—or rather, the diaspora in a geographic sense (rather than the theoretical use of diaspora employed by several scholars). National leaders and policymakers throughout Latin America registered, and often weighed in on, the growth of mahjar populations within their national borders. Especially in the first decade of the 20th century, there were several attempts to define and control the ethnic contours of “desirability” of migrant masses—including several pieces of legislation targeting mahjar migrants. These legislative attempts to curb Middle Eastern migration were, however, most prevalent in nations at the demographic periphery of the hemisphere’s migration boom. The principal hub recipients of Argentina and Brazil, for instance, did not pass legislation intended to ethnically or racially target Middle Eastern migration.7 Even those national governments that did draft and promulgate several pieces of exclusion legislation—such as Costa Rica, Panama, and several other Central American cases—did not actually succeed in excluding the mobility of these migrants to and through their territory. All in all, the various Middle Eastern collectivities in America became progressively more installed in local and regional economic, political, social, and cultural panoramas from the early 20th century onward despite frail attempts to dictate regimes of mobility politics that aimed to exclude them from doing just this. The failure of these formalized and ad hoc attempts to create obstacles to Middle Eastern mobilities in and to the Americas was likely related to the larger trend that Goebel notes, in which reigning “racist precepts” of the day “percolated into legislation, [yet] law enforcement remained weak and labor needs strong,” ultimately leading to weak or nonexistent apparatuses of mobility enforcement.8

Immigration officials in the Americas frequently tended to label early arrivals of Arabic-speaking migrants from the Eastern Mediterranean as “turcos” because of the Ottoman documents that most carried prior to World War I. This moniker—a term with deeply racial connotations—was widespread despite several attempts at clarification by community leaders and journalists who wrote for a growing number of press organs that came out of expanding Middle Eastern heritage communities—or colectividades.9 This was not the only scenario in which these colectividades were vocally preoccupied with the labels bestowed upon their ethnic communities. As independence movements, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the advent of European mandate governance changed political landscapes in the Middle East, the question of what Middle Eastern diasporic communities should be labeled as remained a topic of debate. While there was a general rejection of the erroneous turco label, there was no unified consensus among the disparate sectors and subgroups of Arabic-speaking colectividades as to the proper designation for their ethno-national-cultural identity. Because the majority of migrants from the Arabic-speaking eastern Mediterranean hailed from the current-day geographies of Syria and Lebanon, many early debates surrounded the hyphenation (or any other form of combination) or Sirio and Libanés labels. Although the common use of “Árabe” as a more broadly encompassing identity group did not grow more widespread in the Middle East until a few decades into the 20th century with the rise of Arab nationalist discourses, the term did get used as early as the first years of the 20th century in Latin American contexts. In one case, Javier Cikota’s work on early Patagonian settler communities reveals court records of self-identified “Arab” business owners in small towns such as Maquinchao, in Argentina’s Río Negro province at the turn of the century.10 As was the case with many immigrant colectividades in Latin America, these umbrella categories were often far less meaningful to individuals and families who identified much more strongly with their connection and allegiance to a particular hometown or subregion. The appearance of dozens of hometown clubs and voluntary associations across the Americas are a testament to the meaningfulness of these translocal ties.

