The Italians are one of the largest migratory groups in Brazil, whose presence in the South and Southeast has resulted in a unique blend of cultures
Like the Germans, the Italians are concentrated mainly in the South and Southeast of Brazil, mainly in the state of São Paulo, and most began to emigrate as of the second half of the nineteenth century, when the concentration of land remained mostly in the hands of the few, given the industrial movement. Many poorer people, unable to make ends meet as labourers or as owners of very small properties, sought greater opportunities in other countries, such as Brazil. Most of the immigrants who settled in the Southeast ended up at coffee plantations, and the Italians were no exception.
The Italians, unlike the German and Japanese immigrants, adapted to Brazilian customs and cultures with relative ease, since their own culture was not so different, especially when it came to religion. Many of the religious festivals that exist today in Brazil are the result of a certain Italian influence, including the existence of several saints that are worshipped in both countries. They also played an important role in the industrialisation process of several cities in Brazil, and it is estimated that at the beginning of the last century approximately 90% of the workers in factories in São Paulo were Italian.
It was during this industrial transformation that the Italian neighbourhoods of Mooca, Brás and Bixiga emerged in São Paulo. In addition to such quarters, certain personalities came to prominence, including Francesco Matarazzo, founder of the largest industrial complex in Latin America.
The Italian immigrants did not speak what was considered the standard language, but rather an assimilated dialectal of various regions, except those that came from Tuscany and Florence. Many Italians decided only to learn the bare minimum of Portuguese to survive and passed the task of becoming native speakers down to their children. Given the large concentration of Italians in São Paulo many of the quirks of the Italian language were incorporated into the local lingo, which can still be heard today, such as the pronunciation of “ti” as “chi”.
This coexistence between Brazilians and the newly settled Italians resulted in a unique strand of cultural, linguistic and social assimilation. Festivals, like the Grape Festival in Caxias do Sul, typify this wonderful blend of these two peoples. Whilst in the world of food and drink, it goes without saying… Brazilians have the Italians to thank for pizza, mozzarella, ciabatta, pasta, parmeggiana, gorgonzola, artichoke, funghi, mortadela and panetone, to name just a few of the local favourites in Brazil.