The reasons of the baabdati emigration and its directions
Before we tackle the causes and results that pushed the Lebanese to move from their green country to their dream lands, we stop at the sight of the Lebanese expatriates coming to Lebanon after each conflict, at each feast, occasion or holiday... they kiss the floor of the Beirut Airport shouting out loud in broken arabic sometimes: Lucky is the one who has a resting-place, even for a she-goat, in Lebanon!
The expatriates' feelings towards their Lebanon are still strong despite the fact that they built their dreams abroad. Nevertheless, their heart is here and their eyes are directed to Lebanon. Their heartbeats become faster each time they think about their birthplace... It's a strange and weird feeling that has no explanation!
What is it that lies behind the emigration and its directions?
Baabdati emigration started around the year 1860. Its motives are very similar to the ones of the Lebanese emigration in general. They are first and foremost economical in addition to political, social and religious reasons... As for the direct reasons, they are represented by the conflicts that rose concerning the distribution of the water of the Aaraar spring that was considered a necessity for agricultural and economic life. Thus, there was a civil conflict between the inhabitants of Baabdat and then between the religious and official authorities at that time.
Afterwards, two thirds of the population of Baabdat converted in 1892 from Catholic Maronites (the Maronite rite is an Eastern Catholic rite) to Protestants. Later on, they also joined the Latin rite in less than a year and more specifically on January 6, 1893. The letters of the immigrant relatives and their calls to join them had a direct influence on the people of Baabdat.
The first Baabdatis went towards the countries of the American continent which are Argentina, Brazil, United States, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela.
Today, the biggest number of the descendants originating from Baabdat is in Argentina.
They also reached the most important capitals and cities of Canada, Puerto Rico and others countries.
The specific causes of emigration to Brazil that started at the end of the XIXth century go to the desire of the lebanese for wealth and luxury and to increase their living standards and earn money to escape from poverty, hunger and persecution. This desire was strengthened by the encouragement expressed by the Emperor of Brazil Pedro II during his visit to Lebanon in 1876. On that particular day, the emperor noted the vitality and vivacity of the lebanese people and stated his willingness to see a big number of them in Brazil. He promised to protect them and ensured their return more prosperous and happy. In order to encourage them, he deposited at the ottoman bank a certain amount of money intended to help the children of the poor to enter school... His behavior made the lebanese people admire him and created cordial and warm feelings towards Brazil.
The step taken by Pedro II had an important economic background that started with the openness of Brazil to the world in the XIXth century. In that period, Brazil needed small farmers to live in the developing south. Brazil had gathered big numbers of swiss, german, italian, polish and other immigrants. The portuguese king Dom João IV had signed a decree that allowed the government to give the lands to the foreigners which was the start of a large emigration to Brazil.
In 1850, emigration was publicized on the basis that Brazil is a "golden heaven". At that time, Europe and Asia were undergoing poverty, hegemony and massacres. The laws and the requirements to immigrate to the United States were many and difficult, whereas the brazilian requirements and conditions were less strict. The brazilian openness policy included the signing of trade treaties with some countries including the treaty of friendship, trade and navigation with the ottoman sultanate in 1858. The treaty didn't only establish trade relations between both countries but also facilitated the entrance of the holders of Ottoman (Turkish) passports to Brazil.
Concerning the location of the descendants originating from Baabdat, most of them are living in the following states of Brazil:
São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Amazonas, Maranhão...
The lebanese went in successive groups to Brazil through hard sea trips that lasted around 70 days. They arrived in a miserable state: poor and totally ignorant of the country they were traveling to, of the language and the traditions. They didn't have anyone to advise them and guide them. They landed in the ports of Rio de Janeiro, Santos in São Paulo, Salvador in Bahia, Belém in Pará, and São Luis in Maranhão... From there, they went to the amazon areas. Brazil established locations to host the sick immigrants among which the Cobra Island in the area of Rio de Janeiro was the most important. They were transported at the port of Santos directly by train to the railway station belonging to the hosting home in São Paulo where they spent a few days resting and receiving medical care. Starting from 1887, the ottoman sultanate opened a consulate in Rio de Janeiro but it didn't attract the interest of the emigrants. The lebanese and syrian emigrants were called "turcos" i.e. Turks because they traveled with ottoman passports that classified them as followers of the ottoman sultanate.
