Italian Brazilians

Italian Brazilians
Total population

No official numbers. 10.5% of Brazil's population (according to Schwartzman);[1] 22,753,000 descendants (Italian source);[2] between 18 and 23 million descendants (according to García);[3] 30 million descendants, 15% of the population (according to Pertile and the Embassy)[4]

3.5 to 4.5 million Brazilians with actual links to Italian society and culture[3]
Regions with significant populations
Mainly Southern, São Paulo and Espírito Santo. Some immigration to Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais.
Predominantly Portuguese. Minority Talian.
Related ethnic groups
Other Italians · Mediterranean, Catholic and/or Romance-speaking European Brazilians such as Portuguese Brazilians, Spanish Brazilians, Swiss Brazilians, French Brazilians, German Brazilians, Austrian Brazilians, Greek Brazilians and Brazilian immigrants in Italy

Italian Brazilians (Italian: Italobrasiliani, Portuguese: Ítalo-brasileiros) are Brazilian citizens of full or partial Italian descent.[6]

There are no official numbers about how many Brazilians have Italian ancestry, as the national census conducted by IBGE does not ask the ancestry of the Brazilian people. In the last census to ask about ancestry, from 1940, 1,260,931 Brazilians said to be the child of an Italian father, while 1,069,862 said to be the child of an Italian mother. Italians were 285,000 and naturalized Brazilians, 40,000. Therefore, Italians and their children were just over 3.8% of Brazil's population in 1940.[7]

A 1999 survey, conducted by the sociologist, former president of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Simon Schwartzman, indicated that 10.5% of Brazilian respondents claimed to have Italian ancestry; hence they would make up around 20 million descendants in a national population of 200 million.[1] An Italian source, from 1996, cites the number of 22,753,000 descendants.[2] The Embassy of Italy in Brazil, in 2013, reported the number of 31 million descendants of Italian immigrants in Brazil (about 15% of the population), half of them in the state of São Paulo.[5]

Italian immigration to Brazil

The Cavalcanti family arrived in Brazil in 1560. Today is the largest family in Brazil by a common ancestor.[8][9]

According to the Italian government, there are 31 million Brazilians of Italian descent,[10] All those figures relate to Brazilians of any Italian descent, not necessarily linked to Italian culture in any significant way. According to García,[3] the number of Brazilians with actual links to Italian identity and culture would be around 3.5 to 4.5 million people. Scholar Luigi Favero, in a book on Italian emigration between 1876 and 1976, pinpointed that Italians were present in Brasil since the Renaissance: Genoese sailors and merchants were between the first to settle in colonial Brazil since the first half of the 16th century,[11] and so—because of the many descendants of Italians emigrated there from Columbus times until 1860—the number of Brazilians with Italian roots should be increased to 35 million.[12]

Although victims of some prejudice in the first decades and in spite of the persecution during World War II, Brazilians of Italian descent managed to mingle and to incorporate seamlessly into the Brazilian society.

Many Brazilian politicians, artists, footballers, models and personalities are or were of Italian descent. Amongst Italian-Brazilian one finds several State Governors, Congressmen, mayors and ambassadors. Three Presidents of Brazil were of Italian descent (though none of them were directly elected to such a position): Pascoal Ranieri Mazzilli (Senate president who served as interim president), Itamar Franco (elected vice-President under Fernando Collor, whom he eventually replaced as the latter was impeached), and Emílio Garrastazu Médici (third of the series of generals who presided over Brazil during the military regime). Médici was also of Basque descent.


According to the Brazilian Constitution, anyone born in the country is a Brazilian citizen by birthright. In addition, many who were born in Italy have become naturalized citizens after settling in Brazil. The Brazilian government used to prohibit multiple citizenships. However, this changed in 1994 with a new constitutional amendment.[13] After the changes in 1994 over half a million Italian-Brazilians have requested the recognition of their Italian citizenship.[14]

According to the Italian legislation an individual with an Italian parent is automatically recognized as an Italian citizen, the jus sanguinis principle being applied. In order to exercise the rights and obligations of citizenship an individual needs to have all documents registered in Italy, which normally involves the local consulate or embassy. Some limitations are applied to this process of recognition such as the renouncement of the Italian citizenship by the individual or the parent (if before the child’s birth), a second limitation is that women only transferred citizenship to their children after 1948.[15] After constitutional reform in Italy, Italian citizens abroad can also elect representatives to the Italian Chamber of Deputies and the Italian Senate. Italian citizens residing in Brazil elect representatives together with Argentina, Uruguay and other countries in South America. According to Italian senator Edoardo Pollastri, currently there are over half a million Brazilians in line to have their Italian citizenship recognized.[14]

"To the Province of S. Paulo, in Brazil. Immigrants: read these hints before leaving. S. Paulo, 1886".


Italian crisis in late 19th century

Main article: Italian diaspora
A family of Italian emigrants.

