Latin America, Heir to Arab Heritage

February 19, 2024 Hour: 5:42 pm

The Arab presence in Latin America dates back to the arrival of the Spanish around 1492, initiating a long process of constant cultural exchange between the New World and the Middle East.

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The encounter between the two cultures – as historians have called it – was in fact a multicultural encounter. The colonizers’ ships were manned by hundreds of men from dissimilar cultures from the old continent, including the Arab culture.

Let us remember that the Arabs occupied the Iberian Peninsula, which they called Al-Andaluz. In this region, the Emirate of Granada, the last Arab stronghold in the peninsula, was the most important. Finally, with the advance of the Reconquest, initiated by the Christians in the northern mountains of the peninsula, the Emirate of Granada fell and the Arabs were expelled. 

But it was impossible to expel more than eight hundred years of traditions, customs and cultural heritage. The descendants of the Arabs who remained in this region had to adapt to the new reality, change their surnames, adapt their religious customs, etc. However, this cultural heritage could never be erased, as it endured for centuries. 

The tweet reads, “April 4, 1979: the Arab Union of Cuba is created, which brings together the descendants of tens of thousands of Arabs registered in the country. It aims to preserve the identity, culture, customs, traditions and emotional ties with the homelands of their ancestors.”

The first Arab descendants arrived in America on those three famous ships used by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the New World in 1492: La Niña, La Pinta and Santa María were the names of the ships. They were looking for a route that would take them to the Indies, since the Arabs blocked the passage through the European continent. Of these ships, two returned to Europe. The Santa Maria ran aground near the coasts of the Dominican Republic.

Without being aware of it, many Latin Americans carry surnames of Muslim heritage. In today’s Spanish there are thousands of words that come directly from Arabic. Pronounced every day: azúcar, albañil, alforjas, azucenas, alelí, the Spanish denomination of ojala, is a derivation of the Islamic cult of Ala. Similarly, in architecture there are forms that come from the millenary Moorish tradition. 

Latin America had different waves of Arab migration from the Middle East, being from the late 19th century, when a large community of Arab origin disembarked. The first was between 1870 and 1900, the second between 1900 and 1914 and, finally, the third wave occurred as a consequence of the occupation of Palestine in 1948 and from 1974 with the civil war in Lebanon. 

Among the countries that stand out the most are Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. They settled in many countries in the Latin American region, mainly in Venezuela, Chile and Argentina. It is estimated that more than 20 million found a new way of life. Today they are grouped into communities, associations and, despite living in a totally different environment, they maintain their main traditions. 

Undoubtedly, it is a mistake to think that we are far removed from the Arabs. The cultural heritage they have bequeathed to us remains in our language, in our cuisine, in our way of life. This debunks the myth that Arabs are barbarians and have always been an inferior culture or that they are extremists for practicing Islam. None of this is true. Both Latin America and the world are heirs to their wisdom. 

Autor: teleSUR/ OSG

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