Turn up the samba- we’re off to Brazil!

Senhoras e Senhores! Bem-vindo ao belo Brasil (Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome to beautiful Brazil), home to an estimated 25-36 million Ítalo-brasileiros according to the Italian government.* Today we will begin our journey in search of that Italian-made worldwide human web that I mentioned in my Italians & the Worldwide Human Web blogpost. What better place to begin than this exotic country? Can you hear the samba and bossa nova playing in the background?

Yes? Good, vamos meus irmãos e irmãs (let’s go my brothers and sisters)!

No matter where Italians immigrated to, they went in search of fulfilling their dreams of prosperity and wealth. What better place than South America, the home of the fabled city of gold, El Dorado, to find these things. In the case of Brazil, the allure waxed and waned over the years. In fact, at one time Brazil was a more popular destination for Italian Immigrants than both the United States and Argentina. At the height of Italian immigration to Brazil (1888-1902), 70% of all new arrivals to Brazil came from Italy [1]. What drove such large numbers of Italians to immigrate to Brazil? Land. It also didn’t hurt that the Brazilian state of São Paolo offered free passage for European immigrants (São Paolo is home to the largest population of Brazilians of Italian descent). Why? Brazil was in need of replacing its labor force after slaves were freed. And those willing to take the free passage unfortunately found that coffee farm owners didn’t treat them much better than slaves.

The Italian government was aware of the ill-treatment of its countrymen in their new home. In 1902, in response to scathing consular reports coming out of Brazil, the Italian government enacted the Prinetti Decree. Under the new decree, the subsidization of passage to São Paolo was prohibited and this turned out to be very effective. A year after the decree was enacted Italians only made 16% of the incoming immigrants, putting them behind both Spanish and Portuguese immigrants. Brazil’s status as the hotspot no longer held true and Italians started to immigrate more heavily to the United States and Argentina.

Life in the US was hard for Italian immigrants, as well, and conditions were not much better than those in Brazil. But what about the Italian Argentines? What was it like for those who decided to try their luck in “The Silver One?”  Next stop, Buenos Aires! Vamos!

*The number of Brazilians of Italian descent is widely debated. No surveys exist to support the claim of the Italian government. Demographers estimate that 15-18 million Brazilians are of Italian descent.

Written by OSIA National Office Administrative Assistant, Elisa Wilkinson.


[1] Aliano, David. “Brazil through Italian Eyes: The Debate over Emigration to São Paulo during the 1920s.” Altreitalie (2005): 87-107. Web.

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