They rescue the history of newspaper founded by one of the first Lebanese to migrate to Mexico

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About to turn 80, on March 11, businessman Alfredo Harp Helú does not want material gifts. To celebrate, his only request has been to receive, perhaps, a letter, words, emotions that touch his heart because, he says, that’s what life is made of.

With that spirit, the historian María Isabel Grañén Porrúa, his wife, prepared a book that brings together the texts published for almost three decades by the newspaper  Al Jawater (Las Ideas),  founded in 1909 by José S. Helú, journalist, poet, grandfather Don Alfredo’s mother and one of the first Lebanese to emigrate to Mexico.

These are stories in which the author shares with readers his feelings, desires  and the tragedy of living with his soul divided between Lebanon and the country that opened him the opportunities that his homeland denied him.

Above all, the work is also testimony that the generosity, humanism and social commitment with which Alfredo Harp Helú conducts himself is a legacy with deep roots.

Al Jawater was published in Mexico City, grandfather Helú ordered Arabic typography from Lebanon, as he made a version in that language and in Spanish. In addition to addressing issues of interest to the Lebanese colony living in the country,  he sent the newspaper to be read in the Arab world, supporting with his voice the critical voices of his compatriots, fulfilling his part in the struggle, and, in case If death surprises him during this, he could leave with his hands full of the fruit of his work. In this way, he served his country and his compatriots selflessly, explains Harp Helú in one of the chapters of his biography  About Him Living and Dying Playing Baseball.

In an interview with  La Jornada,  María Isabel Grañén details that during the pandemic she took on the task of sending the Arabic texts to Lebanon so that a friend could help her translate them into Spanish. Every week she received a new story, each time more fun. Grandfather Helú always lived with the longing to return to his country, but he never returned. He arrived in Mexico in 1898 with his wife Wadiha Atta, as a honeymoon trip, and they stayed there.

As a good researcher, she investigated the journalist’s ancestors, a route that led her to ancestors who lived in the year 1600. She also tracked down the missing issues of the newspaper in universities that work in Arabic studies and in the National Library of Beirut, with few results.

One day, after she had finished the first draft of the book, she found hidden in her husband’s library a volume without a title or any sign. There were 10 issues of the 20 that were missing from  Al Jawater. They were neither more nor less than the copies that narrate Grandpa Helú’s tour through Oaxaca, “with photos of him and another of Alfredo’s grandfathers, Bejos Harb (the letter p does not exist in the Arabic language, the surname was adopted upon his arrival in Mexico), in the Tule tree, in Mitla, photos of their offices with the printing press in the back and the boxes with the types.

Grandfather sent me that and a thousand other things, for example, a story where Don José tells that as a child he accompanied his father to tour the towns in Lebanon in a very beautiful area called the Valley of the Saints. The surprising thing is that they are the same towns that Alfredo is now helping to reforest with cedars. It’s like an epiphany that happens a hundred years later.

Gift for the Lebanese community

Upon hearing all these stories, María Isabel continues, that her daughter Mira wanted to know about her great-grandmother’s stories,  but we have to look for her in silence, where she is not named, in discretion. It is very nice as a historian to put together those threads. Then, Mira proposed that we write a story about great-grandmother and her powers, but that she be close to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Those are the two books that we are going to give to Alfredo.

These are publications that are also a gift for scholars of immigration issues and for the Mexican-Lebanese community because one of them tells the background of when they arrived in the capital and the Lebanese Club was founded.

Grandfather José Helú said “that the years pass like the pages of a book, and that a new year emerges with its white pages to record within them our immortal or trivial deeds. He said that ‘the age of man is getting shorter’, and he wondered how to fill the rest of the pages of our books. He wanted to ink them with glorious works, those that have good intentions and seek the common good. With his voice modulated with an Arabic accent, grandfather advised: ‘Do not darken the pages of your life, do something for the society around you’, and he wanted each of us to write a beautiful line that would make us feel satisfied for having fulfilled our duty towards ourselves and towards humanity,” María Isabel recalled in the 2021 special issue of the digital newsletter of the Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca Foundation, with which the 20 years of work of that entity were celebrated.

Words that are now shared to reflect on journalism, museums, libraries, and cultural centers, as well as hope and love for our different homelands, concluded the historian.

The books  The Sweet Ink by Al-Jawater / The Ideas: The Helú Atra Family, Lebanese from Mexico,  by Grañén Porrúa, and  The Powers of My Great-Grandparents,  by Mira Harp Grañén, written together with her mother, with illustrations by Fernanda Narchi Harp, will be presented this March 12 at the Centro Libanés, Baalbek room, (Hermes 67, Crédito Constructor neighborhood) at 6:30 p.m.; on March 14 at the Lebanese Center in Puebla at 6:30 p.m., and on the 16th of the same month at 7 p.m. at the San Pablo Cultural Center, in Oaxaca. For more information, call 55-7095-5534.