Friday, April 12th, 2013

The Arabs of Colombia

Some wonderful history from an article which I found here:

I am quoting from the section on Colombia.

Arabs Making Their Mark in Latin America: Generations of Immigrants in Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico

By Habeeb Salloum.

The society to which the Arabs came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries reinforced the almost total loss of the language.  The church was all-powerful and every inhabitant had to fit into the narrow view of the Spanish-Catholic world of that time.

I asked George Baladi, a longtime immigrant living in Cartagena, if there were any Muslims among the early Arabs in Colombia. He replied, “I am told that five Muslim families from Tripoli, in present day Lebanon, had come with the early immigrants, but they all had to become Christian.”

In the political arena, the Arab immigrants have also left an impressive mark.  Gabriel Turbay ran for president in 1946, and Julio César Turbay Ayallah, born to an Arab father and Colombian mother, served as president of the country from 1978 to 1982.  When first elected he is reported to have stood up in Parliament and declared that he was proud to be of Arab descent.

At any one time, there are from 20 to 30 members of Parliament and the Senate who are of Arab origin.  It is estimated that there are over a quarter of a million Colombians of Arab descent —  almost all tracing their origins to Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

In spite of their small number and almost total assimilation, the Arabs have left a significant mark on Colombian society.  In every city where they reside, restaurants and cafes proudly display the nameRestaurante Arabe or Comida Arabe.  The Arab dishes, kubbahshish kabab, taboula, tahini, and all types of pies stuffed with cheese, meat, sweets, and vegetables are well-known among the Colombians.  Many Colombians have come to think of these delicacies as their own foods, and a good number of these dishes are sold frozen in almost all markets.

Strangely enough, even though the Arab immigrants’ descendants have lost their tongue and most of their traditions, they still form social clubs, and about 25 percent marry within the Arab community.

This essay appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 6, no. 30 (Winter 2000)

The author severely undercounts the Arabs in Colombia. He may be ignoring Arabs who are more settled for many generations, or he may be ignoring Arabs of Christian backgrounds.

Notice that the author says: “It is estimated that there are over a quarter of a million Colombians of Arab descent.” Yet, Wikipedia alone estimate that there are 700,000 Lebaneses Colombians.

The infuriating tendency of Lebanese not to number themselves among the Arabs – even though they are Arab speaking – causes havoc with statistics.

Often, the number of Arabs in a Latin American country is woefully underestimated.

Unless there is a good reason, I usually multiply the number of Lebanese x 2.1 – to account for Syrian Christians, and other Arabs – to get a good estimate of the Arabs in a country. This often produces reasonable results. Not always, but it does cross check in countries where the numbers are more reliable.

Palestine and Honduras, where Palestinians are heavily populated, would not come in under this estimate.