The lebanese practiced trade at such a large extent that the March 25th Street became the biggest lebanese traders agglomeration in São Paulo and the biggest trade center and site in South and Central America. They also engaged in industry, agriculture and animal breeding. They entered the banking sector, public services, freelancing and social services. They founded clubs, associations, medical centers etc... They succeeded in the journalism field where we mention Naoum Keseruan Labaki who founded in 1896 the "al-Raqib" newspaper in Rio de Janeiro and in 1899 the "al-Mounather" newspaper in São Paulo. The Lebanese merged with the Brazilian society and formed a productive and active community.
This tremendous evolution resulted in having the biggest lebanese immigrant community in Brazil.
Argentina adopted the opening of its doors to immigration in the XIXth century. Like Brazil, it wanted to invest its agricultural lands. It became an open country hosting the majority of the european immigrants after the United States. The people of Lebanon had a big share in it since they emigrated to Argentina at the end of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth century for it was the country of the promises and wealth.
Some emigrants moved there after they were called by their relatives who preceded them and organized themselves to support the newcomers financially or have business shares with them. Among the reasons that facilitated emigration to Argentina, is the translation of the law established in 1876 to arabic and other laws concerning agricultural activities and publications that introduced the argentinean tradition. All the laws regarding emigration were also translated and simplified books in spanish and arabic including the spanish grammar and the guidance to emigrants were distributed.
Concerning the location of the descendants originating from Baabdat, most of them are living in the following states of Argentina:
Buenos Aires, Jujuy, Salta, Santiago del Estero, Catamarca, La Rioja, San Juan, Cordoba, Santa Fé, Entre Rios, Mendoza, Tucuman, San Luis, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego, Corrientes, Rio Negro, Chubut, Chaco...
The lebanese crossed the seas going with the flow. Some groups went to Argentina and one of the first emigrants was Lahoud Chahine Labaki from Baabdat in 1885. First, the lebanese expatriate used to look for the people of his village and then the people of the close villages when he reached the country of immigration. The first expatriates preserved this mode in their social and business life. They organized it on the basis of the closest then the further i.e. first the people of the village, second the people of the neighboring villages and third the people of the rest of the villages. The town of Guemes in the province of Salta is the biggest example. It was known as "la pequeña Baabdat" which means the small Baabdat.
The lebanese first entered Argentina illegally through Uruguay. They weren't allowed to officially enter it until 1896 after a specific law was established. Thus, the europeans started traveling to Argentina followed by the Lebanese who were persecuted at the beginning. They were called turcos i.e. Turks and faced racial discrimination by the people and the officials. When it decided to bring european immigrants to modernize the country, the argentinean government even forbade the lebanese to stay in the hotels intended to host the europeans. They weren't allowed to use the facilities given to the others until 1939 when immigration to Argentina declined.
The United States attracted the lebanese and the immigrants from all over the world especially after the election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln who was against slavery and who encouraged immigration by giving free lands to the immigrants in order to save labor force that was lacking in the country.
The news spread quickly about the richness of the United States in resources, metals and wealthy areas. It also discovered silver and gold in addition to its development in the fields of findings, inventions, sciences and professionalism in work and production. Besides the economic welfare and prosperity, news of all kinds of freedoms spread about the country of Uncle Sam and its application of fraternity, equality and justice. All these elements and information reinforced the taste of a lot of lebanese for adventure and made them decide to go to the United States.
The cultural and benevolent influence of the americans increased a lot in the XIXth century due to the american protestant missionary that built churches and schools for boys and girls attended by some of the emigrants. The American University of Beirut was also founded and distributed school books in arabic and english. As a result to all these effects, an educated but unemployed class emerged. Part of it went to Egypt and another to the New World. This emigrant class participated in the journey to civilization and evolution and improving its social and financial status.
This desire was followed by the acquaintance of the lebanese with a number of american missionaries, pilgrims and tourists who visited the sacred places and the historic and archeological sites in the East. They had a good impression of them because of their looks, generosity and expenses. A number of the lebanese traveled with the tourists carrying with them rosaries, icons and crosses to sell them to the christian europeans and americans. After a few months, they returned to their countries with profits which motivated those who liked to earn money quickly to carry this kind of merchandise and travel first to Europe and the States and later only to the States.