Middle Eastern Community Formation in the American Hemisphere

While colectividades coalesced in greater numbers in larger Latin American cities—especially those that hosted major immigration intake ports—this was by no means the extent of their spread. One key demographic aspect that likely contributed to the geographic breadth of Arabic-speaking migrants was a strong occupational tradition of itinerant pack-peddling in early migrant generations. Peddlers sold merchandise ranging from notions, to religious memorabilia, to clothing and dry goods staples. This tradition was not a new occupational niche despite the fact that it evolved into a prominent symbol of predominantly Ottoman Syrian migration to the Americas during the late-19th- to 20th-century migration boom. Rather, the rise of traveling merchants with Middle Eastern provenance started earlier in the 19th century, as Jacob Norris reveals in his studies of the global circulations of Bethlehemite salesmen as early as the 1850s.11 In the Americas, the symbol of the mobile Arab merchant became an important foundational narrative for some colectividades in which its framing was reminiscent of a bootstrapping, rags-to-riches immigrant archetype. In Brazil, the peddler, or “mascate,” was even the subject of a statue erected by the Syro-Lebanese community in Río de Janeiro later in the 20th century, and serves as a reminder of the staying power that this figure has in the imaginary of said colectividad (see figure 1).12 This is but one example of the vision of the pack-peddler as an occupational stepping stone toward increasingly lucrative versions of entrepreneurship. This romantic vision asserts the place of Arabic-speaking migrants as agents in the push toward modernizing capitalist economies in the 20th century, thus situating these colectividades within the metrics of desirability as articulated by liberal proponents of international immigration schemes. For others, the reality of pack-peddling merchants (frequently referred to as “mercachifles” in Spanish-speaking contexts) was a cause for concern for image-conscious elites who saw them as a liability to the respectable, settled image that they looked to cultivate. Though this figure looms large in diverse renderings of Middle Eastern migration histories to the Americas, in reality peddling represented but one of many migrant pathways to building new lives and livelihoods once they arrived.

Arabic-Speaking Migrants in 19th- and 20th-Century Latin AmericaClick to view larger

Figure 1. “O Mascate” Monument, Rio de Janeiro, est. 1964.

Photo by Carlos Luis M C da Cruz, 2012. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Recent scholarship on working-class and rural Middle Eastern migrants is shepherding scholars toward a fuller, more realistic vision of the economic activities of these individuals, and this in turn is beginning to bring much-needed class analysis to histories of Middle Eastern migration across the hemisphere. These studies are just beginning to shed light on the reality of thousands of Middle Eastern migrants who worked factory lines, tended crops, and generally scratched out a living in ways often absent from the archival record. The reality is that migrants’ ways of living ranged from workers who labored in sugarcane fields and mills in northern Argentina, to textile factory workers in São Paulo, to small farmers in rural areas of several countries.13 Further research into working-class histories of Arabic-speaking migrants and their descendants is sorely needed. Another aspect of these migrants’ lives yet to be fully explored in extant scholarship is the contours of their religious-spiritual lives.

The faith communities that formed through the outmigration of persons from the Arabic-speaking eastern Mediterranean included a variety of Muslim and Christian populations, as well as Arabic- and Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews.14 Early on, the largest subsets of emigrants from this region were without doubt Maronite Catholics and Antiochian Greek Orthodox Christians. These were accompanied by Sunni and Shiʿi Muslims, along with representatives of various branches of Shiʿism such as ʿAlawites, Ismaʿilis, and Druze. Estimates of the percentage breakdowns of the faith communities in different national contexts are uneven and often contested, but scholars do know that overall the rates of outmigration of certain groups was higher than others. For example, in the years leading up to World War I, approximately a third of emigrants departing from principal ports in Beirut province were Muslims. Only about 10 percent of Druze emigrated from home villages in areas such as Mount Lebanon, and a survey of religious organizations and institutions established in the mahjar attests to their presence as a religious minority in comparison to much larger representations of similar organizations associated with Maronites, Orthodox, and several Muslim groups.15 Especially in the early decades of the migration boom, the delineation between different faith communities in diasporic contexts was not one that regimented any sort of predictable cleavage of social, cultural, or economic activities. Frequently, members of all of these different faith communities came together to celebrate holidays; commemorate special occasions; serve on the boards of voluntary associations; or raise funds for a variety of local, national, and international causes.

Growing Transregional Communities and Later 20th-Century Migrations

Much as with other immigrant colectividades throughout Latin America, the early decades of the 20th century marked an era of rapid expansion in the realm of immigrant institutions. Said institutions served an array of organizational roles related to social activities, financial assistance, spiritual community, and intellectual life. They came in many permutations such as hometown associations, athletic clubs, religious organizations, philanthropic groups, schools, hospitals, art leagues, and a thriving fourth estate. The proliferation of these voluntary associations was predictably most dense in the urban areas of major immigration boom countries—namely Brazil and Argentina. Oftentimes, large printing houses based in cities like Buenos Aires, Tucumán, or São Paulo circulated mahjar publications internationally to several Latin American countries. Many of the publications were also squarely on the radar of intellectual and political circles back in the Arabic-speaking eastern Mediterranean, where advocates of independence and nationalist agendas kept close tabs on the activities of diasporic populations whom they considered to be meaningful potential constituents in their projects. Press organs also diligently reported on striking examples of transnational engagement between Middle Eastern actors and their counterparts in the Americas. One such example was press coverage of the establishment of the Permanent Committee of the First Panarabic Congress in America, which maintained representatives in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and sought to foment political-ideological ties between Arabs in the Americas and the Middle East in the 1940s.16

