Lebanon, a nation of some 4 million, is said to have more than 15 million in the Diaspora all over the globe. This Diaspora has rarely- if ever- been engaged. Indeed it has never been engaged for any volunteer work except in isolated and individual cases. This is understandable considering that a short time ago in the history of Lebanon, it was quite difficult to even reach the Diaspora in as far flung places as Sao Paolo, Sydney, or Los Angeles. The Lebanese Diaspora for its part found itself completely isolated from its home nation.
Migration has long been a tradition for the Lebanese, whose ascendants the Phoenicians travelled extensively around the Mediterranean establishing trading posts and by some accounts beat Christopher Columbus and the Vikings to the Americas by almost 2,000 years. The modern Lebanese Diaspora began in the 19th century when Lebanese Christians fled from the Ottomans oppression. In the 20th century, the two World Wars and a civil war in Lebanon itself during the 1970s contributed to further emigration.The modern wave of Lebanese emigration occurred from the 1990s onward.
While under Syrian influence, Beirut passed legislation which prevented second-generation Lebanese of the diaspora from automatically obtaining Lebanese citizenship. This has reinforced the emigration status of many diaspora Lebanese. There is currently a campaign by those Lebanese of the diaspora who already have Lebanese citizenship to attain the vote from abroad. If suffrage was to be extended to these 1.2 million Lebanese emigration citizens, it would have a significant political effect, since as many as 80% of them are believed to be Christians.
Integration in the host country has not always been an easy task for the new migrants. In countries such as Argentina or Australia they found themselves on the margins of the host society. In Argentina, where they were referred to as 'Turcos' -as they were immigrant of an Ottoman Turkish Province
- they found themselves as "a stigmatized immigrant group within a strongly assimilation national culture." Michael Humphrey, Lebanese identities: between cities, nations and trans-nations (Winter 2004)
. In Australia, they "assumed a ... position on the economic margins as petty traders, were referred to as 'Syrian,' and were often resented for their success. ... their Ottoman imperial origin meant they were classified as Asiatic and consequently kept under close surveillance by local police." Id.
In Africa, Lebanese communities have often been targeted as scapegoats for economic crisis.
Yet, one of the impressive factors about the Lebanese Diaspora, apart from the high number of migrants, is the faculty the children of the Cedars have to adapt, integrate and succeed into a new environment usually unknown and sometimes hostile. Indeed, Lebanese usually "appear to have integrated comfortably with the various societies and diverse cultures, ... many have excelled in these new environments and become notable in the fields of entertainment, politics, sport and academia."Throw a Lebanese to the sea and he will come out of it with a fish" states a Lebanese adage.
Lebanon has known three important waves of migration. Starting in the late 1800s the first wave of emigration was a disorganized one. In villages, the means of subsistence were limited, families were large, and land was scarce. The young had no prospects but to emigrate. Often clandestine (as the Ottomans initially prohibited emigration) the early migrants, usually poor and uneducated villagers, would board a boat, any boat, and embark into a journey without knowing where they would end up.
The second wave was more organized, following the First World War and the hunger and poverty that stroke the land of milk and honey, many Lebanese, still poor and, often, uneducated villagers would join family members, or fellow villagers, who had already settled in foreign countries. Often hearing of the success of their peers they also decided to give it a chance.
Some have left to never come back, making a life in their host country, their children "whose roots were plucked from the hills of Lebanon"* are "deeply rooted"* in their host country.
Nonetheless, many have grown up maintaining strong ties with Lebanon, in many cases members of the family such as parents, siblings or cousins were still there. The young man leaving Lebanon very early in his life would go back there to find a wife and start a family. Those who were living in difficult countries in Africa or Latin America would send their children to Lebanon so that they could receive a proper education or for health reasons. The father would stay in the host country to work, send money to his family and shuttle between his working country and Lebanon. This was, and, somehow, still is, a usual pattern for families in the Diaspora, a father who earned enough money to place his family in their home country which has a better educational system and conditions are easier.
The fifteen years civil war that struck the land of the cedars will change those rules. Now parents would keep their kin next to them or send them to Europe or the U.S. for them to get a proper education. Lebanon being too dangerous was not an option anymore.
The civil war has also intensified emigration and is the third phase to the modern Lebanese Diaspora, seeing a metropolitan migration as well.
Many of those who left during the civil war came back home during the 1990s. The usual pattern of sending your wife and kids to Lebanon while you were abroad started anew. Nevertheless, because of an occupied country, a stalling economy, bad salaries, unemployment and an unstable political and regional situation; many hesitated in returning and kept living abroad.
Given the adundance of Lebanese who have settled in countries across the world the United States, Brazil, Australia and the United Kingdom they appear to have integrated comfortably with the various societies and their diverse cultures, indeed many have excelled in these new environments and become notable in the fields of entertainment, politics, sport and academia.