On forgotten shores: Migration in the middle east studies, and the middle east in migration studies

        Economic and political dynamics of diaspora are relevant to understanding not only
the homeland but also the making of a regional order farther afield. Between the 1950s and the early 1990s, Lebanese at the urban tri-border between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina imported and exported merchandise as well as publicized liberationist ideals from the Arab and Islamic worlds. This article shows that their economic and political networks helped to draw Paraguay within the expansive orbit of Brazil and away from Argentina’s historic sway. Shaped by, and helping to shape, competing state and national interests through “everyday geopolitics,” Lebanese traders and activists unevenly linked Paraguayan commerce to Brazil’s growing consumer and industrial base and reinforced the hierarchical alliance between these respective authoritarian and democratic regimes. In bringing the once Argentine-dominated Paraguay into Brazil’s sphere of influence, this Lebanese diaspora helped to redraw a South American order.

                Diasporic traders and activists give shape to not only the homeland but also
the places their far-flung networks reach. However, over the last quarter century, the “veritable explosion of interest” in diaspora:
1 limited the study of its economics and politics to the homeland. Whether examining kin relationships, remittances, or long-distance nationalisms,
2 political scientists and sociologists drew upon a conventional definition of diaspora as primarily oriented toward “a real or imagined ‘homeland.’”
3 Their lines of inquiry hardly engaged with more interdisciplinary studies of cultural and intellectual exchanges across diaspora which de-emphasized the homeland
orientation in efforts to theorize alternative geographies, such as the Black
4 the Latino Americas,
5 the Pacific Rim,
6 as well as the Indian Ocean.
7By following this analytical shift away from the homeland, I aim to reconceptualize
diasporic trade and activism in the making of a regional order farther afield.

This economic and political “de-centering” of the homeland in diaspora studies is key to understand Muslim Lebanese who, since the early 1950s, settled at the so-called “tri-border” where Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet, called the tríplice fronteira (in Portuguese) or the triple frontera (in Spanish). By the 1980s, they headed business associations and participated in the transition from military rule in the two main cities at this border: Brazil’s Foz do Iguaçu and Paraguay’s Ciudad Presidente Stroessner (renamed Ciudad del Este after 1989). However, from the 1990s to today, mostly Argentine- and U.S.-based scholars and analysts questioned their business
dealings and political loyalties.
8 Fixated on the unresolved 1992 and 1994 bombings of an Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires,
 9 these authors solely viewed Muslim Lebanese in terms of their putative ties to political forces in the Middle East that would allegedly plan such attacks. Instead of only considering such a homeland orientation, I ask how this diaspora at the tri-border also participated in South America’s regional order.
Between the 1950s and the early 1990s, Lebanese in Foz do Iguaçu and
Ciudad Presidente Stroessner imported and exported merchandise…..

Read more


John Tofik Karam is Associate Professor of Latin American & Latino Studies at
DePaul University; e-mail: [email protected]
© Khayrallah Program for Lebanese-American Studies 2013

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.