At the end of the mid XIXth century, the United States was heading towards modernization and industrialization at high speed by creating road and communication networks, telephones, telegraph, electricity and car industry... this generated a real need for foreign labor force. Furthermore, other different factors reinforced the emigration of the lebanese to the United States including the ottoman sultanate's encouragement of its followers to exhibit their traditional craftsmanship and arts in many exhibitions. A lot of participants chose to stay in the United States. News spread quickly in the lebanese villages and cities about the success of these pioneers in accumulating profits, the job opportunities, the good life and the possibility to achieve dreams on that land. There were direct calls and invitations to the people to follow those who went before them. The money that arrived from the immigrants to their families strengthened the will of a lot of people living in the lebanese cities and villages to leave everything they owned and travel to the United States.
Concerning the location of the descendants originating from Baabdat, most of them are living in the following states of the United States of America:
New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, Arizona, Michigan...
Most of the first emigrants traveled aboard french boats that departed from Beirut to Alexandria in Egypt passing by Napoli in Italy then Marseille in France. From there, the emigrants sailed on another boat to other ports in the Atlantic Ocean until they arrived to New York. The lucky one had an immigrant friend or relative who went before him and who could help him find a place to sleep and a modest job.
The first immigrants to New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Connecticut, Missouri, Louisiana, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, California... suffered a lot. The situation of those who preceded them to Detroit, Alabama, Huston and Texas wasn't better. They faced persecution and went through a lot to find a job suitable for them especially during the crisis that hit the american economy in general and the car industry in Detroit in particular. However, they kept expecting to hear positive information about the country of Uncle Sam and looking for an opportunity to emigrate to the Unites States.
The causes of the lebanese emigration to Mexico aren't different than the general causes of emigration. The latter are represented by poverty, misery, religious persecution, fear, constraint, economic pressures, high taxes, suffering, war... The lebanese emigrated to different parts of the world and they chose Mexico because as immigrants they had the possibility to live there according to their religious beliefs in a surrounding that was compatible with their catholic faith. This occurred specially after the russian revolution in 1917 and World War I and after the United Sates adopted in 1921 strict rules for immigration in addition to its economic difficulties following the economic crisis in 1929. All these reasons decreased immigration towards the United States and made it more active towards Brazil, Argentina, and also Mexico because their policies were lenient with those who wanted to immigrate.
The trip to Mexico started from Beirut passing by France then the United States or Cuba. It is said that the first groups of immigrants arrived to the port of Vera Cruz then Tampico.
Immigrants to Mexico faced problems in registering their names which disrupted their entrance to the country. The employees of the port of Vera Cruz modified the lebanese names in a way that suited the spanish language. Because they didn't speak spanish, other immigrants adopted the names of their towns and villages instead of their family names without foreseeing what could result of that. The original names of the immigrants were registered in latin letters. As time passed, it was impossible for lebanese embassies and other institutions to make accurate statistics to know the exact number of expatriates in all the immigration countries.
At the beginning, the immigrants randomly spread in popular suburbs. Then, they extended in their new environment in cities and rural areas besides the first clients they dealt with. Later on, they had the opportunity to mix with the different classes of the society, reached the main cities and lived there. However, some locals had different hostile attitudes towards the newcomers. They wanted to get rid of them... The name foreigner in Mexico as in other countries was equivalent at a certain time to the word outsider especially that those who came from Lebanon were known, as we already mentioned as: Turks.
The exchange of merchandise between the lebanese seller and the mexican buyer was at first achieved through hand gestures or nods meaning yes or no because the Lebanese didn't speak the local language i.e. spanish. Progressively, the lebanese learnt the language of the Mexican people without going to school and gained their sympathy because they contributed in carrying the merchandise to distant places and spread everywhere skillfully until they reached unknown places and jungles. The lebanese profited from the economic policy of president Bovero Diaz's regime that encouraged foreign investment. It paved the way for the immigrants to participate in the economic growth, Thus, the number of the ambulant sellers increased and witnessed a huge engagement from the part of immigrants in general and lebanese in particular.
The lebanese became very active in the mexican economy and its different sectors all over the country. There was no economic sector where the lebanese didn't work including the industrial, agricultural, business, general management and political fields. The lebanese spread all over Mexico and in particular in the capital Mexico, Merida, Guadalajara, Tampico, Cozumel, Toluca, Acapulco, Coatzacoalcos and others.
