Biggest house in the village – when immigrants make good

Posted by dianamuir on November 08, 2012
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The dream of many, perhaps most, immigrants to the United States and other wealthy countries has long been to get rich, return home and build the biggest house in the village.

Tahar ben Jalloun’s novel “A Palace in the Old Village” is a poignant reflection on the pain of immigration shown in the story of an immigrant who returned home to the old village and built a palace, only to discover that his children and grandchildren would not join him in it; they preferred to stay in France.

Here are some of the  houses built by immigrants who made it, and showed it off by building the biggest house in the old village.

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Emily Wither photo

This  house was under construction in July 2012 in Betar/Batir, a farming  village  on the ancient road from Jerusalem to the coast.  It is being built by a Palestinian Arab who earned the funds ot build it as an immigrant to the Unites States.  It is part of a dramatic building boom  in Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories, a kind of competition among emigres who have built comfortable lives in the West,  “And every one of them wants to build a house that’s better than the next,” back in the old village.


The Chinese, of course, do things like this on a grand scale.



This house, known as the Ruishi Lou  was built in 1923  by a villager named Huang Bixiu whom made good in Hong Kong.  It is 28 meters tall and yet it is less astonishing than the fact that it is embedded in a landscape of similar houses  that sprawls across Guangdong Province in south China.

Hundreds of these tower houses were  built to show off the wealth of sons of the village who had immigrated not only to Hong Kong, but to North and South America and made good.   Some are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, some are inhabited by distant relatives of the builders, some have crumbled into ruins.  It is not clear that any became the permanent homes of the children and grandchildren of the emigrants who built them.  The descendants of those men and women appear to be living in the far away countries where the money was made.


Jaripo is a village in the Mexican state of  Michoacan.   The youth of Jaripo began heading north to work in the fields of California, by the 1960’s the river had become a flood, and by the 1980’s they were bring home enough money on their annual visits to renovate and paint the modest adobe houses they had grown up in.  The story of the town and its emigrants is told in Sam Quinones book Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.    But also in this  Youtube love song to the village, showing the beautifully renovated church, plaza and houses paid for by children who grew up and moved away.

The building boom is over now, fewer emigrants return for Christmas, and only a handful returned to live out their retirement years in the houses they renovated, proving that it is easier to dream of going home, than it is to leave your American children and grandchildren and go back to the old country.



Two granddaughters of Jaripo, home for the holidays.


The Philippines sends  huge numbers of workers around the globe  as  guest workers or immigrants.    Mabini Batangas is known locally as “Little Italy” because  “Large stone houses — often with brand-new vehicles in their driveways — cover the district, even though the narrow streets can barely accommodate more than one car at a time.”  They are paid for with money earned working in Italy.

Houses in Mabini Batangas, Philippines.

Dreams of immigrants…

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Posted by dianamuir on June 29, 2012
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An interesting contest is being waged over a Judean hilltop known as Betar or Battir.


This hilltop village with a  system of stone-walled hillside terraces has been nominated by the Palestinian Authority for recognition as a World Heritage Site, and has won the Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes, awarded by UNESCO.

Is the Mercouri prize political?   Well, this is a biennial  prize, first awarded in 1999  to  Elishia’s Spring, Jericho, Palestine ; the 2011 award to Battir, Palestine marks the first time the prize has been given twice to a the same country.

The World Heritage site nomination  caught the attention of a number of  commentators since the village is best known under the older, Hebrew version of the name: Betar.    Betar was the military headquarters of the Bar Kochba Revolt, a Jewish revolt against Roman rule in 135 CE, and it was that revolt’s last stronghold.  When Betar fell, the defenders and their leader, Shimon Bar Kochba, were  killed.   The event is commemorated by the villagers who call the ancient defensive tower “Khirbet el-Yahud”, “the Jewish ruin”.

Amusingly, UNESCO does not mention this historical significance in the Mercouri prize citation, although it is more than slightly relevant to the landscape being honored.     The village dated back to the Iron Age, the archaeological discovery of a “Lmlk” seal impression establishes that it was part of the Judean kingdom in the eighth century BCE, and the stone terraces may predate the Arab conquest.     Bar Kochba apparently chose the small, hilltop farming village because it has a constant spring of water and was on a defensible hill beside the Jerusalem-Gaza road.  The site was abandoned after the battle.    The archaeological survey done in 1993 by David Ussishkin (D. Ussishkin, “Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba’s Last Stronghold”, Tel Aviv 20, 1993, pp. 66-97) reports that the the Jewish liberation fighters hastily threw up crude stone fortification walls, incorporating parts of the walls and buildings of the Jewish village.

In effect if not in intent, UNESCO has awarded the Mercouri prize to a set of retaining walls at least the upper tier of which belonged to an ancient Jewish village.

The Jewish claim to the land is that Jews are the original people of the land, as attested by the ancient Jewish kingdoms.

The Arab claim to the land is that they are the indigenous people of the land, as attested by farming villages like this one.   It is not an unreasonable claim, but perhaps nominating an ancient Jewish village for UNESCO World heritage Status is not the most effective way to make it.



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