This dynamic of transnational circulation characterized organizations like the Panarabic Congress and numerous other endeavors of the arts, philanthropy, economic relationships, and intergenerational projects of social-familial networks. Institutions such as hometown associations or printing houses may be considered as key bottlenecks in the flows of these manifold transnational currents. These nodal points in the diasporic map may indeed have been spread across vast distances throughout the hemisphere from Central American cities like San José, Costa Rica, and San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to bustling South American capitals and countrysides. These conditions of distance and sometimes relative geographic isolation in some rural contexts did not mean that these nodes pursued projects and engaged with transnational actors in isolation from one another.17 Though scholars have traditionally seen these institutions as pointedly local endeavors meant to serve specific community needs, they are in fact some of the most compelling available evidence of the transnational, transregional scale at which many individuals in the mahjar regularly operated. The ethnic press is but one example of how the ongoing circulation of people, things, and ideas characterized the goings-on of many of these institutions. It is precisely this network of multivalent mobilities that scholarship of the 2010s has effectively construed as a “transnational public sphere” that linked the Middle East to its diasporas, especially those in the Americas.18

By mid-century, subsequent layers of migratory connections between Latin America and the Arabic-speaking eastern Mediterranean formed amidst shifting geopolitical landscapes in that region following the First and Second World Wars. Press organs from several Latin American countries featured coverage of debates related to Arab nationalism, pan-Arabism, frameworks for citizenship and independence, and diasporic populations across the hemisphere often provided responsive audiences.19 The intellectual, cultural, activist, and political currents of the post-war era rested on a foundation of earlier migratory connections between Latin America and the Middle East, but rendered new imaginaries of Third World belongings and connected destinies between these regions (as well as other areas of the Global South). Dramatic expulsion related to the 1947 partition of Palestine was the first of several massive refugee-generating events that punctuated the last half of the 20th century and the first quarter of the 21st century. The forced exodus of some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs in the Nakba of 1948 contributed to a sudden growth in Palestinian collectivities in Latin American host countries, such as Chile, Honduras, and El Salvador.20 In the decades that followed, Palestine became a referent for broader sectors of the rising Latin American New Left in the 1960s and ’70s while simultaneously several diasporic Palestinian communities grew in places like Santiago, and engaged in efforts to raise the topic of the Nakba and questions of Palestinian liberation.21 Other immediate post–World War II and Cold War–era conflicts such as the 1956 Suez Canal conflict contributed to new migratory relationships with Latin America. These included, in the case of the Suez affair, the outmigration of some five thousand Egyptian Jews who left for Brazil.22

In the last quarter of the 20th century and the first quarter of the 21st century, large-scale civil wars in Lebanon and Syria have caused massive outmigration and humanitarian crises that yet again resulted in new ties with historical diaspora communities throughout Latin America. During the 1975–1990 Civil War in Lebanon, between six hundred thousand and nine hundred thousand people fled the country. While the majority of these individuals were displaced to surrounding areas in the Middle East, thousands also arrived in cities and towns across the American hemisphere.23 The 2011 Syrian Civil War saw a similar pattern of regional and international displacement, though in vastly greater numbers (some six million displaced within Syria, and five million displaced internationally). In these contexts, scholars continue to see the interplay between historical institutional landscapes of the Latin American mahjar, and continuously evolving opportunities for rearticulating or renegotiating diasporic identities in light of unfolding migratory realities.24

Discussion of the Literature

Though the field of historiography concerned with Middle East migrations to the Americas during the “boom” period of approximately 1870 to 1930 has grown, these population movements remain under-studied in comparison to the much larger subfield of European migration to the Americas. This follows from the earliest days of the 19th-century migration booms that transformed Latin American societal landscapes, during which intellectuals and policymakers highlighted the predominance of Europeans in the migrant masses. This was obviously part and parcel of explicitly ethno-racial agendas.25 The corresponding minimization of migration ties linking Latin America to the Global South held strong sway in the discourses and imaginaries of not only political-intellectual elites but also in broader sectors of the general public. More than a century later, more scholarly studies are addressing the ensuing lacunae in Latin American migration history by taking ethnic, racial, linguistic, and geographic minorities as their focus.

