This oral history exhibit is the second installment in an ongoing effort to document and showcase the experiences, histories, and memories of diverse migrants from Egypt and their descendants. Relying on a list of open-ended interview questions, Diogo Bercito explored the motivations, journey, challenges, and settlement of Armenian, Italian, Jewish, Muslim, and Coptic individuals in Brazil. He sought the perspectives of first-generation immigrants from urban centers across Egypt who migrated in the second half of the 20th century. Interviews range in length, from 20 – 50 minutes, and are presented in the format chosen by the interviewee – video, audio, or textual transcript.
The oral history process, from the interview stage through preservation, use, and access, is guided by respect for narrators and the communities from which they come from. Interviews on display for the exhibit have been modified and edited for clarity and accessibility by Michael Akladios. With the participants’ consent, unedited originals will be preserved at the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections for students and researchers. No copies of the interviews may be made or used in any published form without acknowledgment of the original source.
Special thanks to Diogo Bercito, a doctoral student researching Arab migration to Brazil (1870-1930) at Georgetown University. Before Georgetown, he worked as a journalist in the Middle East and lived in Rabat, Jerusalem, Beirut, and Cairo. His work on the West Bank wall was part of the multimedia project that won the 2018 Rey de España Prize, awarded by the Spanish king to the best journalistic pieces written in Spanish and Portuguese. Diogo joined Egypt Migrations as a summer intern in June 2021 and all interviews were complete by August 2021.
If you would like to participate and be a part of the exhibit, email email@example.com.
© Egypt Migrations, 2021.
63 years old, Proudian was born in Cairo to an Armenian family. An engineer with experience in petroleum exploration, he moved to Brazil in 1988 to work. When he first saw Rio de Janeiro, he thought it looked like Alexandria––but more fun. Decades after settling in Brazil, he speaks of himself as someone who wears three “hats”: Egyptian, Armenian, and Brazilian.
71 years old, Ilana Radetich (sister of Tatjana and Silvana) was born in Alexandria to a family of Italian and Yugoslavians origins. Her mother was Jewish, but Ilana was raised Catholic. She recalls the traumatic journey to Brazil in 1957, wearing all the clothes and jewelry she could “like a Christmas tree,” as her grandmother had instructed. In time, Ilana says, Brazil became her new homeland.
85 years old, Tatjana Sandrault (sister of Silvana and Ilana) was born in Alexandria to a Catholic family. Her family story gives testimony to the diverse communities that lived in Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century—her ancestors were Irish, Italian, and Yugoslavian. The Egypt she describes is one of exceptional opportunities for some until the 1950s, when many Europeans migrated.
90 years old, Sardas was born in Alexandria to a Jewish family. He remembers his childhood as a moment of coexistence between different groups, among them Jews, Muslims, Armenians, and Italians. In 1958, however, life had become unbearable, he says. He migrated to Brazil with his wife. From there, he moved to the United States, where he resides.
71 years old, Soliman was born in Cairo to a Coptic family. He served in the Egyptian army as a brigadier. In 1994, concerned with the rise of violence against Christians, he moved to Los Angeles, California. There, he met his wife, a Brazilian woman, and moved to her country. Soliman found work as a priest at the local Antiochian Church, where he also learned how to paint religious icons.
83 years old, Silvana Tinelli (sister of Tatjana and Ilana) was born in Alexandria to a Catholic family of Italian and Yugoslavian origins. She narrates her migration to Brazil in 1957, when she was 17, as a youthful adventure. When she went back to Alexandria and saw her childhood home, Tinelli thought everything there looked smaller and dirtier when compared to her privileged childhood there and the dimensions of Brazil.
28 years old, Mesbah was born in Mansura to a Muslim family. His parents worked as government employees and owned a farm. Mesbah decided to move to Brazil in 2017 in search of new opportunities. He says he was also looking for a less conservative country. Speaking from the restaurant that he opened in São Paulo, he highlights his passion for Pharaonic history and Egyptian cuisine.
30 years old, he was born in Banha to a Muslim family. He worked as a poet and a journalist in Cairo. He left Egypt in 2014, following his disillusionment with the outcomes of the 2011 protests. In Brazil, he created a company to export coffee and black pepper. Covid, however, hit him hard. Even with his current financial challenges, he says that Brazil is his true home.
69 years old, ElGendy was born in Cairo to a Muslim family. She immigrated to Brazil in 1975 with her husband, an agronomist. At that time, there was high demand for such professionals in Brazil. They lived in the state of Goiás, in the mid-west. Moha narrates her struggle to adapt to a new, less conservative culture—and also her feelings of belonging there.
72 years old, Toueg was born in Cairo to a Jewish family. His family hailed from countries like Libya, Syria, Italy, and Spain. They migrated from Egypt to Brazil in 1958 due to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s policies which targeted the Jewish and other minority communities. Toueg narrates his life in São Paulo, where he joined local youth Zionist movements and found new identities. He never went back to Cairo.