The myth of Brazil welcoming immigrants

Image: Alexandar Pasaric


The Moïse case demystifies the ideological commonplace

The myth of Brazil welcoming immigrants is embedded in the myth of racial democracy. Myths are intrinsically linked, they mix and are difficult to separate. Brazil is welcoming to all immigrants, as long as they are white or can pass for white, in the process of whitening.

With regard to racial immigration legislation, Brazil has always been at the forefront and protagonist – as it was in the trafficking of enslaved Africans and in the prohibition of marijuana, the “fumo de Angola”. While the US passed its racial immigration legislation only in 1924 (Immigration Act), Brazil promoted its own in 1890, the same year in which the Criminal Code was enacted, which considered candomblé to be “vagabonds and capoeiras” necessarily criminal and reduced the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 09 years. The laws were approved on the spur of the moment two years after the abolition and one year before the Constitution, which reveals the sense of urgency of the coffee growers, intellectuals and politicians, since what the political and legal histories of Brazil prove is that the urgency and the attention of the ruling class is always turned to the Penal Code and the Civil Code, never to the Constitution.

From 1893, there was a great expansion of the Agricultural Colonies to imprison blacks. Imprisoned, they were compelled to work or, when released, to offer to work in any service – a re-enslavement similar to the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished forced labor, “save as punishment for a crime of which the defendant has been duly convicted. ”. This item was instituted in the Sexagenarian Law and in the Womb-Free Law. It was a construction of approximately 20 years, which followed all the notorious abolitionist laws.

Decree no. 528, of June 28, 1890, considered “free entry” for “individuals who are valid and able to work”, with the exception of “indigenous people from Asia or Africa”. Indigenous means natives, or blacks and yellows. The Asians would receive an exception, the Japanese, who would enjoy good appreciation after the victory against the Russians in 1905 at the same time that the crisis in Italian immigration caused a deficit. The Japanese were considered closer to whites, and should be prioritized over the black national worker, who would need to disappear through death and whitening.

They preferred the Japanese after the “realization” that they would be superior, revealed with the victory in the Russo-Japanese War and Japonism, a movement that stereotyped Japanese culture in the European continent in a stereotyped way while negatively Chinese culture. Soon, Japanese immigration was added to the “realization” of Chinese inferiority (sinophobia now embraced by the Bolsonaro government and the extreme right, including liberals in their ideological war against communism), which would be “mongolized”, as he recalled in the previous century Joaquim Nabuco in his defense of the urgency of European immigration in the face of the “blackening” of the Brazilian population in the post-abolition period.

In 1895, São Paulo approved Law n. 356, which allowed immigration from all over Europe, with a predilection for Scandinavians and Nordics, Puerto Rico and the Canary Islands, islands belonging to Spain. As Rogério Dezem remembers in Shades of “yellow”: the genesis of discourses about orientals in Brazil (1878-1908), anyone was allowed as long as they were “all of the white race”. The yellow ones were preferred so as not to “blacken” the population of São Paulo. Alfredo Elis Júnior, a great representative of São Paulo interests, student of Afonso Taunay and author of a large collection on the bandeirante legacy, another myth related to the myths described in the first paragraph, defended in plenary session in 1935 that “the northeastern has black blood, and they have an osteological conformation different from ours, showing in their flat and wide skulls, in their cigar color the great influence of the Indian”.

Thus, “Northeasterners have no other racial stock, they do not settle down, they are mobile. Fortunately, our racial system is free from the influence of these people. Japanese is incalculably better for us and for our social body, as there are more affinities between us and the Japanese than between us and the northeastern people”. The “we” are white people. That's why a northeastern person in São Paulo is more foreign than a white immigrant, as he is seen as a black person in the southeastern racialization. It is preferable in the expanded center of São Paulo to have a person of Japanese descent nearby, transformed into the ideal non-white immigrant, stereotyping him with a huge dose of academic and labor asceticism, than a Northeasterner, transformed into the ideal type of non-work and sloppiness , very close to the “black service”.

All immigration obeyed three precepts: (1) Europeans and whites; (2) the impossibility of Europeans, immigrants who would pass for whites, such as Lebanese and Syrians, as long as they were Christians; (3) in the impossibility of Europeans, Japanese, who would be the “race” closest to whites, holders of a great Empire, until then the object of the so-called white civilizations, as defended by Nina Rodrigues about ancient Egypt, in which she tried to show that even on the African continent the white would have been responsible for the supposedly only continental Empire. European and white immigrants who arrived received considerable structure, gaining space in the dispute over capital and work.