Notwithstanding, across the hemisphere there is a highly uneven coverage of the various limbs and outposts of Middle Eastern migration. This ranges from a relatively small but quickly expanding body of literature on the mahjar in the United States, to much more modest but likewise expanding subfields concerned with larger Latin American countries, to scarce historiography that amounts to little more than footnotes acknowledging the presence of Arabic-speakers in smaller countries such as many in the Caribbean Basin. In this sense, unsurprisingly, the robustness of historiographical coverage of Middle Eastern peoples and communities in Latin America somewhat follows the contours of the mahjar’s demography, which was much more concentrated in hubs such as Argentina and Brazil, and much less numerous elsewhere. Many of the earliest written histories of Middle Eastern migration came out of historical studies funded by heritage groups who had a clear investment in the recording of their history, coupled with privileged access to archival materials in private institutions or personal collections.26 It wasn’t until the last decade of the 20th century that archivally oriented academic studies conducted by researchers from Latin America, the United States, and Europe on the Latin American mahjar started to appear with more frequency.

By the 1990s, new interest in Middle East migration history in Latin America reflected a broader desire by historians to more accurately and inclusively map the social history of Latin American populations.27 Some of this work was comparative in nature, such as with early work that sought to map the interactions between, and respective experiences of, Arab and Jewish settlers in Latin America.28 Other studies focused on national identity formation and integration tactics of immigrant communities, and began to identify geographic patterns of difference and preoccupations with spatial proximity to communities of origin. Some of these works considered adaptation of religious practice to local circumstance, characteristics of evolving linguistic vernaculars, and anxieties of acculturation.29 This scholarship was predominantly structured by a nation-focused approach, in which one of the dominant lines of inquiry was the extent to which any given migrant group “fits” into its host nation.30 During this era of historiography, Middle East studies as a field had yet to fully embrace the importance of migration history, and the transnational communities that formed and tied the Middle East to its global diasporas. At the same time, the Chicago School of Sociology was a strong influence for much historiography that assumed “assimilation” to be a process that unfolded within a preexisting community that imagined itself to possess a certain, determined national identity.

A decade later, by the early 2000s, a small field of mahjar historians had begun to deal more squarely with the relevance of the transnational turn to questions of Middle Eastern migrants and the communities that they formed, and subjectivities that they embodied. These mahjar histories began to intentionally integrate research on migrant communities abroad and the changes that they influenced in homeland cultural or political trends, gender and family formations, and local economies.31 The consideration of the migration experience as multidirectional became a more common theme that would come to characterize mahjar historiography published in the 2010s.32 These works respond to a call for a new generation of Middle East and North African migration research that would aim to productively situate the Middle East in a global context. These new studies are beginning to more substantively flesh out the links between mahjar histories in the region, and in the process explore those transnational, transregional, and translocal histories through the lenses of previously more distant historiographical subfields by examining sociological categories such as gender, class status, and sexuality.33

