With Israeli attacks ongoing in their homeland, the Palestinians living in Argentina know that they have a duty to preserve and share their culture and identity. The Festival of Immigrants and similar initiatives in Argentina allow them to do just that, and they had a presence there for the first time this year. The Argentinian capital Buenos Aires, celebrated the festival over the 3-5 September at the National Directorate of Argentinian Migration.
The festival was born out of the desire of migrant communities to preserve their heritage and share their varied cultures with their fellow Argentinians. It provides opportunities to demonstrate coexistence, learning and understanding among diverse, yet integrated, cultures.
As well as the Palestinians, communities from Syria, Lebanon and other Middle East countries were represented at the festival, which coincided with International Migrant Day, which the government in Buenos Aires agreed to be held on 4 September every year. It was important for the Palestinians in Argentina to take part as they wanted to show that their culture is very much alive and that they retain their links with their homeland, which they hope will be independent again one day.
The small Palestinian community had a prominent presence which provided an opportunity to present their food, music, traditional costumes, dance and handicrafts to a wider audience. Representatives from the Embassy of Palestine took part, as did the dabke group Jabal Al-Zaitun.
The traditional dance group in Argentina explores identity, culture and resistance through their performances, and thus enables Palestinian refugees to feel more connected with their homeland. The group was formed in 2018 with help from the Palestinian Ambassador, Husni Abdel Wahed, who supported the initiative from the beginning.
"Our representatives offered visitors information about tourism, culture and history throughout the event," explained embassy official Sheryn Barham. "Palestine was the only country that offered a parade of traditional costumes which amazed people by the variety of colours and intricacy of the Palestinian embroidery."
Barham explained that the message to the people of Argentina and South America was very clear: Palestinians cannot and will not forget their culture and heritage. "This festival is our way of rejecting the occupation and seizure of Palestinian land by Israel," she said. "The occupation tries to steal our culture, claiming that Palestinian food, music, traditional songs and embroidered clothes are Israeli in origin."
The embassy official knows that Palestinian participation in the festival is very important. "It illustrates the importance of the immigrants who have contributed to the construction of the identity of Buenos Aires, including the Palestinians."
Argentina has a small Palestinian community within a larger Arab community, and the majority of Palestinian immigrants live in Buenos Aires. "Our Palestinians in Argentina might be small in number, but they are very active," Barham pointed out. "They work tirelessly to spread the Palestinian cause through human rights organisations and political groups that have an effect on Argentinian civil society."
The existence and presence of Palestine and its people must be felt anywhere and everywhere, in all spheres of life: culture, tourism, politics, commerce, academia, sports and diplomacy. The embassy is very aware of this, as Barham told me.
"We raise awareness about what is happening in Palestine on a daily basis, and seek to present as broader more representative image of our land and people. We have many centuries of history, cultural heritage, rich tradition and distinct identity. The presence of Palestine in this kind of event is fundamental to show not only that we still exist and will persevere for our rights, but also that we have plenty to offer, just like any other nation."
Buenos Aires' Festival of Immigrants is an opportunity for all communities to share their historic identity and history across the host nation. That is why it was so important for Palestine to be represented this year.
"We have Palestinian blood, pride and dignity, so we have to work to protect it," concluded Sheryn Barham. "We need to spread our traditions, music, dance, history, culture and national dress despite the negative propaganda against us. We are confident that our participation in this event will open doors to participate in this same event next year and in many similar events in future."
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