Italy only united as a sovereign national state in 1861. Before that Italy was politically divided in several kingdoms, ducates and other small states. This fact influenced deeply the character of the Italian migrant. "Before 1914, the typical Italian migrant was a man without a clear national identity but with strong attachments to his town or village or region of birth, to which half of all migrants returned."[16]

During the 19th century, many Italians fled the political persecutions in Italy led by the Imperial Austrian government after the failure of unification movements in 1848 and 1861. Although very small, these well educated and revolutionary group of emigrants left a deep mark where they settled.[17] In Brazil, the most famous Italian in this period was Líbero Badaró. Despite that, the mass Italian immigration that contributed to shape Brazilian culture after the Portuguese and the German migration movements started only after Italian unification.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the newly united Italy suffered an economic crisis. In the Northern regions, there was unemployment due to the introduction of new techniques in agriculture, while Southern Italy remained underdeveloped and untouched by modernization in agrarian structure. Even in the North, industrialization was still in its initial stages, and illiteracy was still common in Italy (though more in the south and islands than in the north).[18] Thus, poverty and lack of jobs and income stimulated Northern (and also Southern) Italians to emigrate. Most Italian immigrants were very poor rural workers (braccianti).[19]

Brazilian need of immigrants

Italians getting into a ship to Brazil, 1910.

In 1850, under British pressure, Brazil finally passed a law that effectively banned transatlantic slave trade. The increased pressure of the abolitionist movement, on the other hand, made clear that the days of slavery in Brazil were coming to an end. Slave trade was in fact effectively suppressed, but the slave system still endured for almost four decades. So the discussion about European immigration to Brazil became a priority for Brazilian landowners. The latter claimed that such migrants were or would soon become indispensable for Brazilian agriculture. They would soon win the argument and mass migration would begin in earnest.

An Agriculture Congress in 1878 in Rio de Janeiro discussed the lack of labour and proposed to the government the stimulation of European immigration to Brazil. Immigrants from Italy, Portugal and Spain were considered the best ones, because they were white and, mainly, Catholics. Therefore, the Brazilian government started to attract more Italian immigrants to the coffee plantations.

A ship with Italian immigrants in the Port of Santos: 1907.Most migrants came to the State of São Paulo and its mainport, the entry gate of Brazil, was Santos. Thus most migrants from Italy regardless of their final destination in Brazil, entered through the port of Santos.

At the end of the 19th century, the Brazilian government was influenced by eugenics theories. According to some Brazilian scholars, it was necessary to bring immigrants from Europe to enhance the Brazilian population.

Beginning of Italian settlement in Brazil

A 19th-century house built by Italian immigrants in Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul.
Vida nova by Pedro Weingärtner, 1893. Acervo municipal de Nova Veneza

The Brazilian government (with or following the Emperor's support) had created the first colonies of immigrants (colônias de imigrantes) in the early 19th century. These colonies were established in rural areas of the country, being settled by European families, mainly German immigrants that settled in many areas of Southern Brazil.

The first groups of Italians arrived in 1875, but the boom of Italian immigration in Brazil happened in the late 19th century, between 1880 and 1900, when almost one million Italians arrived.

A great number of Italians was naturalized Brazilian at the end of the 19th century, when the 'Great Naturalization' conceded automatically citizenship to all the immigrants residing in Brazil prior to November 15, 1889 "unless they declared a desire to keep their original nationality within six months."[20]

During the last years of the 19th century, the denouncements of bad conditions in Brazil increased in the press. Reacting to the public clamor and many proved cases of mistreatments of Italian immigrants, the government of Italy issued, in 1902, the Prinetti decree forbidding subsidized immigration to Brazil. In consequence, the number of Italian immigrants in Brazil fell drastically in the beginning of the 20th century, but the wave of Italian immigration continued until 1920.[21]

Over half of the Italian immigrants came from Northern Italian regions of Veneto, Lombardy, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. About 30% emigrated from Veneto.[18] On the other hand, during the 20th century, Central and Southern Italians predominated in Brazil, coming from the regions of Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata and Sicily.

Prince Umberto's visit in 1924

In 1924 Umberto, Prince of Piedmont (the future King Umberto II of Italy) came to Brazil as part of a state visit to various South American country. This was part of the political plan of the newly installed Fascist government to link Italian people living outside of Italy with their mother country and with the interests of the regime. The visit was considerably disrupted by the then ongoing Tenente revolts, making it impossible for the visiting Prince to reach Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Nevertheless, he was hosted at Bahia where members of the Italian colony in the city were very happy and proud about his visit, thus partially achieving the visit's purpose.


