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CMENAS Mini-Conference. "Intimate Strangers: Latin America, Spain, and the Middle East"

Friday, March 28, 2014
12:00 AM
SSWB/International Institute-Room 1636

<i>This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribeean Studies</i>

This conference examines issues in the relations of the Iberian world with the Middle East. It considers issues in the historical memory of Arab Spain or Andalusia, in Arab emigration to Brazil and Costa Rica, and in diplomatic relations between the two regions. South-South interactions are often slighted in area studies, and this conference is intended to shed light on a web of inter-relatedness that is growing in importance with the rise of the BRICS states and a more multipolar globe.

Conference Schedule and Presenters: 

1 - 1:50 PM :: From Family Heritage to Public Ethnicity: The “Revival” of Arab/Syrian-Lebanese Identities in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Paulo G. Pinto, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil
Response: Sueann Caulfield, Department of History, University of Michigan

From the 1970s on, there was a decline in the Arab/Syrian-Lebanese religious and ethnic/national institutions in Brazil. As a result, Arab/Syrian-Lebanese identities came to be lived as family traditions codified into concrete symbols and private arenas of sociability, such as the sentimental aspect of kinship ties and family meals around Middle Eastern food. However, these identities did not disappear in this process, but rather became de-institutionalized ethnic categories that re-emerged in the public sphere since the 1990s. Since then, an increasing number of Brazilians of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian descent use Arab/Syrian-Lebanese identities in order to classify, position and distinguish themselves within the Brazilian society as well as to insert themselves into transnational arenas that connect them to the Middle East. In this process the cultural contents and references of the Arab identities are constantly negotiated and reinvented, allowing them to articulate a vast range of collective and biographical trajectories and, therefore, to remain relevant in the cultural context of contemporary Brazilian society.

2 - 2:50 PM :: Central America and the Middle East: separated by distance, connected by history
Sergio Moya Mena, Universidad de Costa Rica, School of Political Science
Response: Javier Sanjinés, Romance, Languages & Literatures, University of Michigan

Although separated by thousands of miles, there are important historical links between these regions. Since the end of the Ottoman Empire, Arab immigrants settled in Central America and established economically prosperous and politically influential communities. Later, during the Cold War, a number of relevant linkages and partnerships were developed between the two regions. In recent years, there is a mutual interest in strengthening cultural and political ties and creating new opportunities for economic and diplomatic cooperation.

This presentation discusses the development of relations between Central America and the Middle East, highlighting political and cultural aspects and posing a future projection of these links.

3:30 - 4:20 PM :: The Invention of al-Andalus: Uses of the Past in Modern Spanish and Arabic Culture
Eric Calderwood, Assistant Professor of Spanish, University of Michigan
Response: Karla Mallette, Italian and Near Eastern Studies, University of Michigan

Over the past two centuries, the historical memory of al-Andalus (medieval Muslim Iberia) has been put to the service of diverse and contradictory projects in a variety of different national contexts.  My talk will explore the representation of al-Andalus in modern Arabic and Spanish culture and will show some of the ways in which contemporary Mediterranean discourses about al-Andalus emerge from nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonial discourses.

4:30-5 PM :: Q & A


Sergio Moya Mena, Paulo Pinto, and Eric Calderwood