Brazil is a country of continental dimensions. Since its colonization in the 16th century, people from all over the world have arrived throughout Brazilian territory. If one does not focus on one specific immigration phenomenon, it is possible to spend hundreds of pages describing and analysing the arrival of Portuguese people, as well as Dutches, Japaneses, Chineses, Africans, Germans, Italians, Arabians, and others either in Rio Grande do Sul or Rio Grande do Norte.
But it was in the end of the 19th century that the immigration in Sao Paulo changed forever the face of the Brazilian biggest city. The main deal, responsible for having enriched the city, was the coffee production and comercialization. Neverthless, the abolition, in 1888, forced the farmers to look for another kind of cheap labour and the immigrants was the solution. Since their homecountries were passing through a modernization process, these people were losing their lands and, consequently, the place they lived and worked.
These immigrants, mostly Italians, Germans and Japaneses, were the protagonist of a much studied phenomenon in Brazilian history: the transition of slavery to wage labour. As every transitional moment, many difficulties needed to be overcome and, for long, these immigrants were seem and treated, many times, as slaves. In the next decades, immigrants continued to arrive in Sao Paulo, but as the coffee production and comercialization had declined, these people didn’t go to the countryside and remained in the capital.
Therefore, staying together with their compatriots, the immigrants shaped the city’s neighborhoods, accent, eating habits, popular music, etc. Until today, Liberdade is a well-known japanese neighborhood, with tipical food, music and the place where Oriental festivities are celebrated. The same happens in Bixiga, where the factories’ Italian workers lived, turned to be a typically Italian neighborhood. What about the most famous shopping street trading in Sao Paulo? 25 de Março Street became what it is today because of the Arabians, for whom trade has always been an important work activity, settled in the area.
More recently, however, the identity of the new comers has changed, as well as the citiy’s face. Koreans and Chineses are the main traders at 25 de Março. Bolivians and Peruvians are also seeking their room in the centre of the city. Unfortunately, little has changed the relation between immigration and compulsory labour. Not only did the immigrants confront the traces of unfree labour at the coffee plantations, but also today the new comers encounter some kind of slavery. Hidden in small rooms, with little food and water, poor immigrants with no perspective, are required to work (usually at textile factories) several hours a day in order to pay the debts they acquired coming to the new land.