Filmmaker: Hernan Belon

Graciela is a 37-year-old Argentinian woman of Lebanese descent living in Buenos Aires. Before her great-aunt died, she told Graciela a family secret.

"Her father [Mohammed], Lebanese by birth, did not die in Argentina. He left his family and returned to Lebanon. Angry at his departure, his wife and children cut off communication with him," Graciela explains.

Arabs are jealous; they love their land, their origins, they love their birthplace. They may go far away and pretend to forget, but they never forget.

Adnan, Arabic language translator in Argentina

One of the last things they heard of Mohammed is that he married again and might have had more children in Lebanon.

"My great-aunt gave me a box with letters and photos that she had kept .... Some had never been read. Somebody once said that a letter always arrives at its destination," Graciela says.

"When I saw the letters, I felt they had been left as a legacy. And I wanted to know more about my family history. Who was Mohammed? Why did he come to live in Argentina? Why did he return to Lebanon? Are there any relatives of mine on the other side of the world?"

Graciela decided to look further into Mohammed's life and started to retrace his story - from his initial arrival in Buenos Aires and his life in Argentina as an immigrant, to his return to Lebanon.

"I discovered Arab immigrants to Argentina were not as welcome as Europeans. Arab immigration was large, but discreet, because it has always faced intolerance and discrimination," she says.

In search of Mohammed's Lebanese family and in order to learn details of Mohammed's life and her own roots, she travels to Lebanon to trace the threads of a personal story that unfolds as she delves deeper into her family's past and a different culture.

And finally, after 50 years of separation, she is the catalyst for two families from two different worlds to reunite.


By Graciela Spinelli 

After the process of shooting 'Beirut Buenos Aires Beirut', I felt like there was a revolution inside me. I felt that something very important had taken place in my life, and this was directly related to my identity, my essence.

The unique sensation of recognising myself in the eyes of others was like finding a treasure. The 'other',  the cultural 'other', the distant 'other', the 'other' family. All of that had become a part of me. After this experience, I had the same body but a bigger spirit and a wider soul. 

This tremendous force that I felt inside me after the film was as intense as the hapiness and emotion I saw in my grandamother Leonor when I was back in Buenos Aires. 

When I showed Leonor pictures of her father Mohammed's homeland, she cried and smiled at the same time, in a dual feeling of forgiveness and tenderness. I felt I was giving something back to her: the possibility of closing a cycle - something that had remained opened since he left Argentina.

Since I came back from Lebanon, Leonor prays every day to say "Thanks be to God" for having given me, her grandaughter, the opportunity to visit her father's family and homeland. She prays using both the Quran and the Bible. 

Graciela, her grandmother Leonor and her son, Francisco; three generations of Mohammed's family in Buenos Aires [Al Jazeera]

For me, it was very important that the people in Kafr Kila, especially my family there, could see the film finished. This happened one year after we finished the film, when I was invited to participate at a film festival that took place in Beirut.

The day of the screening in Kafr Kila, I felt that I had come full circle. It was very important to screen the film there, and although they don't have a cinema, they improvised to make the viewing possible. All the townspeople were invited to watch it.

The evening was absolutely unforgettable. They could see their own faces on a  big screen, telling this family story. 

We were also aware of the fact that, for the first time in many years, a video camera was there not to document the war but to help construct a family's story. We were shining a light on  human values such as respecting our ancestors, important stories of migrants or refugees far from their homes and the final message: that we are all human beings and we all suffer or rejoice, independently of our origins. 

When we talk through our hearts, we all speak the same language. 

Graciela's 'new' cousin Abu Ali Chit and his family at the screening of her film in Beirut [Al Jazeera]

Since the film was screened, many people have told me that this is the story of their own families with their own secrets, regrets or hardships related to migration. I am also writing a fiction script that talks about immigration from the Arab world to Argentina.

As for me, I have a bigger family now, and thanks to the internet, Whatsapp, Facebook and so on, we keep in touch and are always planning our next meeting. The next trip to Beirut, or in their case, the next trip to Buenos Aires. As a matter of fact, my 'new' cousin Abu Ali Chit who I met in Kafr Kila has already visited us in Argentina. Abu Ali is Habib's son - in the film, I have a letter written by Habib's mother which I presented him with. 

I am looking forward to going back to Lebanon as soon as I can. I miss them and I miss Lebanon. 

Source: Al Jazeera