BRAZIL: Italian Immigrants Helped Forge Local Identity in the South

Published on IPS, by Valerie Dee, August 17, 2009.

BENTO GONÇALVES, Brazil, Aug 17 (IPS) – In 1875 a handful of families from the Veneto region of northern Italy, fleeing hardship and hunger, took ship for the Empire of Brazil. Disembarking in Porto Alegre in the southeast, they hacked their way for over 100 kilometres through densely wooded country into the Serra Gaúcha hills, up to 800 metres above sea level.

Land, 25 to 50 hectares per family, was distributed free to these self-reliant pioneers in an area of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul named Dona Isabel, after his daughter, by the emperor Dom Pedro II (1831-1889). This imperial policy, which followed the abolition of slavery in 1871, was aimed at populating the land and making it productive. 

Important changes were under way in the economy of Rio Grande do Sul. Soon, railways connected the countryside to Porto Alegre, the state capital and chief port, and together with the introduction of steam ships, quicker and cheaper transport boosted exports.

The population of the state of Rio Grande do Sul doubled between 1872 and 1890, from 434,813 people to 897,455, according to records at the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). This was partly due to immigration: about 60,000 immigrants, mostly from Italy, settled in the Serra Gaúcha region during this period, and continued to arrive in large numbers in the following decades …

… Local businesses in general have invested liberally in technological modernisation and ongoing professional training for their staff in the last few years. Nearly all of them have implemented total quality management, the ConstruArte article says.

Even in times of economic crisis, Bento Gonçalves is not without resources, as it is home to the largest air-conditioned exhibition and events centre in Latin America, FundaParque Expo, which hosts some of the most important international fairs for wines, furniture and environmental concerns.

“Trade fairs are the best antidote against a crisis. Participating in trade fairs is an obligatory strategy for all companies and professionals interested in enlarging their businesses and keeping up-to-date with the latest market trends,” said Armando Campos Mello, head of the Brazilian Association of Trade Fair Organisers (UBRAFE), in an interview with Brazil Export magazine.

Events held in Bento Gonçalves so far this year have included Fenavinho, a national wine festival, the Feira Internacional de Máquinas, Matérias-Primas e Acessórios para a Indústria Moveleira (FIMMA), an international furniture industry fair, and ExpoBento, a multisectorial exhibition and sale of fashion, food, wine, motorbikes and cars.

In the first week of August, Casa Brasil, a mega exhibition of “Design e Negócios” (Design and Business), filled the five vast pavilions covering 322,000 square metres at the FundaParque exhibition centre with interior design displays featuring new concepts in furniture, lighting and decor, and showcasing projects involving Brazilian and African designers and artisans.

Rio Grande do Sul is the Brazilian state with the fourth highest human development index (HDI), according to the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), after Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santa Catarina. Brazil’s overall HDI ranking places it 70th out of 177 countries worldwide.

Eleventh in size out of the 26 Brazilian states, with a population of 11 million people, Rio Grande do Sul is larger in area than the country of Uruguay, with 3.2 million people, on its southern border.

It has the third largest per capita GNP of Brazilian states, at 13,320 reals (7,260 dollars), after the states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, compared with the average of 8,300 reals (4,520 dollars) for Brazil as a whole, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook.

The state’s exports were worth 17 billion dollars in 2008, up from 13.7 billion dollars in 2007, according to the Brazilian Institute of Applied Economic Research database (IPEADATA).

As for Bento Gonçalves itself, the vineyards, valleys, wooded hills and climate are all attractive to tourists. The custom they bring encourages development of accommodation, entertainment, tourist routes and adventure tourism, which in turn add to the appeal of the city as a conference and exhibit centre. END/2009. (full text).

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