History of Syria and Lebanon, and the impact of the Syrian refugees on Lebanese society: A thesis by Alejandro Kuri Pheres



This attachment to the old country and the nostalgia for roots have been kept alive, nurtured and given a momentum of their own by the different associations and clubs founded by the leaders of the immigrant community. These act as melting pots which bring together those who already know each other as well as the more isolated individuals in search of an identity and so uphold the values of the motherland. There is something of a paradox here, considering the ease with which the Lebanese integrate with the culture of (Catholic) Mexican society; but this ability to adapt does not exclude the drawing of boundaries around the innermost core of their identity, which seeks to keep a distance with certain traditional and customs remain to a large extent those that they have inherited from their families and ancestors rather than those of the society which they have come into.

This bi-polarity is given formal credentials by international associations such as the ‘Union Libanaise Mondiale’ (ULM) and the ‘Union des Rapatries’ whose purpose is to facilitate periodic gatherings of immigrants and to satisfy the need to maintain a link between the metropolis and the adopted country. 

It should be clear that belonging to the ‘Union Libanaise Mondiale’ has nothing to do with issues of nationality and naturalization. The Union is open to all those whose origin is Lebanese, whether they have kept their Lebanese nationality or have acquired that of the country they live in. It should be understood that one of the goals of the Union is to promote the links they have with the nationality they have acquired.

Subsequent generations, born and raised in the country of arrival, sometimes find this link in the language of their forefathers which is still spoken in the family. But this is not an enduring tie, as the language tends to gradually disappear down the generations. Individuals with any significant knowledge of Arabic, whether spoken or literary, are rare among the second let alone the third generation. Attempts to teach the language in some Mexican schools have had no follow through.

About 15 years ago, Lebanese American communities gathered at various regional and international congresses in the United States and other countries in order to strengthen their ties. The outcome of these gatherings was the idea of holding a world congress in Beirut. In 1958 many representatives of Latin and North American organizations met in Cuba to create an international body for this purpose. The first continental congress was held in Mexico in 1960. The second met in Buenos Aires in 1962 and saw the consolidation of the Continental Committee for the America’s within the ULM. Mexican participation was notable at the 1962 congress and provided Lebanese emigrants ‘with the opportunity to introduce Mexican culture to their native country’. According to the archives, the Union Libanaise du Mexique was founded in March 1937 with 227 associate members among whom figured 60 representatives from the hinterland.  In cities with an important Lebanese community there existed Lebanese centres under whose aegis social and cultural activities took place, shared by both Lebanese and Mexicans. The Lebanese centre at Merida is over 60 years old. There are similar centres in Mexico City, Puebla, Guadalajara, Veracruz and Monterrey. Some settlers have decided not to go on a visit to Lebanon, fearing perhaps a lukewarm home-coming reception. Others have lost all contact with their families and so feel little incentive to return.

Nevertheless, even among those who have forsaken any idea of going back there are some who still own property in Lebanon, and this, even from afar, has given them a stake in their country of origin. In such cases, friends or distant relatives provide the link. Another binding factor sometimes crystallizes  around a Lebanese hero or cult figure. Thus 1937 saw the founding of the Union of Immigrants from Bkessin whose purpose was to collect money for erecting a monument in that native village of the local her Abusamara Ghanem. More recently in Mexico itself a monument was dedicated to Gibran Kahlil Gibran.

from the book:
“The Lebanese in the world: A century for Emigration

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