In a multimedia piece on the history of immigration to Brazil titled República imigrante do Brasil, the culture and science magazine Superinteressante created a series of maps showing the volume of immigration from different countries to Brazil decade by decade, over the course of more than a century. At first glance, the graphic representation of data from the Ministry of Justice seems like what one might expect. Portuguese immigration appears to be a constant, and smaller waves of immigrants from Latin America, Japan, and other European countries can be observed as we flip through the thirteen maps. However, if one takes a moment to consider what is missing from this “panorama”, it becomes clear that omission plays an important role in this image of Brazil, a republic of immigrants.
The most alarming part of the map series is the consistently grey massive continent in its center. According to this representation, it appears that immigration of Africans over the past century has been statistically insignificant. An arrow emanating from Haiti is also nonexistent, even in the map showing immigration in 2011. Perhaps the reason is simply that these populations did not make up a large enough portion of the immigrant population to be represented on the map, but it would be an oversight to ignore the implications of what is included and what is not in an image of the historical construction of the Republic. The tacit message is that these populations do not play a role in the formation of society, that they continue as outsiders. They are, quite literally in this case, excluded. Besides, the statistical reasoning behind what information is included seems to break down when we mouse over the German line on the 2010 and 2011 map. If the 1,111 Germans who arrived over those two years deserve an arrow, why don’t the 1,600 Haitians who were granted humanitarian visas in 2011 alone? Furthermore, why are these 1,600 referred to as an “invasion”, a term that arguably is impossible to imagine being used to refer to waves of European immigration?2
It is important to note a discrepancy in the information presented–one which may help to explain the puzzling lack of waves of black immigrants. Although the piece’s title refers to a nation of immigrants, the summary text uses the term foreign residents. The discrepancy becomes even more glaring as we continue to read. While there were supposedly 961,000 immigrants living in Brazil in 2010, there were over 1.5 million foreigners residing in the country in 2010. Does this indicate a different immigration status, or is it simply needlessly varied language? The connotation of foreign residents is impermanence. How many of the hundreds of thousands of Portuguese represented in the maps have returned to Europe? How wide are the invisible arrows pointing in the opposite direction? For comparison, how many Haitians, Angolans, Mozambicans, and Congolese have returned? Whether this is not addressed intentionally is unclear, but the effect is.
There is an implicit message that Brazil has been built by Europeans and momentary waves of Japanese and Middle-Eastern immigrants who were successfully integrated. Lebanese immigration is acknowledged in the graphic, with a narrow arrow appearing in the map representing the wave of refugees of the Lebanese civil war in the 1970’s. The arrival of large numbers of Angolans, Mozambicans, and Egyptians is also mentioned in the text on the map representing the 1980’s. Where, then is their arrow? This obvious discrepancy points to an often criticized approach to immigration that is still prevalent in Brazilian discourse–denial. This map is a telling visual representation of the country’s failure to recognize its own identity, its refusal to acknowledge a part of its history, and its staunch reluctance to integrate populations it considers foreign and incompatible with national aspirations.
1. DI GIACOMO, Frederico and Karin Hueck. República Imigrante do Brasil. Superinteressante.
accessed 10 February 2016. Web. n.d. <http://noticias.uol.com.br/cotidiano/ultimas-noticias/2012/04/27/numero-de-imigrantes-morando-no-brasil-quase-dobra-em-dez-anos-sp-e-pr-sao-os-principais-destinos.htm>
2. CARVALHO, Cleide. Acre sofre com invasão de imigrantes do Haiti. O Globo. 1 January 2012. Web.
accessed 10 February 2016. http://oglobo.globo.com/brasil/acre-sofre-com-invasao-de-imigrantes-do-haiti-3549381