Palestinians in the diaspora in Chile

In this podcast episode I speak with Marcelo Marzouka about the Palestinian community in Chile. Chile has the highest number of Palestinians in Latin America. The number of Palestinians in Chile is estimated at around 300.000 people. The fourth generation of Palestinians is now growing up in Chile. There were different waves of migration from Palestine to Chile.

The first recorded Palestinian in Chile

The first record of a Palestinian that lived in Chile dates from 1884. There may have been Palestinians before that time, but they were not recorded on paper. The first Palestinians arrived with Ottoman travel documents, as Palestine was part of the Ottoman empire. They were not always welcomed. They called them Turks and that was considered an insult. These first Palestinians started with little capital. Most of them came to trade products from the Holy Land and sold from home to home. After making some money they managed to establish themselves more. They opened shops and they specialized in the production of textiles.

Different waves of Palestinian migrants to Chile

The first Palestinians were escaping from the hard economic situation in Palestine. They suffered from the Ottoman tax system and the compulsory army service. As many Europeans went to the Americas to look for a better life, they also wanted to try their luck. And the climate in Chile was similar to what the Palestinians were used to. Another wave of Palestinians arrived to Chile after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. A great number of Palestinians was forcibly displaced from their homes. The situation in Palestine became very difficult for Palestinians. Many Palestinians from Bethlehem area who had family in Chile, decided to join them. The same thing happened after 1967 when Israel occupied the Westbank and Gaza and again during the first and second intifada.

Palestinian identity in Chile

The first generation of Palestinians in Chile did not want their children to suffer from discrimination and they focused on the Spanish language and integrating into the Chilean society. One of the ways to socialize with the local Chileans was by playing sports. In 1920 the Club Deportivo Palestino was established and they exist until today and they play in the premier league. Even though today most players are not of Palestinian descent, the club and the supporters are very well aware of the Palestinian identity of the club.

In the capital, Santiago de Chile, there is a neighborhood called Patronato, where you can imagine yourself being in Palestine, with the smell of Arabic coffee, the choice of Palestinian restaurants and the sound of Arabic language and music. Many young Palestinians learn to dance the traditional Palestinian dabka dance and they are very familiar with the Palestinian music, food, habits and weddings. Although most of them do not speak Arabic fluently, they are investing time to learn and to reconnect to the country of their ancestors.

If you want to know more then you should definitely listen to the podcast episode.

You can also read more, here are some suggestions:

Historical documents:
Social Guide of the Arabs in Chile (1940s):

Walter Garib – El viajero de la alfombra mágica

Academic articles:
Douglas Smith – Discursos hegemónicos y corrientes alternativas en la colectividad palestina de Chile (in English)

4 colores: Documentary about the Palestino football team.

Center for Arab Studies at Universidad de Chile