For example, in the state of São Paulo, they received financial assistance according to the Regulation for the Immigration Service of the Province of São Paulo: “Art. 1st – Spontaneous immigrants, constituting a family, destined solely to work in agriculture, having entered the Provincial Hostel on May 8th of the last year onwards, will receive provincial assistance in the following proportion: For older people – 70$000; for 7 to 12 years – 35$000; hair from 3 to 7 years -17$500”.

The white-immigrant scholarship was one of the distinctive structures created by the Brazilian ruling class over the working class, especially in São Paulo. Add to that specific agrarian reforms, delivery of popular housing and quotas for work, in which whites employed whites and European immigrants employed European immigrants, such as Matarazzo industries. The idea that contemporary racism would only be the result of the non-inclusion of black people after abolition is another comforting myth for the Brazilian economic elite and the descendants of immigrants, who paint the first family members as suffering and deserving of what they have conquered, unlike the black, inept people who, in practice, were being imprisoned, segregated and killed.

The myth of meritocracy serves to erase this past, in which great-grandparents, grandparents and parents (depending on the age of the heir) acted, often violently, to maintain control over the social and economic devices of class reproduction - racism it is not self-applied, contrary to the indications of the mistaken use of the concept of structural racism, widely used as if it were a cognitive-cultural structure that would revolve with education. In this simple way, former slaves become entrepreneurs and European immigrants become true winners. On the other hand, there would have been no segregationist policies, just a residue of slavery due to the non-“inclusion” of blacks, who simply and only “would have been forgotten by the State” – which would be a given if it were true, since forgetting is an act. Everything and everyone would boil down to a problem of “social inclusion”. The new motto of large “inclusive” financial conglomerates.

If blacks could not study in gymnasiums and schools, if they could not enter commerce, if they did not have access to industry, if they could not even enter squares and public places in the interior of São Paulo (a fact abundantly documented in historiography), if they could not associate and enter clubs, if they could not dedicate themselves to specialized work, if they were expelled from their places of residence, as in Leblon, Bexiga and Liberdade, what should this system be called? Segregation. However, for the intelligentsia of a middle class fearful of the political results, all data and evidence should be deposited in the precept according to which blacks would have been boçalized by slavery and white immigrants would have come to Brazil because they would be able to work in industry, despite the abundant data of the industries of 1880 with enslaved and freed blacks and the use of enslaved people in any and all types of work, such as metallurgy and goldsmiths.

Slaveholders had a horror of any and all manual work. This myth justifies and naturalizes European immigration, including on the left, as if illiterate immigrants in their mother tongue and in Portuguese, expelled by poverty and war, and who had never seen industrial machinery ahead of them, were necessarily fit and ready for industrial work. . This myth assumes that work precedes capital, which goes against the primitive accumulation described by Marx.

In 1921, black North Americans intended to move to Brazil, more specifically to Mato Grosso – the myth of racial democracy had already arrived in the USA, as attested by Thomas Skidmore in Black on White: race and nationality in Brazilian thought. This immigration was quickly rejected by the press of the time. Faced with the news, deputies Cincinato Braga and Andrade Bezerra created a project to explicitly prohibit the immigration of blacks. Coelho Neto, a novelist who focused on Brazilian nationalism, wrote an article called repulsion, Newspapers in Brazil, in which he argued that “it would be ingratitude for us to reject. But to lend ourselves to receiving the rubbish with which America threatens us, which goes around sweeping from its territory with squeamishness of cleanliness what it considers filth […] not that! […] Fortunately, there were those in the Chamber who protested against the affront, which is nothing else than the project of the dollar capitalists, who, skimming America from what pollutes it, cast the infamous waste over Brazil”. It was a celebration of the project.

However, the project was criticized because it spelled out why. Two groups were created. In addition to the explicit refractory, there was the group that defended that the immigration of blacks would import racism, because in Brazil there would be no racism. North American blacks would also import “hatred of race” – antecedent of anthropologist Antônio Risério's argument. In common accord between the groups, based on Racial Democracy, which would be definitively systematized in the 1930s by Gilberto Freyre, Itamaraty would not discretionarily approve black Americans because they would bring racial hatred in a society without hatred and racism.

