Brazil: Evoking a Time When 20% of Rio’s Population Was Arab

Arab restaurant in Rio, Brazil Rio de Janeiro, later this year, should get a book about Arab immigration to the state. Paulo Hilu Pinto, an anthropologist and professor at Fluminense Federal University, has already started collecting files, images and stories for elaboration of the book, to be part of a series of publications by Light Institute, under the Rio de Janeiro energy company.

"The idea (behind the book) is to show what it means to be Arab in Rio de Janeiro," said the professor.

The announcement was made Wednesday, July 28, in the city of Rio during debate "Arabs in Brazil", promoted by the History Magazine of the National Library (RHBN), which brought together 65 people, mostly students.

According to Hilu, there are no publications about Arab immigration in Rio de Janeiro, hence the interest in writing a book on the matter. "I found two master's theses here, and that is all," he said.

According to the professor, Rio de Janeiro has the second largest Arab community in Brazil. "In the 1920s, 20% of the population of the city was made up of Arab immigrants," he said, recalling that at that time the city was an economic hub.

Besides history, Hilu plans to include current affairs, like where the Arabs may currently be found in Rio de Janeiro. "There are one thousand ways of being Arab," said the anthropologist.

In the debate, which also included the participation of the History professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), Maurí­cio Parada, Hilu spoke about the Arab immigration to Brazil.

According to him, one of the main reasons for Syrian and Lebanese immigration was the crisis of the silk industry in 1870, which caused many peasants to leave their country seeking work. Starting in 1880, great immigration to the country began. Many immigrants traveled to the United States, but with a tougher immigration policy, the Arabs started seeking other countries "easier to enter", among them Brazil.

Hilu also spoke about the reasons why the Arabs were called Turks in Brazil. "They entered the country on passports issued by the Turkish-Ottoman Empire," said the professor. When they got here, the Arabs started working as traveling salesmen.

"Then they started dominating the textile trade," he said. Another characteristic of the Arab immigration, according to Hilu, was that it was spread throughout the national territory and, therefore, there are currently Arab communities in several states.

At the end of the debate, the audience in Rio wanted to learn a bit more about the religions of the Arabs, about Palestinian immigrants and about the new immigration.

The secretary general at the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, Michel Alaby, who was in the audience, also touched on the Arab influence on the Portuguese vocabulary, on architecture and on cuisine. "The Arabs have great empathy for Brazil," said Alaby.

Anba

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