This part of Brazil grew rich on the coffee boom of the 1800s and now thrives on the sugar cane industry
Apparently it’s used not to sweeten your tea but is converted into ethanol for the power and automotive industries ( if I understand it right)
God there’s a lot of sugar cane here. I’ve been walking through it for three days
More than half the population of Sertaozinho is of Italian descent
I wondered why so many men stand on street corners waving their arms around in conversation
In fact more than 30 million Brazilians have Italian blood in their veins. Many of their ancestors fled their homeland during periods of political and economic instability.
The eventual abolition of slavery – 23 years AFTER the American Civil War if you can credit that – led to a desperate shortage of farmworkers
And what better pool than dirt poor agricultural workers from Italy?
Between 1880 and 1900 more than one million of them sailed to Brazil
Poor Europeans risking life and limb to take tough, poorly paid jobs in a foreign land. Now where have I heard that before?
I can almost hear a 19th century Nigelo Farragio of the Brazilian Independence Party :”send em all back – they’re taking our jobs”
Inevitably most plantation owners treated immigrants little better than the slaves they’d replaced. In fact they were called escravos brancos – white slaves
There were protests and riots and the Italian government eventually made it much harder for people to emigrate by ending state subsidies for emigration. When the supply of cheap Italian Labour dried up , the owners turned to the Spanish, Arabs and finally the Japanese
In 1962 half of the largest firms in Brazil were owned by industrialists of Italian extraction
I’m in Vargem Grande de Sol where they came to work growing coffee and potatoes
I was shown around the museum by a lovely girl called Scarlett ( guess what her mothers favourite film is ?) Her ancestors are Italian.
There was a little room full of poignant reminders of the diaspora from Italy Spain Portugal and the Middle east.
Sepia family photos. Suitcases. And cotton jackets.
All that they brought with them
So picture in your minds eye. What does a typical Brazilian look like?
Cant be done. This is a nation founded on a wave of nations.
And that’s without mentioning the indigenous peoples….
Which I must do