Meeting Report

Friday, May 16, 12:00-1:00pm, 1113 SS&H (Blue Conference Room)

Speaker: Lily Balloffet, History, UC Davis Lily Balloffet is a doctoral student in the UC Davis

History Department. She studies Latin America and the Middle East, and is currently writing her dissertation about Arabic-speaking immigrant communities in Argentina in the first half of the twentieth century. Her project uses the history of these communities to highlight ongoing cultural, intellectual, political and artistic collaboration and exchange between South America and the Arab world. She recently returned from Argentina, where she completed the research for her dissertation under the auspices of the UC Davis Provost's Dissertation Year Fellowship, and the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship.

Balloffet's dissertation project reconstructs the history of Arab migrants to Argentina in the early 20th century. In her paper she narrates the experiences of three waves of Arab migrants, who over the course of the first four decades of the 20th century “rode the rails” in Argentina to pack peddle, set up small shops, and ultimately recreate Arab-Argentine identity through art, film, and theater.

While early migrants were pack-peddlers who used the railways to travel the Argentine countryside selling their goods, their descendants and later waves of Arab migrants established small shops supplying merchandise to peddlers. A dispersed network of small settlements of Arab communities developed across Argentina, united by the railway. These settlements created ethnic organizations and provided small loans and other support to their newer arriving coethnics. It was also on this network that Arab performers and filmmakers traveled, bringing Arab comic theater and documentary films to small Arab communities across Argentina, and in so doing, recreating a transnational Arab identity based in the imaginaries and images of what it means to be Arab among the elite, artistic class.

Balloffet's history draws from multiple archives and records she uncovered in more than a year of field work in Argentina. Her dissertation tells the bigger story of the Arab-Argentina community in the first-half of the 20th century, including how this community influenced Argentine-Arab relations during WW2 and the Peron era.

Discussants on the paper were Timothy Guttierrez, a recent Ph.D. in Sociology at UC Davis, and Ming-Cheng Lo, Professor of Sociology at UC Davis. Their comments included linking the history to theories of “re-emergent” ethnicity, and using the case to complicate the relationship between discrimination, ethnicity, and assimilation, as well as clarifying the connection to religion. There were 23 attendees including graduate students and faculty from Economics, Human and Community Development, Geography, History, and Sociology.

About the IFHA-Gifford Migration Workgroup: UC Davis has an impressive number of scholars of migration but we are located in diverse disciplines and scattered across campus. The IFHAGifford