Sociologist Oswaldo Truzzi from Brazil pointed out at the seminar “The Arab Contribution to Ibero-American Identities”, in Rio de Janeiro, that the economic growth of Arab immigrants in Brazil allowed them to follow political careers. “Political careers were the result of the social and economic mobility they had in Brazil,” said Truzzi, who wrote his doctoral thesis through the University of Campinas (Unicamp) based on the Arab immigration to Brazil.
The trajectory of the first Arabs who arrived in Brazil starts with the traveling salesmen, who then opened their shops, became wholesalers and won the textile industry.
“This made it possible for the first generation of descendants in Brazil to enter large universities,” said Truzzi. “Thanks to their commercial insertion, the immigrants managed to place their sons in good schools,” he added.
In São Paulo, the Medicine and Law courses were the ones most sought by the sons of immigrants. “Trade could make a lot of money, but the ‘doctor’ title brought greater recognition,” said the sociologist. Law students of this generation were the first to enter politics in 1945.
After the 1970s, many cities in the interior of São Paulo already counted with aldermen and mayors of Arab origin. According to Truzzi, the political field for Arabs in other Brazilian states also opened up. Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Mato Grosso do Sul, Amazonas and Ceará were some of the states visited by Truzzi, who noticed significant Arab communities.
“None is like São Paulo, but each one of the capitals of these states has a reasonable concentration of Syrians and Lebanese,” stated the sociologist.
According to him, this good distribution of Arabs in Brazil is due to urban immigration, different from other countries in which they were more rural. “In all these states, the Arabs concentrated their activities in trade,” said Truzzi.
During the seminar, other speakers also stated that the history of Arabs in politics of other countries is similar to that of Brazil and that the main factor for this was social and economic mobility that the immigrants had.
Speaker Lorenzo Agar, of the University of Chile, for example, stated that in the year 2000, one third of the textile factories in the city of Santiago belonged to Arab descendants. He also said that the country received around 10,000 Arab immigrants up to 1940 and that most were made up of Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians.
Before the Arabs became prominent in the economic and political field, they had to travel and sell very much. This is shown by North American anthropologist John Tofik Karam, from De Paul University, who is of Lebanese descent and wrote a book about Arab immigrants to Brazil: “Another arabesque”. The work is the result of Karam’s doctoral thesis, which shows the appreciation of the Arabs in the late 1920s.
The anthropologist stated that it was with the activities in the textile industry that the Arabs gained prominence and started contributing to the economic development of Brazil.
In Karam’s talk he pointed out two sceneries that contextualize the Arabs in São Paulo: 25 March Street, which became an Arab symbol in the city and the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. “The organization was established by Arabs in the textile industry in the 1950s,” he said.
According to Karam, with the arrival of new immigrants of other nationalities to São Paulo, at the end of the 1980s, the Arabs had to divide their products with Chinese and Indian products, and those of other countries, which reduced the importance of the 25 of March as the street of the Arabs.
The Arab Brazilian Chamber, in turn, became more and more appreciated from the 1970s on, as the interest of businessmen in negotiating with the Arabs rose. “Today the organization is considered a partner of the government and of businessmen,” he said.