the lebanese girl

by Juan on July 20, 2006

Lebanon. A 7 year old girl holds her little brother from the hand while they board the ship that will separate them from their mom forever. She barely knows life herself and doesn’t understand why she must part ways with her loved ones, but is now responsible for the destiny of her little family. Her instructions are simple: go to America, find your uncle. CIRCA 1897.

While historic accounts of the lebanese society of those days are scarce and often lost in the accounts of the Ottoman Empire, it is not difficult to imagine how a humble family from the mountains would’ve been easy to impress given the growing European influence from the previous three decades (after the Sectarian conflict in 1860). Likely as part of this influence, the news about “America” and its industrial prosperity after the Civil War would’ve given enough amunition to the unmarried uncle to venture in search of fortune (those were the days of the Gold Rush in the U.S.), perhaps obeying some ancient phoenician instinct to cross the sea.

Years later, news would arrive from “America” telling tales of modern life and fortune. The mother of our little girl would, in her own ignorance, send her two youngest abroad, following the steps of their uncle, in hope that they would too have a good life. Maybe a certain decadence in the air was telling her of the coming troubling years (rise of nationalism within the Ottoman Empire).

The journey aboard this ship is, of course, undocumented, but we know that they stopped in some European city, most likely Barcelona because when the little lebanese girl asked to be taken to “America” the best the Spanish could do was to put her and her brother on a ship to the port of Veracruz, Mexico. In Spanish “America” is mostly used to denote the continent, not the U.S. On the other hand they were lucky to be adopted by a caring family, so by the time they ended up in Mexico City, after several months of slow integration to the Mexican society and futile attempts to find their uncle, their destiny was sealed.

The little brother would marry within his adoptive family. She would go on to have a normal life and marry a Lebanese much older than her. Their cultural heritage would persist through the next three generations and after that it remains to be seen.

They eventually found their uncle, many decades after they were supposed to.

Lebanese are a fairly influential community in Mexico and the United States (see Lebanese-Americans). Perhaps they have a natural instinct for business. Perhaps they had nothing to loose having left behind their land and families. The reasons why they left their country are no longer important. They were thrown into an unknown land and had to make a living. In the process, they changed everything around them, and everything around them changed them.


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