More Argentine Than You

Arabic-Speaking Immigrants in Argentina

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Steven Hyland Jr.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: 
    University of New Mexico Press
    , November
     2017.
     304 pages.
     $65.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780826358776.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Nowadays, immigration, belonging, and integration are dominant subjects in the academic world and a key concern for policymakers. Historic research, as it manifests in this study of Arabic-speaking immigrants in Northwest Argentina (mainly in Tucuman) from the late nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth centuries, highlights the relevance of context in shaping immigrants’ experiences. The book is important and offers rich information for researchers and interested parties. Reading through its pages at this point, I would like to offer a reflection on its content and scholarly contribution.

Broadly speaking, More Argentine Than You contributes to understanding how the dynamics of interaction with local populations shapes modalities of absorption, thus avoiding generalized evaluations regarding the migrant's origin and their probabilities of assimilation. In that sense, this book is a major contribution to the study of migration to Argentina beyond the Italian and Iberian groups, illuminating internal differences within the Arab population, much of which went unacknowledged by the host society. Furthermore, by comparing the process of integration in other areas in Argentina, author Steven Hyland challenges the assumptions that belonging and participation took place mainly vis-à-vis the nation state. 

More Argentine Than You also allows readers to evaluate immigrants’ background, thus facilitating the understanding of the cultural capital they possessed in their transition from Syrian culture to Argentinian provincial realities. Through a concise but detailed analysis, Hyland presents not only the reasons pushing people to emigrate from greater Syria and the Ottoman Empire after a flourishing period, but also the possibilities for translating differential capacities into potential skills from cultural, political, and economic points of view. This perspective engages with analysis pointing to transnational movements that emerged over a century ago. Remittances, for example, became a channel for connecting Arab populations over the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean. 

The study goes beyond the immigrants’ departure and focuses on their arrival in Argentina by reviewing the processes in place in different chronological periods. Through this historic perspective, the reader can discern the dynamics of institution building. Far from being a homogeneous society, Hyland delineates the process of communal boundary making in Argentina.

The particular sense of “Argentineness” of Arab intellectuals and elites in the northwest, as well as both integration and marginality in the labor market of different groups across different waves of immigration, allows readers to perceive multi-dimensional scenerios within a subnational space. This is further exemplified through the analysis of the tensions and conflicts that emerged through the multiple hierarchies and networks concerned with the absorption of new immigrants.

The intersection of transnational allegiances, including national and provincial commitments, changed as a result of transformations in the homelands and in the local scene. Thus, for example, intra-community tensions that accompanied leaders’ participation in national and provincial politics postponed the achievement of their goals for several years, and obliged them to extend mobilization to merchant's groups.

The religious dimension in its varied manifestations is analyzed throughout the book as an important resource, which has occasionally facilitated, yet in other instances obstructed, the Arab colony's sense of community. Tensions and conflicts, as in other institutional fields, were also the legacy of religious affiliations. The waves of immigrants changed the relative percentage of Christians, Muslims ,and Jews during the periods under analysis. These movements also had an impact on their representativeness in the public sphere. For example, Hyland describes the deep connection of the Maronite community with the Catholic Church and the marginality of Orthodox Christians, Sephardic Jews, and Muslims. Sacred spaces became an arena for the solidification of a sense of belonging, though in most cases, social hierarchies and not only religious affiliations shaped the extent of participation.

Hyland discusses the use of Arabic in Argentina. The use of language for identity building is implied in the text, yet is not explicitly addressed and theoretically framed in line with past scholarship. Another process discussed in the manuscript is the active role played by women in the consolidation of community boundaries as well as their impact on participation in civil society.

More Argentine Than You allows the acknowledgment of the contradictory trends knitting together the phenomena of immigration and integration. The relation to the homeland, behavior in the local scene, political struggles, wishes for both cultural continuity and national involvement, the constitution of socio-economic hierarchies, and the contribution to community welfare are some of the processes analyzed during the expansion of institution building, one of the main axes of the book. All these developments are very well documented through material collected from archives, printed government materials, periodicals, books, and articles. Hyland’s effort to detail personal narratives and descriptions of institutional conflicts gives the book a highly vivid toneh. However, in many cases these features are overwhelming and often detrimental for the understanding and evaluation of generalized processes. The presentation of a clear analytical and methodological framework, systematically leading the reader from micro to macro levels, could be helpful to achieve far-reaching conclusions when elaborating comparative perspectives.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Batia Siebzehner is Research Fellow at the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Steven Hyland Jr. is associate professor in the department of history and political science at Wingate University, North Carolina.

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