April is National Arab American Heritage Month and though it’s not often talked about, there are literally millions of Arab Latinos in Latin America. In fact, Latin America has the largest number of Arabs outside of the Middle East, with anywhere between 17 to 30 million people. Some Latin American presidents have been of Arab descent including Julio Cesar Turbay Ayallah (Colombia), Carlos Menem (Argentina), Antonio Saca (El Salvador), Jacobo Majluta Azar (Dominican Republic), and Abdala Bucaram and Jamil Mahuad (Ecuador).
Arab migration to Latin America began in the last decades of the 19th century until about the 1950s with most immigrants coming from Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. According to estimates by Arab America, Brazil has the largest population of Arabs with about 9-12 million, Argentina comes in second with about 4.5 million, followed by Venezuela with about 1.6 million. Some of the most famous Arab Latinas are Shakira and Salma Hayek but there may be others you’re not aware of so read on to learn more about these 25 famous Arab Latinxs.
Salma Hayek was born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico and her father Sami Hayek Domínguez, is a Lebanese Mexican with roots in Baabdat, Lebanon. She’s a global star now but early on in her career, she was the protagonist in 1989’s Teresa, her first and only telenovela starring role. She’s famous for her work in movies including Desperado, From Dusk to Dawn, and Frida, for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.
Puerto Rican and Kuwaiti model Denise Bidot made history in 2014 when she became the first plus-size model to walk for two straight-size brands at NYFW. In addition to this, Bidot has modeled for several brands, including Levi’s, Nordstrom, Forever 21, Chromat, Macy’s, and Old Navy.
Cuban producer, musician, and actor Emilio Estefan is another Latinx with Lebanese heritage. The 19-time Grammy winner and husband to Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan is Lebanese on his father’s side. His father Emilio Estefan Sr. was born in Cuba to Lebanese parents while his mother was born in Cuba to parents who had immigrated from Spain.
Shakira has made it very well known that she is not only Colombian but also Lebanese. The superstar singer-songwriter, whose last name is Mebarak has sung in Arabic (in “Ojos Asi”), and belly dances in videos and during performances, proud of her Middle Eastern culture. Belly dancing has become her signature dance move. a dance style that is said to have originated in Egypt in the 18th century and is popular throughout the Middle East.
Jaime Camil is the son of Jaime Camil Garza, a Mexican businessman with Egyptian roots, and Cecilia Saldanha da Gama, a Brazilian singer. The actor gained acclaim and popularity with his role as Rogelio de la Vega on Jane the Virgin. He also starred in the novela La fea más bella and has voiced Julio on Elena of Avalor which features Disney’s first Latina princess.
One of the richest men in the world is an Arab-Latino. In fact, businessman, investor, and philanthropist Mexican-Lebanese Carlos Slim Helú’s net worth is reportedly $43.6 billion, making him the richest man in Mexico, according to Business Insider. The billionaire controls America Movil, the largest mobile phone operator in Latin America, and yet is considered to live frugally having been in the same house for decades.
Emeraude Toubia’s paternal grandparents were from the Koura District, Lebanon, and she was born in Montreal, Quebec. The actress is married to Prince Royce and portrayed Isabelle Lightwood on Shadowhunters from 2016 through 2019.
You may know John Leguizamo for being a Colombian-Puerto Rican actor, comedian, playwright, screenwriter, and producer. But did you know that the man behind Latin History for Morons is also Lebanese? He gets his Arab heritage from his maternal grandmother.
Actor Demian Bichir was born in Torreón, Mexico and has Lebanese roots on his dad’s side. He earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in A Better Life and he is an American Civil Liberties Union Ambassador for Immigration Rights.
Former Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s wife Juliana Awada was First Lady from 2015 – 2019 and she’s the daughter of a Lebanese Muslim immigrant father and a mother of Syrian descent. The 47-year-old was born in Argentina and is the first First Lady of Argentina to receive the distinction of the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic in 70 years and the second in history after Eva Perón in 1947.
Lebanese-Colombian Majida Issa is an actress and singer probably best known for playing the villain Yesica Beltran in the novela, Sin senos si hay paraiso.
Did you know that Brazilian race car driver Felipe Nasr is Lebanese? The winner of the 2019 12 Hours of Sebring, and the ISMA Sportscar Champion’s grandfather emigrated to Brazil in the 1960s.
Raduan Nassar is a writer from Brazil who was born in Lebanon and moved to Brazil with his parents as a teenager. Nassar is known for his works Um Copo de Cólera, Lavoura Arcaica, and Menina a Caminho.
Lebanese-Mexican actress Edy Ganem is best known for her role as Valentina Diaz, playing daughter to Judy Reyes’ Zoila Diaz on the show Devious Maids. Both of Edy’s parents are of Mexican and Lebanese descent.
If you ever watched the TV Spanish course Destinos, then you’ll recognize Lebanese-Mexican actress and screenwriter Liliana Abud. She played main character Raquel Rodriguez, as well as appearing in numerous Mexican novelas and films.
Juliana Paes is an actress and former model of African, Arab, Indigenous Brazilian, Portuguese, and Spanish descent. She has won awards for her roles in A Força do Querer, The Farewell, and Caminho das Índias.
Yamila Diaz-Rahi is a Lebanese-Argentinian model who has appeared in Sports Illustrated a whopping 11 times. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and became the first Latin spokesmodel in CoverGirl history.
Zoe Saldana has made her mark in Hollywood, starring in three of the five films that have grossed over $2 billion: Avatar, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. You may know that Saldana is Afro-Dominican-Puerto Rican, but did you know that the actress is also of Lebanese descent? Her mother, Asalia Nazario, is Puerto Rican with some Lebanese ancestry.
Rafael Leitão is a Grandmaster in chess, in correspondence chess, and over-the-board chess. The Arab-Brazilian is also a seven-time champion in his native Brazil.
Bárbara de Regil
Lebanese-Mexican actress Barbara de Regil is known for her debut role in the novela Bajo el alma. You may also know her as Rosario in the Mexican version of the Colombian novela, Rosario Tijeras.
Rosemary Barkett is the Mexican-born daughter of Syrian parents and she made history as the first woman, Arab American, and Hispanic judge (of Syrian descent) on the Florida Supreme Court.
Darío Yazbek Bernal
You may recognize actor Darío Yazbek Bernal from his role on the show The House of Flowers. The brother of Gael Garcia Bernal and son of cinematographer and director Sergio Yazbek is Lebanese-Mexican.
Susana Harp is a singer of traditional Mexican music, who also serves as a senator, representing Oaxaca in the LXIV Legislature of the Mexican Congress. Harp was born in Oaxaca, as was her mother while her father is Lebanese.
Carlos Salim Balaá was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina (with an Uruguayan grandmother), he is known for his weekly children’s TV show, tours, and films. Balá’s father, Mustafá, was a butcher from Beirut, Lebanon.
Another Arab-Latinx model to grace the pages of Sports Illustrated is Daniella Sarahyba. The Lebanese-Brazilian (Lebanese on her mother’s side) appeared in every issue from 2005 to 2010 and has also modeled for brands including Victoria’s Secret, Versace, and GAP.