New Mexico is a unique melting pot of multiple cultures. Beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, the Corrales Historical Society is hosting “Los Ãrabes of New Mexico” by Monika Ghattas as part of its speaker series.
The event will be held at the Old San Ysidro Church, 966 Old Church Road in Corrales.
Ghattas is a retired history professor and the discussion will detail how the first Arab peddlers arrived in New Mexico in the late 1880s via the train from the East or came north from Mexico.
These immigrants easily blended into New Mexican communities with some of their descendants becoming prominent citizens in this state.
“I think they enriched New Mexico culture, as there are some testimonials about that in various literature of the period or at least in the 1930s,” Ghattas said. “But they were a small group and some of them sell themselves as people from the Holy Land as Lebanon and Syria was at that time, all one and that whole Eastern Mediterranean, so they brought with them what sold best, which were religious artifacts.”
The men were listed in census records and other documents as Arabs, Turks, Ottomans and Syrians.
One question that has not fully been answered was why did they immigrate to New Mexico of all places?
“I asked myself that question too, for a long time, and tried to get to the bottom of it,” Ghattas said. “There was no reason that the train came to Albuquerque in 1880 and these were young people escaping from the environment which were very patriarchal and very conservative.”
A majority of these immigrants were young men in their early twenties, who were related and came from the same village in Mount Lebanon.
“A lot of things came together and then there was this image of America, which was fabulously wealthy and wonderful with all kinds of opportunities,” Ghattas said. “Some of them were as young as 18 but they came with an older brother, or cousin or a neighbor, or whatever, they always came in groups of three or four, and they continued to come here until the outbreak of World War One in 1914.”
Upon settling in Hispanic villages in New Mexico, the peddlers went to work.
The immigrants arrived in the outlying Hispanic villages of New Mexico and in the thriving mining communities of that period. Eventually they settled down and opened general stores in many New Mexico villages and small towns. Some opened businesses in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
“They took advantage of what they found here, such as working in the mining areas as there was a lot of mining at the turn of the century in New Mexico,” Ghattas said. “They didn’t all go into the mines, but some established the shops, for what the miners and locals needed.”