A century after the exodus of Christians from Iraq to Mexico
Between the end of the 19th century and the first 30 years of the 20th century, nearly 200 Iraqi Christians of the Chaldean rite migrated from Telqef and Mosul, in Iraq, to Mexico, fleeing wars, extremism and poverty.
They understood that Mexico was the country that welcomed migrants from the Middle East and allowed them to form families with the inhabitants of this nation.
In interview with Excelsiorthe radiologist and writer Ulises Casab Rueda, author of the book Iraqi Christians in Mexicodescribes what this migration was like, and how they settled mainly on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Oaxaca.
“Jajju Hajji is the first Iraqi at this time to arrive in Ixtepec, Oaxaca, so this man sends a letter and returns to Iraq and dazzles many, most of them young people and they come to Mexico in 1914,” he said.
“Among the young Iraqis who arrived in Mexico was my father, Tobías Casab Odish; he was 14 years old. My father works, he marries my mother, Julia Rueda, a green-eyed Zapotec woman of Spanish heritage, and they have her children,” he recalled.
On his first trip to Mexico, Tobías Casab makes his fortune and returns to Iraq for a period of three years and eleven months, and in that Arab country, Ulises Casab was born.
Iraq obtained independence in 1930, but, in 1936, prior to the Second World War and with the emergence of guerrillas, Mr. Casab Odish decided to return to Mexico for the second time together with his wife, and his first children, among them Ulises, who was just one year two months old.
Ulises Casab related that when he was a baby, his father living near Baghdad, he decided to travel again to Mexico, a trip that would have no return.
“In Iraq, my father owned the only wheat mill in his town, a poor town, he gathered all his children and my mother and returned to Mexico, again to the same place where he had made his fortune, Ixtepec.” , the historian told this newspaper.
“Of my brothers, the first were born in Mexico, another was born in Iraq, and died, and then I was born, and the other four, back in Mexico again,” explained Casab, former president of the National Academy of History and Geography.
In Mexico, surnames like Casab, Manzur, Kuri, Salim, Hakim, Murat, Davish, Odish, Habib, Abud and Hedo, among others, come from those Iraqi Christian migrants, who decided to become Mexicans.
“I carry my boundless admiration towards the first Chaldean and Assyrian Iraqi emigrants, who gave us life, homeland and a better future, by mixing and integrating completely and deeply into the daily life (of Mexico). This blessed country became our home.
“The other endearing half, equal in everything, lives within us, to forge a group of Mexicans descended from Iraqis, who joined with all the strength of their soul and heart, to the great multiethnic, cultural and religious mosaic that makes up our beloved Mexico,” wrote Ulises Casab in his book.
THE ROAD FROM IRAQ TO MEXICO
According to biblical stories, and Semitic and Chaldean tradition, the prophet Abraham was originally from Ur, in Chaldea, a region of Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq. The evangelization of this area began in the 1st century AD.
One of the most important Christian communities, today known under the name of the Chaldean Church, was founded by Saint Thomas around the year 90, subsequently constituting a religious community, recognized by the Catholic Church today as part of the churches of the East.
Wars, Muslim fundamentalism and economic crises have led hundreds of thousands of Christian Iraqis to leave their country in the last hundred years, and a group of them, from Telqef and Mosul, chose Mexico to start a new life.
“My father, Tobias Casab, left Telqef shortly after turning 12 years and a few months old, it was 1909 and he went first to Mosul, a city with a strong and influential Kurdish population, coexisting with other communities and beliefs.
“From Mosul they went to Baghdad, with other migrants, going in a caravan along the river route and then crossing the great Syrian desert, until entering the most beautiful and arabesque Damascus, which is at the crossroads of all the roads in the world,” he said. Ulysses Casab.
Subsequently, these migrants would arrive in Lebanon to travel by boat to Marseille, in France, and from there again by boat they would cross the Strait of Gibraltar, sail across the Atlantic, to finally arrive, some to New York and others to Veracruz.
The writer Ulises Casab, who is now 88 years old, recorded the stories of his father, Tobías, in 1964 with a Japanese Matsuchita Panasonic recorder and it was he who gave details of his trip to Mexico with his family.
“Many worked as porters or porters, to complete the cost of the trip to America or to pay for disembarkation ashore. The maritime section to New York was an obligatory passage for almost all emigrants, because there were no ocean liners that arrived directly to Veracruz,” says Casab, according to the stories of his father.
JUCHITAN, THE PROMISED LAND
In 1932 there were about 25 Chaldean Catholic families in the district of Juchitán, Oaxaca, most of them originally from Telqef, and another group, one of the first to arrive from Iraq, had left for Detroit, United States.
Mostly dedicated to commerce, the Iraqi-Mexicans in Ixtepec, in the Juchitán region, not only learned Spanish, but also Zapotec, a language widely used in the region.
“Zaca' gule ne riniisi sicari", this phrase in Istmeño Zapotec means: this is how I was born and this is how I grew up and refers to Ixtepec," says Ulises Casab, remembering that his father, Tobías, learned from a young age different phrases in the native languages of the region to trade with the locals. .
Casab Rueda tells in his book Iraqi Christians in Mexicohow integration took place between the children of migrants from the Middle East and the local population, and how the post-revolutionary regime and liberal thought contributed to it.
“Coexistence in public elementary schools, whose instructors propagated liberal ideas to students in order to fend for themselves, quickened their understanding.
“And that was the most important factor for the children of the Chaldeans and Assyrians to leave their father's shelter, seeking a certain independence,” he said.
“School socio-ethnic integration came to fruition when groups of mischief, work, play and study were formed with the natives, and as we grew older in size and years, we found ourselves founding modest clubs or semi-hidden pseudo-brotherhoods to snack, sing and dance,” he noted.
Currently, the population of Iraqi origin in Mexico has been diluted in the miscegenation that began a hundred years ago, but some of their descendants, like Ulises Casab Rueda, tell stories that, with pride, make them remember their origin.
“There may be more than a thousand people with Iraqi blood in Mexico, but these few descendants have tried to contribute in our area to national development. We have participated as what we are: Mexicans in various international forums, representing our country.
“Lately, we have established ourselves as a Mexican-Iraqi Cultural Association, with the purpose of preserving the wonderful and beautiful legacy of our Chaldean fathers and, as far as possible, amalgamating it with our rich and beautiful Mexican heritage,” noted historian Casab Rueda.
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