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Lebanese archives trace Arab immigration to Latin America

One such institution is the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce (CCAB), which has helped bring together comprehensive collections of magazines, including Revista Oriente (Orient Magazine), one of the most important publications produced by the Arab diaspora. in Brazil during the 20th century.
Silvia Antibas, director of the CCAB’s cultural department, told Arab News: “Different libraries and institutions had partial collections of Oriente. Now we have managed to bring them all together and digitize them all for the first time.”
The Brazilian team also managed to put together a collection of Al-Carmat magazine, known in Portuguese as A Vinha (The Vineyard). It was edited for many years by a Syrian-Brazilian woman author called Salwa Atlas.
The CCAB has further contributed to the archiving of an illuminating collection of photographs that offer a view of the social and family life of the diaspora over the years.

The cover of an edition of the magazine A Vinha, published for years by the Syrian-Brazilian intellectual Salwa Atlas, who was a pioneer among the intellectuals of the Syrian-Lebanese community in Brazil. (Clube Homs/USEK/Photo Provided)

Antibas also said, “The photos we collected show not only the social events of the community, but also the architecture of the houses, the fashion trends of those years, and how the immigrants advanced financially. and integrated into Brazilian society over the years.”
The Jafet family, who were among the most illustrious families in Sao Paulo at the beginning of the 20th century, provided a superb collection of photographs representing the sumptuous houses built at that time by the industrial bourgeoisie of the city.
“Benjamin Jafet, my great-grandfather, arrived in Brazil in 1890 and worked as a “muscat” (term used in Brazil to designate an Arab door-to-door salesman) for a few years in the countryside, until ‘until he set up his first shop in downtown Sao Paulo,” Arthur Jafet, a 38-year-old lawyer and businessman, told Arab News.
Over the years, Benjamin and his brothers founded one of Brazil’s largest textile companies and became wealthy leaders in the country’s Lebanese community.
As significant philanthropists in Sao Paulo, the Jafet family helped fund not only Arab institutions such as the local Orthodox Cathedral, the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital, and the Mount Lebanon Club, but also publications such as Revista Oriente.
“Their small palaces indicated a rather European taste, with visible influences from the French neoclassical style but also oriental aspects,” Jafet said.
One of the photos in the collection shows Camille Chamoun, President of Lebanon between 1952 and 1958, staying in one of the sumptuous houses of the Jafet family during a trip to Brazil.
As director of the Institute of Arab Culture in Sao Paulo and adviser to the CCAB, Jafet is part of a new generation of Latin American Arabs who are reinterested in their cultural origins.
Paulo Kehdi is the executive director of Chuf magazine, the in-house publication of Mount Lebanon Club. He is one of the leaders of the Lebanese community who launched “Lebanity” (Lebanity), a movement aimed at encouraging Lebanese-Brazilians to rediscover their cultural roots.

Lebanese President Camille Chamoun with members of the Jafet family in São Paulo. He visited Brazil in 1954 and stayed in one of the family palaces. (Arthur Jafet / Photo provided)

“There has been a deliberate effort to reconnect Lebanese-Brazilians to their homeland, encouraging them to obtain Lebanese citizenship, to visit the country and to help with donation campaigns,” he told Arab News.
The situation is similar in Argentina, which has around 3 million people of Syrian or Lebanese origin.
For several years, Ninawa Daher, a journalist of Lebanese origin, hosted a television program in the country devoted to reviving the interest of younger generations for their Lebanese origins. After his death in a car accident at the age of just 31 in 2011, his mother, Alicia, created the Ninawa Daher Foundation to continue his legacy, and she partnered with USEK for the project of archives.
“Thanks to Ninawa’s contacts, in a very short time we had already been able to gain access to several wonderful community collections in Argentina,” Alicia Daher told Arab News.
The team collected stacks of newspapers, photographs and other rare documents, including two books written and autographed by renowned Lebanese-American writer, poet and visual artist Khalil Gibran.
“Syrians and Lebanese have had a huge cultural impact in Argentina,” Daher pointed out. “Currently, more and more people and institutions approach us in order to offer documents on immigration.”
In Beirut, meanwhile, Khatlab hopes the archive will continue to grow as the work expands to other Latin American countries and includes other types of documents, such as letters, film footage and even the passenger lists of ships that brought Arabs to the area.
Access to the archives is free and they are open to the general public.

This text is the translation of an article published on

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