Primary Sources

From the earliest days of proliferating mahjar populations, individuals and institutions began to collect and record information about themselves. Many of these activities reflected similarities with other colectividades, whose hometown associations, social clubs, and other voluntary associations kept private institutional archives. Along with collections of the personal papers of some community leaders and elite industrialists, these private archival holdings serve as the bedrock for much of the existing historiography on the mahjar in the Americas. Though access to these collections is frequently uneven across scenarios of time and place of the research in question, the associational records and other ephemera held by these organizations and institutions is invaluable. Materials such as Libros de Actas, photographic records, and collections of periodicals are some examples of the nature of these archival troves. Considering the reality that national and other public archives tend to possess collections of mahjar newspapers and magazines that are incomplete at best, the importance of working with communities or institutions who keep private archives comes into stark relief. That said, some public archives still represent good places to start if on the hunt for primary sources for a historical study of migration history. This holds more true for countries with larger populations with heritage ties to the Arabic-speaking eastern Mediterranean. For example, the Biblioteca Nacional of Argentina (Buenos Aires) has a significant array of periodicals from the mahjar press in its Hemeroteca. In neighboring Brazil, the Museu da Imigração stands on the grounds of the former immigrant hotel and intake center in São Paulo’s Mooca neighborhood. The Museu boasts its own archive complete with some mahjar periodicals and, notably, transcripts of interviews with Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil at different points over the course of the 20th century. In recent years, the Museu began digitizing some of its collections and making them available as open access resources. This kind of work at public institutions, however, requires the obvious hurdles of securing ongoing state funding—a precarious proposition in some contemporary political contexts in Latin America.

For research in the demographic margins of the mahjar, a creative approach to a variety of more accessible archives can be necessary in places where public institutions do not contain robust (if any) records on late-19th- to 20th-century migrants and their related array of migrant-produced archival sources. In these cases, it can be useful to seek records of migrant arrivals in corresponding immigration or foreign relations ministries as a starting point, and follow threads of evidence from there. Scholars of European Mandate–era mahjar histories have had luck with European archival holdings in the former mandate powers, such as the Centre d’Archives diplomatiques of Nantes, or La Courneuve in France.34 Though it is more uncommon, scholars are starting to benefit from new digitized collections of primary sources (such as those of the Museu da Imigração), including the Fundación Palestina Belén of Santiago’s efforts to create an open access database of two Chilean periodicals from the mahjar press from 1930 to 2014: Mundo Árabe and La Reforma.35 In the United States, the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies recently took on a collection of Argentine sources predominantly in the realm of mahjar cultural production, which it plans to add to its already extensive holdings of digital archives.36 Overall, the challenges of transregional, multilingual research have exerted some influence on the development of the field of Middle East migration histories in the hemisphere, compounded by the area studies legacies of methodological nationalism. Nevertheless, new generations of scholarship that are actively exploring innovative ways of weaving together migration histories with other historiographical subfields hold great promise of calling attention to new possibilities of archival landscapes, and perhaps even new ways of, as John Karam has suggested, “redrawing” the very parameters of ethnic and area studies themselves.37

Further Reading

Amar, Paul, ed. The Middle East and Brazil: Perspectives on the New Global South. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Civantos, Christina. Between Argentines and Arabs: Argentine Orientalism, Arab Immigrants, and the Writing of Identity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Fahrenthold, Stacy D. Between the Ottomans and the Entente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908–1925. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.Find this resource:

Ferreira, Silvia C. “Excavating Mashriqi Roots in the Mahjar: Agriculture and Assimilation in Raduan Nassar’s Lavoura arcaica.” Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 2, no. 2 (2014): 13–27.Find this resource:

Hyland, Steven, Jr. More Argentine than You: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants in Argentina. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Karam, John Tofik. Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Khan, Aisha, ed. Islam and the Americas. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Lesser, Jeffrey, and Ignacio Klich, eds. Arab and Jewish Immigrants in Latin America: Images and Realities. New York: Routledge, 1998.Find this resource:

Logroño Narbona, María del Mar, Paulo G. Pinto, and John Tofik Karam, eds. Crescent over Another Horizon: Islam in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latino USA. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Miller, Susan Gilson. “Kippur on the Amazon: Jewish Emigration from Northern Morocco in the Late Nineteenth Century.” In Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewries: History and Culture in the Modern Era. Edited by Harvey E. Goldberg, 190–209. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Pastor, Camila. The Mexican Mahjar: Transnational Maronites, Jews, and Arabs under the French Mandate. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Velasco, Alejandro, Omar Dahi, Sinan Antoon, and Laura Weiss, eds. “The Latin East.” NACLA Report on the Americas 50, no. 1 (2018).Find this resource:


(2.) Michael Goebel, “Immigration and National Identity in Latin America, 18701930,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History (2016).

(3.) Devi Mays, “‘I Killed Her because I Loved Her Too Much’: Gender and Violence in the 20th Century Sephardi Diaspora,” Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 2, no. 1 (2014).

