Access Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

First Advisor

Victor Figueroa

Abstract

My dissertation focuses on three contemporary novels written by Latin American authors of Syrian origins. These are Nahima: la larga historia de mi madre by Edith Chahín; Mohamad o latoeiro by Gilberto Abrão; and Perfumes de Cartago by Teresa Porzecanski. Their texts, in Spanish and Portuguese, talk about the experiences of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Syrian immigrants who escaped Ottoman oppression and settled down in Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. One important aspect of the novels is that they do not represent the West as a center and the non-West as a periphery. Here, migration is from the Middle East to Latin America. This is unique because Arab immigrants share with Latin American peoples the relationship of an imbalance of power with regards to Western Europe. Both the Middle East and Latin America have had an ambivalent, often marginal relation to the former European colonizers.

In Latin America, Arab immigrant characters often face prejudices. They are, for instance, mistakenly called “Turks,” the name of their oppressors. The stereotypes they struggle with are not exclusively linked to belonging to Islam, but rather to coming from an often “exoticized” region of the world: The Middle East. Additionally, they face the challenges shared by most immigrants: nostalgia for their homelands, the desire to preserve their identities and traditions, and the need to navigate a new culture and new language. In the eyes of these Arab immigrants, Latin America is closer to Western Europe than their own native cultures through languages, religions, and social institutions that were imposed by European colonization. But, Latin America is also composed of pre-Hispanic and African elements. Given the opportunities to work, Arab immigrants join these plural societies in order to achieve economic and social mobility, and a peaceful home for their families and community. The study of these literary representations of the Syrian immigration to Latin America in the early twentieth century is an important field of study that so far has not received the critical attention it deserves. Additionally, it can provide insights into the current crisis with the Syrian refugees.

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