Brazilian immigration

2011-02-06 08:05:44

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, few Brazilians immigrated to North America, as their country was actively promoting immigration to Brazil to develop the untapped resources of the country. As late as 1960, only 27,885 Americans claimed Brazilian descent. By 2000, however, the number had risen to 181,076. In 2001, 9,710 Canadians claimed Brazilian descent. Most observers place the actual figures in both countries at almost twice that number as a result of illegal immigration. New York City has the largest Brazilian population in North America, with the greatest concentration in Queens. Most Canadian Brazilians live in Toronto and southern Ontario.
Brazil occupies 3,261,200 square miles of the eastern half of South America between 5 degrees north latitude and 33 degrees south latitude. French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, and Venezuela lie to the north; the Atlantic Ocean, to the east; Uruguay, to the south; and Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay to the west. The Amazon River basin is located in the northern part of the country and is densely covered in tropical forests. In the northeast, flat arable land provides a home for the majority of the estimated 174,468,575 people who live in Brazil. Over 10 million people live in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Over half the population, about 55 percent, is descended from Portuguese, German, Italian, and Spanish immigrants. About 6 percent is black, and 38 percent is of mixed black and white ancestry. Most Brazilian immigrants to North America have been of European descent, often representing the well educated seeking economic opportunities in a time of domestic economic stress. Roman Catholicism is practiced by approximately 70 percent of the population.
The Atlantic seaboard of Brazil was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century. Settlers brought African slaves into the country until 1888 when slavery was abolished. Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822 and was ruled by an emperor until 1889, when a republic was proclaimed. Beginning in 1930, Brazil was ruled by military leaders, excepting a 19-year span of democratic regime from 1945 to 1964. Democracy was returned to Brazil in the presidential elections of 1985.
Immigration figures are unreliable. Prior to 1960 in the United States and 1962 in Canada, Brazilians were counted collectively as “South Americans” or in some other general category, making it impossible to distinguish exact numbers for particular countries. It has been estimated that about 50,000 Brazilians legally entered the United States prior to 1986, and about 15,000 entered Canada.
Throughout the 20th century Brazil’s economy grew to become one of the largest in the world, substantially based on development of resources in the vast Amazonian rain forest. Most of the early immigration to Canada was in some way related to the close economic ties between large Canadian corporations and the developing Brazilian economy. Companies including Brascan, Alcan Aluminum, and Massey-Ferguson invested billions of dollars in Brazil in the four decades following World War II (1939–45), and Brazil remained Canada’s third leading target country for investment, behind only the United States and Great Britain. By 1951, Canada was the second leading investor in Brazil, behind only the United States. When the economic boom collapsed in 1981, Canadian companies began to pull out of the country. By 1986, their share of foreign holdings there had dropped from 30 percent to 5 percent.
In the midst of considerable wealth, much of Brazil remained in poverty, even before the economic collapse of the 1980s. The return of a democratic government in 1985 made emigration easier, leading as many as 1.4 million Brazilians to leave the country between 1986 and 1990. Whereas many Brazilian immigrants prior to the mid- 1980s were from the professional or upper classes, most after 1986 were small entrepreneurs or workers, seeking fresh economic opportunities. Given the continued weakness of the economy into the 21st century, many observers believe that Brazilian immigration to North America will continue to grow significantly. Some have estimated that in 2000 there were as many as 350,000 Brazilians in the United States, half of them illegally. The official government estimate of the unauthorized Brazilian resident population in 2000 was 77,000, up from 20,000 in 1990 and almost certainly significantly lower than the actual number. Between 1992 and 2002, more than 63,000 Brazilians entered the United States legally. Of Canada’s 11,700 Brazilian immigrants in 2001, more than half (5,995) entered the country between 1991 and 2001. Brazilian immigration to both the United States and Canada grew from the late 1990s onward.