The Arab diaspora in Brazil refers to the movement of people from countries with Arab populations to Brazil, a process that began in the last decades of the 19th century and reached its height during the years leading up to WWI and the subsequent dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. This diaspora was part of a larger movement of people from the Greater Syria area to the Americas, with the United States, Argentina, and Brazil serving as the first, second, and third most popular destinations for these populations. Due to scant record-keeping and a lack of uniformity in travel documents and demographic classifications, it is difficult to find reliable estimates of the number of Arab people who made their way to Brazil. Today, many Brazilians trace their roots to Arab countries. In addition to árabes (Arabs), other common terms for this population that researchers and students should be aware of include sírios (Syrians), sírio-libaneses (Syro-Lebanese), and turcos (Turks), the latter being an older term that was often used pejoratively and has thus fallen out of favor in more current sources. In Arabic, the South American countries to which Arabs migrated are often collectively referred to in the scholarship as al-mahjar al-janūbī (the Southern Mahjar, with “mahjar” meaning place of emigration). Scholarship on this topic has traditionally been divided along linguistic lines, with researchers relying on either Portuguese-language or Arabic-language primary sources. In fact, early primary sources exist in both languages, and more recent scholarship has attempted to bridge this divide by offering translingual and transnational perspectives on the Arab diaspora in Brazil.
For a general overview of the Arab diaspora in Brazil, the reader will find it necessary to combine various sources on its specific aspects; a single comprehensive source that treats this diaspora more generally does not yet exist. Readers would benefit from beginning with Knowlton 1992, a classic historical essay on the topic, which, while dated, provides a useful point of entry that can be given further nuance by more contemporary sources like Pinto 2010 and Truzzi 2018. Lesser 1992 is also considered a canonical historical source and will provide a useful foundation for understanding later scholarly interventions. For an accessible overview on ethnic minorities in Brazil, including Arabs, Lesser 1999 is useful. Those wanting a more contemporary exploration of Syrian-Lebanese ethnicity in Brazil should consult Karam 2007. Amar 2014 will be very useful to those looking for an interdisciplinary approach to this diaspora, while Jardim and de Oliveira 2007 provides essays on a variety of topics related to Arabs all over the Americas.
Amar, Paul, ed. The Middle East and Brazil: Perspectives on the New Global South. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2014.
This edited volume includes contributions from scholars across disciplines. Using a South-South framework, the essays in this volume offer transregional perspectives on the politics, history, and cultural production of the Arab diaspora in Brazil and on other Middle East–Brazil connections.
Jardim, Denise Fagundes, and Marco Aurélio Machado de Oliveira, eds. Os Árabes e suas Américas. Campo Grande, Brazil: Editora Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso do Sul, 2007.
This edited volume features two English, one Spanish, and eight Portuguese essays covering a wide array of topics related to the Arab presence all over the Americas. The topics range from the politics of food, to marriage patterns, to return migration, to name but a few. Since the majority of the essays are specific to Brazil, this volume will be useful to those interested in the Arab diaspora in Brazil. (Title translation: The Arabs and their Americas.)
Karam, John Tofik. Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.
This book uses extensive original fieldwork to provide a contemporary anthropological perspective on constructions of Syrian-Lebanese and Arab identities in Brazil. It is especially notable for its attention to the influences of globalization and neoliberalism on ethnic projects in modern Brazil. Anyone interested in the Arab diaspora in Brazil should read this book.
Knowlton, Clark S. “The Social and Spatial Mobility of the Syrian and Lebanese Community in São Paulo, Brazil.” In The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration. Edited by Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi, 285–312. London: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1992.
This essay is based on research conducted in 1950 and 1951. Many of its assumptions are dated. Because it was one of the first sources of its kind, however, it is still cited frequently. It provides an overview of early scholarly understandings of the demographics and patterns of settlement and social mobility of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in São Paulo. It should be read in conjunction with more updated sources like Truzzi 2018.
Lesser, Jeff. “From Pedlars to Proprietors: Lebanese, Syrian and Jewish Immigrants in Brazil.” In The Lebanese in the World: A Century of Emigration. Edited by Albert Hourani and Nadim Shehadi, 393–410. London: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1992.
This essay articulates the now-prevalent narrative of the “peddler-to-proprietor” pattern of upward social mobility and successful economic integration, which argues that many Syrian-Lebanese immigrants were able to begin as peddlers and eventually become successful proprietors in Brazil. It also discusses the historical contexts in which Syrian, Lebanese, and Jewish immigrants became the targets of intensified prejudice in Brazil.
Lesser, Jeffrey. Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil. Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1999.
This source contextualizes the Arab diaspora in Brazil within the larger history of immigration to the country throughout the 20th century, with a particular focus on how different immigrant groups navigated changing notions of national identity. While it encompasses ethnic minorities in Brazil from a variety of places, the reader will find Arab populations well documented here, especially since the author has published elsewhere specifically on Middle Eastern populations in Brazil.
Pinto, Paulo Gabriel Hilu da Rocha. Árabes no Rio de Janeiro: Uma identidade plural. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Cidade Viva, 2010.
This book provides an anthropological account of the Arab presence in Rio de Janeiro. It is a visually appealing source that includes relevant historical photographs and documents, as well as accessible explanations of topics. It is also very carefully researched and richly detailed, which makes it an excellent source for researchers and students alike. (Title translation: Arabs in Rio de Janeiro: A plural identity.)
Truzzi, Oswaldo. Syrian and Lebanese Patrícios in São Paulo: From the Levant to Brazil. Translated by Ramon Stern. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2018.
This translation of Oswaldo Truzzi’s 1997 Patrícios: Sírios e libaneses em São Paulo brings a now-canonical source on the Arab diaspora in Brazil to English-speaking audiences for the first time. It provides an accessible historical overview of Arab migration to Brazil, with a heavy focus on São Paulo. It is a good point of departure for researchers and students alike.
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