Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Does Brazil know how to receive immigrants?

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The following article deals with the topic “Designing Intelligent Labor Migration Policies” which will be discussed at the Global Economic Symposium in Rio this October. The author intends to enrich the discussion at the symposium with her personal stories and ideas.

If you aren’t Brazilian and you come here one day, someone will surely ask you: “What do you think about Brazil? What does your country think about us? Do the people like us?” and other questions along the same lines.

It’s interesting how much we care about others’ opinions. There are articles in newspapers, TV shows and conversations in the street if Brazil is mentioned somewhere. When Barack Obama said that our former president Lula was “the man,” it was carried as a trophy for many weeks.

Why do we care so much? Here’s a short version of many theories about us:

500 years ago, when the Portuguese came, they came to explore the land and take whatever they needed at that time – trees, gold, sugar cane, etc. However, many stayed here for a lifetime, always wanting to go back to Portugal. They lived their entire lives with a simple thought: the best was out there, in Portugal, in France. What was here wasn’t worth it.

This heritage carries over to the 21st century. We grow as a nation, looking for examples from outsiders, feeling that Brazil, Brazilians and everything from here is of lesser value, a product of a third world country.

However, with this heritage, we also learned an interesting way of looking at foreigners: if everything outside Brazil was good, foreigners were even better. And so they came: Spanish, Italians, Japanese, Polish, Germans, Lithuanians, Danish, and so many others. At different times, for different reasons, they came and helped us build this country.

That’s why we love to hear what the world thinks about us. Many people say it’s a “poor man’s syndrome,” always wanting attention. Anyway.

For that and other reasons, we received many people in the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly from Europe and Japan. Their cultures merged with ours, and new generations of Brazilians were born. We don’t have one face; we don’t have one religion; we don’t have just one accent. All of that is because of the immigrants.

Here, I have to say a bit about African people. I’ll write more about them in the next few posts, but their participation in our nation was vital. No country in the world received as many slaves as Brazil. Today, we have the second largest black population in the world, just behind Nigeria, which is actually in Africa.

As with the French, Italians and Spanish, Africans came from outside, spoke another language and had a different culture. So, according to the story I have told, we were supposed to hallow them as we did other foreigners, right?

But we didn’t. And you know this story.

Today, Brazil has a chance finally to build a story of its own. We are once more receiving foreigners. We love to receive them. Apparently, we still maintain an attitude of reverence towards them. Right?

But, guess what: the slavery didn’t end in 1888, as we learned. While we welcome Americans and Europeans, Bolivians and Mozambicans are being arrested before they even step onto Paulista Avenue. They make our clothes and help our cities, but they are treated as slaves — just as African people were treated here before.

Everyone likes to receive the rich uncle in our homes. But when the poor cousin comes for help, it doesn’t go the same way. The Global Economic Symposium will discuss this issue in “Designing Intelligent Labor Migration Policies.” I, as a Brazilian and as a world citizen, am willing to hear what they have to say.

Yesterday, 20th June, was World Refugee Day. For that reason, I’ll leave you with this concluding thought: aren’t we all refugees or descendants of refugees? As the UN says: “The refugees have no choice. You do.” So, what’s your choice today?


Yohana de Andrade Twitter: @RabanadaYohana

Yohana is a Brazilian journalist. Interested in human rights, feminism and anything related to “minorities.” After study globalization issues in Washington, D.C., thanks to a scholarship, Yohana received a degree in Journalism and now is a content producer for internet and new technologies. Her dream would be live in a borderless world.