In my first column (January 2015), I wrote about the reason for the existence of the Portuguese language in Brazil. Now I would like to talk about the origin of the Brazilian people, which helps explain in some ways my name, Udo Fiorini (German mixed with Italian).

Once explorers arrived in Brazil around 1500, received by the native people already living here, they started the exploitation of Pau-Brazil, a tree that produced a red dye very popular among natives. Europeans began using this extracted ink from Brazilian wood in place of products imported from the East.

The period of Pau-Brazil took from 1500 to 1530 and was followed by the production and export of sugar, which was in great demand in Europe. While the extraction of Pau-Brazil used native labor, the culture of sugarcane forced the demand for slave labor. Between 1570 and 1670, Brazil became the world’s largest sugar producer. It was exported mainly to Europe to replace honey. In addition to being economically advantageous for Portugal, the activity collaborated with the Portuguese colonization of Brazil.                                                              

At the end of the 17th century, European colonies in Central America had more technology in sugar production. This caused a serious economical crisis in Brazil. It was then that the Portuguese Crown began to stimulate the search for precious minerals, especially gold. The first major discovery of the precious metal happened in 1700.

The race to Brazilian gold made the population of approximately 300,000 in 1690 swell to about 3 million in the late 18th century. Mining moved the economic-political-administrative center to the south-southeast region and led to the change of the capital from Salvador, located in Bahia state, to Rio de Janeiro, closer to the mining regions. Until 1760, the year in which production began to run out, about 2 million pounds of gold was produced. The gold rush was progress in Brazil, but no investments were made to improve production. So, after about three-quarters of a century of exploitation, the deposits didn’t have enough material to justify the costs.

The independent Brazil of 1822 inaugurated the imperial regime after this period of mining, and an important new cycle of economic development emerged: coffee. In a few decades, this industry led to the expansion of railroads, the development of industry and commerce, and the introduction of foreign labor.

Colonizers are people who entered Brazil from 1500-1822, the year of independence, and people who entered after that date are considered immigrants. Until 1870, the number of immigrants did not exceed 3,000 people per year. It is estimated that about 6 million immigrants came to Brazil between 1872, the year of the first census, and 2000.

In Europe there was an excess of qualified people, few employment opportunities and little land. Brazil, meanwhile, offered the opposite. The first immigrants, Germans and Swiss, arrived in Brazil shortly before independence in 1822. More Germans came later in 1824 and went to the south of the country, which was quite unpopulated. The slave trade was banned in 1850, increasing the manpower shortage.

At the end of the American Civil War in 1865, Emperor Dom Pedro II sought to develop the cotton crop in Brazil. Experienced producers that fled the southern U.S. were recruited. Most American immigrants established themselves in the countryside of São Paulo state.

After slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, the country needed manpower. Italians, who came in large numbers after 1870, ended up staying mainly in the south and southeast region of Brazil. I am part of that group. I was born in the south, where my Italian ancestors merged with Germans, thus explaining my name.

The strong industrialization of Brazil in the last century owes much to these immigrants. Important names on the international scene, metallurgical or not, originate from this group. We’ll learn more about them next time.