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Brazil’s Cheap Labor These Days Comes from Countries Next Door

Bolivians in Pari, São PauloIn the beginning of the 20th century, the neighborhood of Pari, in São Paulo, concentrated Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek populations that immigrated to work in factories – many of them anarchists and socialists that brought to the country the seeds of the first social and labor movements.

Today, Pari is famous for a new wave of immigrants. It hosts the weekly Kantuta square fair, a festival of Bolivian culture that attracts thousands of visitors every Sunday.

For one moment, you might think you were transported to Cochabamba. A few dozen stands sell llama wool shawls, zampoñas (the typical Andean Pan flute), ceramics and typical dishes, such as salteñas and empanadas.

Many Brazilians even try the anticuchos, unaware that they are made with marinated beef heart in a stick. Also, they frequently display folkloric groups in  typical costumes.

Bolivians are among the most numerous recent immigrants – informal statistics indicate that at least 100 thousand live in the city of São Paulo. Part of them are submitted to semi-slave work in illegal sweatshops that provide cheap garments to the local commerce.

Almost half of the recent immigrants to Brazil  –  those who entered the country between 1990 to 2000  –  came from elsewhere in Latin America: 12% from Paraguay, 9%  from Argentina, and 7% from Bolivia. Only 23% came from Europe  and 16% from Asia, mainly Japan.

This new wave of immigration is totally different from the first one, that happened between the abolition of  slavery, in 1888, and the first decades of last century.

In an effort to build a whiter work force, many landowners and, later, industrialists, attracted poor peasants from Italy, Poland, Germany and Japan, among many other countries. Later, in the second half of last century, Brazil attracted a large groups from China and Korea.

The 2000 Census (the latest official statistics) indicated that 56% of the foreigners living in the country were European, 21% were born in Central or South America; and 18% in Asia.

The top countries of origin were Portugal (31%), Japan (10%), Italy (8%), Paraguay (4 %) and Argentina (4%). Now these proportions seem to be shifting thanks to the influx of  Latin Americans.

There are a few explanations for the phenomenon. In the past, Brazil showed little interest for its neighbors, but this is changing and it is progressively becoming a regional leader. Also, it is one of the strongest economies in its hemisphere.

Plus, it is important to remember that it has been granting legal permission to work and easier access to citizens of the other countries of the Mercosur (Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) plus Bolivia and Chile.

This movement seems to happen simultaneously with the reduction of the immigration flux towards the US and Europe, regions that became less attractive due to rigid immigration laws and the world financial crisis.

A recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, based in Washington, showed, for instance, that the number of illegal immigrants trying to enter Europe by boat was reduced in 40% since 2008.

In the US, similar phenomenon: the number of immigrants without papers arrested while trying to cross the Mexican border was reduced in almost 40% between 2007 and 2009.

Brazilian born, French citizen, married to an American, Regina Scharf is the ultimate globetrotter. She graduated in Biology and Journalism from USP (Universidade de São Paulo) and has worked for Folha de S. Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil and Veja magazine as well as Radio France Internationale. Since 2004 she has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the US. She authored or co-authored several books in Portuguese on environmental issues and was honored by the 2002 Reuters-IUCN Press award for Latin America and by the 2004 Prêmio Ethos. You can read more by her at Deep Brazil – www.deepbrazil.com.

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