Analyzing only the political spectrum to which they belong, it would be complicated to list common elements between names as distinct as those of former president Michel Temer, former mayors of São Paulo Fernando Haddad, Paulo Maluf and Gilberto Kassab, federal deputy Jandira Feghali and de Guilherme Boulos, leader of PSOL and MTST (Movement of Homeless Workers).
The characteristic that unites them and that transcends their ideologies, however, is narrated in detail in the book “Brimos: Syrian-Lebanese Immigration in Brazil and Your Way to Politics”.
The work, signed by journalist Diogo Bercito and published by the publisher Fósforo, outlines some of the most emblematic families of national politics from their common origin: Lebanon.
Leaving behind the land in which family roots that lasted for centuries were sown, many of the Lebanese immigrants chose Brazil as their destination, where they “crammed into tenements on Rua 25 de Março, placed wooden boxes on their backs and crossed the country selling knickknacks “.
“While they were learning the language, changing the ‘P’ for the ‘B’ — calling themselves ‘brimos’ —, no one would say that they would be so successful away from home,” notes Bercito in the book’s preface.
The author, who was a correspondent for the leaf in the Middle East and now subscribes to the blog Orientalissimo in the newspaper, he traveled to Lebanese towns and villages where parts of the families of important parts of Brazilian politics still live today.
The mission was to fill historical gaps and try to understand which elements explain the success of the “brimos” in national politics.
After three years of investigation, research into sparse historical records and dozens of interviews, Bercito’s conclusion may disappoint those who expect an answer from a single factor.
According to him, elements such as the pattern of geographic dispersion of the Lebanese, the exceptional investment in the education of their children and the social network formed by the immigrant community made it possible for the “breeches” to rise to a significant presence in the country’s political elite.
“These more complex phenomena make history [da migração sírio-libanesa ao Brasil] tastier,” says Bercito. “Maybe it’s a story that can’t be served on one plate, it needs to be a little longer meal.”
In the first part of the book, the author seeks to contextualize the scenario of the territory that belonged to the former Ottoman Empire and only came into existence as a country after 1920, although under French rule — independence would come in 1943.
Even before that, the economic crisis and food shortages “fattened the diaspora while the population was getting thin,” says Bercito.
Thus, significant portions of the population heard about a horizon of prosperity in the Americas and sought ways to reach the continent. In many cases, they aimed at the United States, but landed at the port of Santos (SP).
Among those who came to inhabit Brazilian lands are the ancestors of important characters in Brazil’s recent history. The chapters in the second part of “Brimos” allow you to pick out some curious episodes.
Maluf, for example, was welcomed as a messiah on his visits to Lebanon.
Temer, seen as a miracle for having ascended to command of the country just a few decades after his father’s migration, gained a street with his name and the words “vice-president of Brazil” — a sentence corrected after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in 2016 .
Haddad is descended from a Greek-Orthodox priest who saved his village from widespread slaughter by using the word as a weapon. Feghali is the niece of a Lebanese music diva, the equivalent of Madonna from those parts of the world, as Bercito describes her.
Boulos is the grandson of Iskandar, a Lebanese who, in the interior of São Paulo, became known as a “crazy Turk”. Kassab says he is the “second saint” in the family — the first is a distant relative named Nimatullah Kassab al-Hardini, born in Lebanon in 1808 and canonized by the Catholic Church in 2004.
Even though he has told so many stories, Bercito points out some gaps that his book has yet to fill.
This is the case, for example, with “brimes”. Although they play a fundamental role in the ascension of the community in Brazil and, in episodes such as the founding of the Hospital Sírio-Libanês —today a reference in the country— have occupied a leading position, women in the diaspora are historically ignored and, when mentioned, they are limited to just their roles as mothers, wives and daughters.
“This is a story that, in fact, fails to tell a number of things. Gender dimensions, intellectual women, who get involved in political issues. Omissions that seem quite unfair to me,” Bercito acknowledges.