We are few, it is true. Lebanese descendants in Chile might not exceed 20 thousand, a small number when compared with neighboring countries such as Brazil. Nevertheless, our existence is more than a mere number. It’s about quality and value; the Youth of Lebanese Origins of Chile, “JOL Chile”, represents the hope for the continuity of Lebanon in our country.
I grew up on my mother’s stories of a “Lebanese Youth”, stories of the 70’s. Her friends today are the same as they were then and I consider them my uncles and aunts; their sons and daughters are my own friends nowadays. In this new group of youth, who since 2006 bears the name of “JOL Chile”: the Youth of Lebanese Origins of Chile.
As in all countries with a Lebanese diaspora, our community includes prominent personalities from politics and business life of Chile such as Carlos Massad, former Minister of Health and former President of the Central Bank.
Massad was assigned six years ago as the Honorary President of the Lebanese Community in our country. “This role requires recognizing Lebanon and uniting the Lebanese groups in Chile, all for the love of our motherland,” Massad reveals. However, it is crucial to emphasize the work of an entire community that, like true soldiers of a cause called “Lebanon”, has been formed to keep the Lebanese identity alive, while being aware that this “existence” could be endangered by the mere fact that Lebanon is a country with a great number of emigrants. Historically, the first veterans on the Chilean territory who fought to preserve the Lebanese identity were youth groups, organized under the umbrella of the “Círculo Libanés”.
In the capital, Santiago, JOL gathers every week in the social club, “Círculo Libanés”, founded in 1943, the year Lebanon proclaimed independence. Since the 70s, the youth have had the mission of uniting, spreading the culture, and reconciling Chileans of Lebanese descendants, always counting on the support of its Board of Directors and the Lebanese Ladies Association and under the umbrella of the “World Lebanese Cultural Union”, the WLCU. To achieve the goal of protecting our heritage, they give lectures, screen films or engage in social, charitable, and cultural activities.
The current President of JOL, Vanessa Butron Mujaes, believes that young people are always facing new challenges, depending on the generations. Despite this, what remains is preventing the Lebanese identity from disappearing and working as one real family.
Rafael Rosell Aiquel, President of the “Círculo Libanés” and of the World Council for Youth of the WLCU between 1988 and 1990, says:
“Youths generate a different perspective, often with greater passion for their origins. Energy and strength are the boost they use to prevent Lebanon from being dissolved in the Chilean territory.” A reflection of this strength is the work that we carried out silently with JOL to conquer youths from all regions of the Chilean territory, convincing them to join last year’s big cruise: #LEBolution2015.
This was a 10-day trip to Lebanon, which I had the honor to organize, being president of the World Youth for Council of WLCU for 2014-2016. Almost 200 young people from 20 countries worldwide participated in this trip not only focusing on tourism but also on other cultural activities, such as the “Day for Peace” in Tripoli.
To the surprise of our community in Chile, 38 young people of Lebanese origins coming from diverse corners of our country participated in the memorable trip, forming the second largest group after the Mexican delegation, which consisted of 40 young people.
Today, a year after this great success our community has witnessed, we are aware that we have a great mission ahead in organizing youth groups in all cities of Chile, encouraging them to raise the Lebanese flag and ensure the continuity of our identity.