The first lebanese emigrants to Venezuela landed in 1880 in the island of Margarita in the Eastern part of the country. Right afterwards, emigration stopped till 1895 to become more active again with the establishment of Venezuelan information official offices in France, Spain and Belgium. The latter organized the emigration process and gave information about Venezuela, its climate, agriculture, natural wealth such as gold and diamond... Hence, the groups of lebanese emigrants with ottoman passports traveled again.
Emigration to Venezuela was modest at the beginning because it's an agricultural country that doesn't attract immigrants merely looking for business. However, with the discovery of oil wells and their exploitation in Venezuela in 1919 and the increase of the government treasury revenue, the workers were living in prosperity. Thus, the immigrants' rush to Venezuela from many parts of the world including Lebanon increased. Nevertheless, the lebanese expatriation phenomenon grew bigger and clearly emerged between the 40s and 60s of the XXth century for economic considerations; Venezuela largely opened the doors for immigrants and adopted the free enterprise system which made it another emigration destination especially for those who spoke the french language as the lebaneses.
The first emigrants to Venezuela also faced problems in registering their names. They were written as the immigration and passport employees understood them regardless of the family roots, the descent and origin. Another problem that they faced is that they were considered turks who were seen as retarded by the people of Venezuela. The first immigrants weren't spared of the injustice and denunciation of the italian immigrants against them. The latter even accused them of being cannibals.
At the beginning, the immigrants worked as peddlers in Venezuela like they did in most of the countries of the american continent. However, the discontinuation of the economic movement in the country because of the agriculture recession made them suffer until oil emerged in 1917. Then, they went back to peddling and spread in the markets hitting the work of owners of shops and stores in the country. Later, they opened stores and gathered big sums of money after huge difficulties. This urged the tradesmen of the country to pressure the government and push it to make laws that forbade peddling under penalty of imprisonment. Hence, the peddlers were obliged to practice their trade hiding, very early in the morning or late at night or satisfied themselves with small models of their merchandise that they exposed far from the sight of the government officials. Anyway, the lebanese earned and spent so much in Venezuela that it was said about them that they earned gold and ate gold.
Lebanese emigration to Colombia started at the end of the XIXth century. The coast of Colombia on the atlantic or caribbean sea was the passage point of most of the lebanese emigrants to Colombia. The main port Puerto Colombia that hosted the immigrants is located near the important city of Barranquilla.
It's not easy to specify the causes of emigration to Colombia as a final destination for the emigrants! A lot of emigrants had chosen north america as their main destination and reached south america either by coincidence or by the pressure of some maritime shipping agents who didn't have any moral values. Others tried their luck in north america but they soon moved to the south when they found out that the conditions there were unsuitable. Some followed their friends and relatives and were encouraged by the stories of the returning immigrants who got rich and gained their freedom.
In brief, we can say that the lebanese immigrant considered Colombia and other countries of south america as the land of opportunities.
Anyway, Colombia hosted relatively small numbers of lebanese immigrants. In the last century, there were huge transatlantic emigrations but they didn't reach Colombia. Its tropical characteristics, weak internal communication systems and the lack of an effective emigration policy were obstacles to the rush of the immigrants. Besides, the country was under the influence of the civil war between 1899 and 1903 and was facing economic imbalance. Thus, Colombia was far from being an attractive destination like Argentina, Brazil and other countries.
The lebanese emigrants traveled to Colombia on european boats. Most of them arrived directly to Barranquilla or Puerto Colombia and some of them from areas in south america.
Some immigrants lived in internal areas especially in the capital and the towns along the Magdalena River. Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta and other small towns on the Caribbean coast were considered the most popular and attractive colombian areas for immigrants. Big lebanese groups established in the capital Bogota and cities like Cali, Medellin and the area of Santander and others.
There was some interaction that bonded the lebanese immigrants and their colombian hosts who were described as soft hearted and warm... This bond increased the rate of mixed marriages between them. Nevertheless, it didn't prevent the occurrence of some sad incidents between the two people because of the quick success of the lebanese in the trade sector. Some colombians, especially small traders felt hatred towards them and this feeling was expressed in the local newspapers. In return, some famous members in the colombian trade group defended their competitors describing them as respectful and peaceful people that deserved to be congratulated for their good professional behavior. Despite all that, they still carried the offending designation of turcos. This word is still used today despite all the efforts to prove its incorrectness.