(5.) Fahrenthold, Between the Ottomans and the Entente, 5.

(6.) Settlement patterns of migrants from this region to the Americas concentrated in the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, which each had approximately 150–160,000 individuals. Smaller populations of approximately 15–20,000 individuals formed in Canada, Mexico, and Cuba. Smaller yet were populations in Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, and Venezuela, which each had approximately 3–6,000 individuals. Other South American and Caribbean Basin countries had much smaller populations of under 2,000 individuals. For a full listing based on the 1926 French Mandate estimates, see: Kohei Hashimoto, “Lebanese Population Movement 1920-1939, Towards a Study,” in The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration, eds. Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi (London: IB Tauris, 1992), 105.

(7.) For an overview of restrictionist immigration policy in the hemisphere, including laws targeting mahjar migrants, see David Scott-FitzGerald and David Cook-Martín, Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

(8.) Goebel, “Immigration and National Identity.”

(9.) For further analysis of the racial dimensions of the “turco” label, see Sarah A. Gualtieri, Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); John Tofik Karam, Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007); and Akram Khater, “Becoming ‘Syrian’ in America: A Global Geography of Ethnicity and Nation,” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 14, no. 2 (2005): 299–331.

(10.) Javier Cikota, “Frontier Justice: State, Law, and Society in Patagonia, 1880–1940” (PhD diss., University of California Berkeley, 2017).

(11.) Jacob Norris, “Exporting the Holy Land: Artisans and Merchant Migrants in Ottoman-Era Bethlehem,” Mashriq and Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 1, no. 2 (2013): 14–40.

(12.) John Tofik Karam, “Lebanese in the Brazilian National Market,” Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies, North Carolina State University, January 28, 2015.

(13.) For work that has begun to adopt class formations as a lens for mahjar history, see, for example, Stacy D. Fahrenthold, “Arab Labor Migration in the Americas, 1880–1930,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia in American History, 2019.

(14.) For further readings on Arab Jewish migration to Latin America, see from this article’s “Further Reading” list: Camila Pastor and Devi Mays. In addition, see Dario Euraque, “The Arab-Jewish Presence in San Pedro Sula, the Industrial Capital of Honduras: Formative Years, 1880s–1930s,” in Arab and Jewish Immigrants in Latin America: Images and Realities, ed. Ignacio Klich and Jeffrey Lesser (Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1998); and Jeffrey Lesser, Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). For readings on the convergences of Arab and Jewish diaspora communities, see, for example, Raanan Rein, Stefan Rinke, and Nadia Zysman, eds., The New Ethnic Studies in Latin America (Boston: Brill, 2017); and Jeffrey Lesser, Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999).

(15.) For more information on the departure demographics referenced in this paragraph, see Steven Hyland Jr., “‘Solemn Expression of Faith’: Muslims and Belonging in Peronist Argentina, 1946–1955,” Latin Americanist 61, no. 2 (June 2017): 118–119.

(16.) Lily Pearl Balloffet, “Argentine and Egyptian History Entangled: From Perón to Nasser,” Journal of Latin American Studies 50, no. 3 (2018): 549–577.

(17.) Lily Pearl Balloffet, “From the Pampa to the Mashriq: Arab-Argentine Philanthropy Networks,” Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 4, no. 1 (2017): 4–28.

(18.) For examples of scholarship concerned with the presence of a transnational public sphere in the mahjar, see: Stacy Fahrenthold, “Transnational Modes and Media: The Syrian Press in the Mahjar and Emigrant Activism during World War I,” Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 1, no. 1 (2013): 30–54. Reem Bailony, “Transnationalism and the Syrian Migrant Public: The Case of the 1925 Syrian Revolt,” Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 1, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 8–29; and Evelyn Alsultany and Ella Shohat, eds., Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013).

(19.) Lauren Banko, The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship, 1918–1947 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

(20.) For further reading on the Nakba, see Dawn Chatty, Displacement and Dispossession in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Cecilia Baeza, “Palestinians in Latin America: Between Assimilation and Long-Distance Nationalism,” Journal of Palestine Studies 43, no. 2 (2014): 59–72.

