Growing up in Mexico City, one of my first interactions with Arabs and Muslims was through the Lebanese community in Mexico. Although Mexico is a largely multicultural country and its cuisine has been largely recognized as a mix of different cultures, the dominant identity discourse these days is the mix between Indigenous peoples and the Spanish colonizers (mestizaje).
The term mestizaje has constantly been challenged for a number of reasons including the fact that it selectively highlights some identities (i.e. Aztec and Spanish) over others. In addition, much of the rhetoric around identity in Mexico also overlooks the great influence that other immigrant populations brought along (i.e. African communities, Chinese immigrants, and Palestinian refugees, to mention a few).
Although the Arab population in Mexico is largely composed of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, the Lebanese immigrant community of the early 20th century is, until this day, the most influential. Some of the only Arab places to eat in Mexico City are Lebanese restaurants run by second or third generation Lebanese or Mexican-Lebanese families (interracial marriages and their offspring). One of the most common names attached to this community is Carlos Slim, Mexico’s richest man and one of the richest of the world.
Although Mexico is constantly identified as a Catholic country many other denominations and religious groups have flourished, among them Islam. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography reports that even though Islam is the fastest religion globally, it is still a minority in the country. The Institute’s statistics indicate that in 2000, there were only 1500 Muslims in Mexico, and most of them resided in Mexico City. This number has increased, and in 2010 it was reported that there were 3,760 Muslims, of which the majority are men. Yet, in Mexico City it is quite uncommon to see or even hear about Muslims. [Read more...]