In Mexico, the concepts of “Arab” or “Lebanese” were inexistent to define their nationality in the XIX century. Before World War, any immigrant from Middle East was considered as “Turkish”.
lso, the change of name was a voluntary act to accelerate the process of integration to the Mexican environment and to help the Arabs to don’t be seen as a foreign element of the society, especially because the migration laws were also discriminatory to accept some migrants and others not. One of the main reasons of the change of the Arab name was due to the customs agents who wrote the last names according to how they sound, like Abdallah to Apedole, or according to their similar names in Spanish, like Fares into Pérez. Other examples about these translations to avoid xenophobia were Boutros to Pedro, Maryem to María.
Once in Mexico, the immigrants established themselves in a country that would see them progress, have a family and afterwards be integrated as a group and community. The Lebanese arrived to Mexico to stay permanently. There was no return on their plans, only for visiting their parents and when they have reached a financial consolidation. It was an immigration initiated by a male, who was married at early age, and who planned also to work two or three years and to bring the family who was left in Middle East.
The established Lebanese families supported their community life through the protection of their cultural values. Their private life was a space where they decided the group’s supremacy. Therefore, they had the need to practice endogamy on the first years, to take care over the family and business networks and don’t lose the Arab as a language. In other hand, their community was beneficiated by the Law for Foreigners and Naturalization in 1934, because the Mexican nationality was given to those who were born in the country, turning the children of the Lebanese into Mexicans.
One fundamental aspect that made easy the assimilation of the Lebanese to the Mexican society was to practice the same religion, despite the ritual differences that they might had, because the Lebanese were Catholic Maronite. The catholic Lebanese represented more than the 90% of the total Arab immigration in Mexico.
The religion was a fundamental tool for the immigration pioneers to integrate, adapt and identify to open society. These helped this ethnic group to be easily accepted in the Mexican territory, where they were tolerated and admitted. For the Mexicans with Arab origin this was a sign of religious identity, a source of culture and traditions that let them grow and enrich their adoptive country with many vocations in the consecrated life. It even helped them to excel in different fields such as economics, politics, and art, intellectual and social positions. Their religious membership was based on a moral code of social control, which was a reason for solidarity and fraternity that reinforced the cohesion between the Mexican communities.
The preponderant economic activity in the Arab community, regardless of their practiced religion, is the commercial activity. The majority of the Mexican who lived with the Lebanese accepted them without any difficulty, and their presence as street vendor was well received by the society. The street vendor in the second half of the XIX century was mainly done by nationals, but gradually this sector was occupied by the Lebanese who were introducing new goods, were working as brokers of the big urban businesses and initiated the technique of trading based on credit and small payments. When a new immigrant arrived to the country, the rest of the community helped him by sourcing with goods on credit so that he could start as a street vendor. This also created a migration domino effect, because it attracted to other family members to travel to the country. It is also valuable to mention that the first customers of the Lebanese were the indigenous groups, therefore they had the necessity to learn Maya or Nahuatl at the same time that spanish language.
Once the immigrants had an amount of money, and the opportunity of getting credit from commercial businesses, as well as a big number of customers, they mixed their street vending into a local establishment. This situation was possible because when the man was travelling for business, the wife or any other family member from Lebanon was taking care of the small business. Also, the attraction of Lebanese women stimulated the endogamy practices inside their community.
Although the Arab population didn’t represented more than the 5% of the total migrant population in Mexico, by the first ten years of the XX century, their businesses represented 50% of the economic activities that were held by migrants. And when there were some preoccupations about migration policies that could affect the entrance of Lebanese people in the 1930s, the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce stated that “The Lebanese is characterized by his activity in their job, by his economy, by his simplicity, by the easiness and quickness in which he learns the language of the country where he arrives and lives peacefully, especially in those, like Mexico, where he has a sacred personal independence and love to the country.