From Khalil Gibran to Meira Delmar: reflections on the literature of the colombian mahjar
The massive migration of Arabs from Ottoman-controlled lands in Greater Syria during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, affected both the demographic and social landscapes of the places of origin of these immigrants, as well as the formation of pluricultural societies in the Americas. This crucial migratory experience in the history of the modern Middle East, occurring roughly between 1860 and 1914, was motivated by dire political and economic circumstances in the Levant, and by the clash of foreign, inter and intracommunal interests. Migrants were also lured by the ideas of freedom put forward by the Arabic renaissance, or Nahḍa. Once in the Americas, immigrants struggled to negotiate their identities, to create means for their economic
survival, and to conceive channels for reminiscing their lost homelands (Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) especially through literature. Prominent writers such as Khalil Gibran emerged and literary unions in the mahjar, or the place of emigration, were created, namely in New York and São Paulo in the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, Colombian-born, Arab-descent writers and cultural outlets only surfaced by the second half of
the twentieth century. By exploring two case studies from the late literature of the Colombian mahjar -the poetry of Meira Delmar and the Unión magazine published by the Arab Youth Centre- this study sheds new perspectives
on the Arab diaspora in Colombia, the ways in which they served as cultural
mediators, and how they related to their homelands and host societies.