(21.) Jessica Stites Mor, “The Question of Palestine in the Argentine Political Imaginary: Anti-Imperialist Thought from Cold War to Neoliberal Order,” Journal of Latin American and Iberian Research 20, no. 2 (2014): 183–197.

(22.) Jeffrey Lesser, Welcoming the Undesirables, 44.

(23.) Kara Murphy, “The Lebanese Crisis and Its Impact on Immigrants and Refugees,” Migration Policy Institute, September 1, 2006.

(24.) United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Syrian Arab Republic.”; see also Lily Pearl Balloffet, “Syrian Refugees in Latin America: Diaspora Communities as Interlocutors,” Latin American Studies Association Forum 47, no. 1 (2016): 9–14.

(25.) For those seeking examples of recent literature on race and ethnicity identities in Latin America, they may want to begin with: Edward E. Telles and the Project of Ethnicity and Race in Latin America (PERLA), Pigementocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); and Richard Graham, ed., The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870–1940 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).

(26.) For an example of this type of local case study conducted with the support of local heritage associations, the following studies of the northwestern Argentine city of Tucumán are representative of a broader pattern in early studies of the mahjar in Latin America: Marta A. Saleh de Canuto and Susana Budeguer, El aporte de los Sirios y Libaneses a Tucumán (Tucumán, Argentina: Editorial América, 1979); and Hugo Luis Ponsati, Aportes para una reseña de la colectividad árabe tucumana (Tucumán, Argentina: Sociedad Sirio Libanesa de Tucumán, 1975).

(27.) See, for example, Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi, eds., The Lebanese in the World (London: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1992); and Oswaldo Truzzi, “The Right Place at the Right Time: Syrians and Lebanese in Brazil and the United States, a Comparative Approach,” Journal of American Ethnic History 16, no. 2 (1997): 3–34.

(28.) For example, Klich and Lesser, Arab and Jewish Immigrants.

(29.) Lily Pearl Balloffet, Fernando Camacho Padilla, and Jessica Stites-Mor, “Pushing Boundaries: Contemporary Latin America-Middle East History,” Jarbuch für Geshichte Lateinamerikas—Anuario de Historia de America Latina (forthcoming).

(30.) Goebel, “Immigration and National Identity.”

(31.) Historians of the Middle East and Latin America both began to move toward more transnational perspectives on migrant identities and community formations. See, for example, Akram Fouad Khater, Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender, and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001); Lesser, Negotiating National Identity; and Andrew Arsan, John Karam, and Akram Khater, “On Forgotten Shores: Migration in Middle East Studies and the Middle East in Migration Studies,” Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies 1, no. 1 (2015): 1–7.

(32.) From this article’s list of “Further Reading,” see the following authors: John Tofik Karam; Camila Pastor; Silvia Ferreira; and Stacy Fahrenthold. In addition, see Reem Bailony, “Transnationalism and the Syrian Migrant Public”; and Lauren Banko, The Invention of Palestinian Citizenship.

(33.) For example, see the following research from this article’s “Further Reading” list on critical implications of migration history for gender relations, or representative democracy for Muslim minorities in the Americas: Khan, Islam and the Americas; and Logroño Narbona, Pinto, Karam, Crescent Over Another Horizon. In addition, see Devi Mays, “‘I Killed Her because I Loved Her Too Much”; Stacy Fahrenthold, “Sound Minds in Sound Bodies: Transnational Philanthropy and Patriotic Masculinity in Al-Nadi Al-Homsi and Syrian Brazil, 1920–32,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46 (2014): 259–283; and Steven Hyland, “Arabic-Speaking Immigrants Before the Courts in Tucumán, Argentina, 1910–1940,” Journal of Women’s History 28, no. 4 (2016): 41–64.

(34.) See, for example, Steven Hyland Jr., More Argentine Than You: Arabic-Speaking Immigrants in Argentina (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017); and Michael Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

(35.) Fundación Palestina Belen digital archive.

(37.) John Tofik Karam, “I, Too, Am the Americas: Arabs in the Redrawing of Area and Ethnic Studies,” Journal of American Ethnic History 37, no. 3 (Spring 2018): 93–101.