In 1928, Du Bois sent correspondence to Washington Luís, complaining and reminding him of the new treaties established between the countries in 1928. It was never answered. Itamaraty responded after questioning US diplomacy, at Du Bois's insistence. The Brazilian body responded as the Military Police and the Judiciary respond: “that all people, regardless of color, would be subject to the 'general conditions that govern our immigration regulations'” (Jeffrey Lesser, The invention of Brazilianness: national identity, ethnicity and immigration policies).

Over time, white and whitened immigrants became Brazilians. The entrance to Brazilianness or nationality is whiteness. Immigrants would give whiteness to the average Brazilian, who would become Europeanized. In exchange, the ideal of being a Brazilian from the ruling class would give Brazilianness and nationality to the immigrant, who would become Brazilian, without ever ceasing to be European and to be proud of his ancestry, a symbolic capital that offers opportunities and ample social capital. Disconnecting from European ancestry would also mean disconnecting Brazil from Europe, from whitening and from development. It would consist in detaching the ruling class from civilization in opposition to the average Brazilian, a being taken by sentimentality (cordial man) and beliefs (Jeca Tatu).

In time: the Immigration Act served as a model for Nazi racial immigration legislation, drafted in 1936 at the Nuremberg Congress. The Nazis were impressed with how the white North Americans managed to create an internal racial legislation, since Europe knew the external racial legislation, from the colonizing country over the colony, as is the case of the German experience in Namibia and the genocide of the Hereros. and namaquas.

The internal national legislation that most attracted the attention of the Nazis was the immigration legislation, similar to the Brazilian one. It made sense for Germany to seek experiences in the USA, the main power on the planet at the time, the main showcase. They did not know the Brazilian experience due to the geopolitical insignificance of the country, despite the pretensions of the ruling class at the time, which implemented an aggressive policy of whitening to place itself in the pantheon of the developed ones. Brazilian legislation preceded the US by 34 years. Whoopi Goldberg is dead wrong.

Nazism belongs to the racial and neocolonial theory that European liberalism produced in the XNUMXth century about Africans. Jews were not white in Germany, as they are not. In the American continent, they became white through whitening as an economic and social policy (phenotype). Not being white is a terrible disadvantage. They managed to get in because they pass for whites, as well as Syrians and Lebanese, as long as they were and are (or look like) Christians.

Like North American blacks, Assyrians from Iraq were vetoed when they tried to immigrate in 1932, in Paraná, after a great outcry from the press. I thought they were Muslims. They were Christians. The Association of Agronomists and Veterinary Doctors of Paraná, in correspondence with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, claimed that they were “semi-barbarians who will only disturb order and cause the Brazilian race to degenerate”.

Vargas, who yielded to pressure from Paraná, enacted in September 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, Decree-Law n. 7.967, the new Brazilian immigration law. Article 1 established that anyone could enter Brazil, as long as they met “the conditions established by law”. The only condition established was, “in the admission of immigrants, the need to preserve and develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the most convenient characteristics of their European ancestry, as well as the defense of the national worker”. European descent and national worker complement each other.

Moïse is an anti-national worker. Thus ended the cycle that began in 1890. Alongside Argentina and Chile, the country would become a paradise for Nazis and fascists on the run, as what was unacceptable were the “indigenous” of Africa and non-Christians. Everything so that the “Brazilian race” does not “degenerate”. European immigration, including Nazis and fascists, was encouraged because it was considered a positive and necessary element in the eugenic formation of Brazilians, an acceleration towards modernity against the atavism of the African element.

African immigration was only reasonably admitted after the 1988 Constitution, 98 years after the first immigration law. Moïse was killed not only because of Brazilian institutional history, but because he did not have the possibility of becoming Brazilian. He would always be the African, just as the descendants of enslaved Africans are the “not included”, or rather, the unfinished ones. It's great to be a French or Italian immigrant. You might even win a TV show and spotlight.

African immigrants, even if qualified, and this is because normally those who arrive here belong to a certain educational elite, are treated like the African of the Immigration Law of 1890 and the Northeastern by Alfredo Elis Júnior. They join the inconclusive ones who fight for survival at every second, every meal and every can of beer, sunk by a labor legislation that obliges the worker to try to receive the day's wages. In “free negotiation”, proclaim the extemporaneous heralds of modernization.

*Leonardo Sacramento He holds a PhD in Education from UFSCar. Basic education teacher and pedagogue at the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of São Paulo. Book author The mercantile university: a study on the public university and private capital (Appris).


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