1940 Brazilian Census

The Brazilian Census of 1940 asked Brazilians where their fathers came from. The Census revealed that at that time there were 3,275,732 Brazilians who were born to an immigrant father. Of those, 1,260,931 Brazilians were born to an Italian father. Italian was the main reported paternal immigrant origin, followed by Portuguese with 735,929 children, Spanish with 340,479 and German with 159,809 children.[22]

The Census also revealed that the 458,281 foreign mothers of 12 or more years who lived in Brazil had 2,852,427 children, of whom 2,657,974 were born alive. The Italian women had more children than any other female immigrant community in Brazil: 1,069,862 Brazilians were born to an Italian mother, followed by 524,940 who were born to a Portuguese mother, 436,305 to a Spanish mother and 171,790 to a Japanese mother.[22] The 6,809,772 Brazilian-born mothers of 12 or more years had 38,716,508 children, of whom 35,777,402 were born alive.

Brazilians who were born to a foreign-born father (1940 Census)[22]
Main places of birth of the father Number of children
Italy 1,260,931
Portugal 735,929
Spain 340,479
Germany 159,809
Syria- Lebanon- Palestine- Iraq - Middle-Eastern 107,074
Japan-Korea 104,355
Women over 12 years old who had offspring in Brazil and their children,
by country of birth (1940 Census)[22]
Country of birth of the mother Number of females over 12 years old
who had children
Number of children
Italy 130,273 1,069,862
Portugal 99,197 524,940
Spain 66,354 436,305
Japan 35,640 171,790
Germany 22,232 98,653
Brazil 6,809,772 38,716,508


On the other hand, in 1998, the IBGE, within its preparation for the 2000 Census, experimentally introduced a question about "origem" (ancestry) in its "Pesquisa Mensal de Emprego" (Monthly Employment Research), in order to test the viability of introducing that variable in the Census[23] (the IBGE ended by deciding against the inclusion of questions about it in the Census). This research interviewed about 90,000 people in six metropolitan regions (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, and Recife).[24]

The results of this survey stand in contradiction with the claims of the Italian embassy to Brazil. While the latter point to "Italian Brazilians" making up to 18% of the Brazilian population, with absolute figures varying between 28 and 31 million, and figures for the city of São Paulo as high as 60% or 6 million, the IBGE found actually a figure of 10%, which would correspond, at the time, to a total population of about 3.5 million people of Italian origin in the whole set of metropolitan regions it researched, including São Paulo (and Porto Alegre, another metropolitan region with a high concentration of oriundi).

Arrival of Italian immigrants to Brazil by periods (source: IBGE)[21]
1884-1893 1894–1903 1904–1913 1914–1923 1924–1933 1934–1944 1945–1949 1950–1954 1955–1959
510,533537,784 196,52186,320 70,177 15,312 N/A 59,785 31,263

Italian population in Brazil[25]
Year Estimated Italian population (by Giorgio Mortara) Year Italian estimates Year Brazilian Census
1880 50,000 1881* 82,000
1890 230,000 1891* 554,000
1900 540,000 1901** 1,300,000
1902 600,000 1904** 1,100,000
1930 435,000 1927* 1,837,887 1920 558,405
1940 325,000 1940 325,283

.* Comissariato Generale dell'Emigrazione

.** Consulates

The 1920 Census was the first one to show a more specific figure about the size of the Italian population in Brazil (558,405). However, since the 20th century the arrival of new Italian immigrants to Brazil was in full decline. The previous censuses of 1890 and 1900 had limited information (in fact, the 1900 Census never existed). In consequence, there are no official figures about the size of the Italian population in Brazil during the mass immigration period (1880–1900). There are estimates available, and the most reliable is the one done by Giorgio Mortara, even though the figures he found may have underestimated the real size of the Italian population.[26] On the other hand, Angelo Trento believes that the Italian estimates are "certainly exaggerated",[26] and "lacking of any foundation",[26] since they found the figure of 1,837,887 Italians in Brazil as of 1927. Another evaluation conducted by Bruno Zuculin found the presence of 997,887 Italians in Brazil as of 1927. Notice that all these figures only include people born in Italy, and not their Brazilian born descendants.[25]

Brazilians of Italian descent by states or regions as of 2000 estimatives[27]
Region State Total population (millions) Italian Brazilians
Population (millions) Percentage
Southeastern São Paulo 33.1 9.9 29.9%
Espírito Santo 2.6 1.7 65.4%
Minas Gerais 15.8 1.3 8.2%
Rio de Janeiro 14.1 0.60 4.3%
Southern Paraná 9.4 3.7 39.4%
Rio Grande do Sul 9.5 2.1 22.1%
Santa Catarina 4.5 2.7 60.0%
Northern Brazil All 8.9 1.0 11.2%
Central-western All 10.4 0.40 3.8%
Northeastern All 42.8 0.15 0.4%
Total in Brazil 151.1 23.6 15.6%

Main Italian settlements in Brazil

Areas of settlement

Among all Italians who immigrated to Brazil, 70% went to the State of São Paulo. In consequence, São Paulo has more people with Italian ancestry than any region of Italy itself.[28] The rest went mostly to the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais.

Panoramic view of Ribeirão Preto. By 1902, 52% percent of the city's population was born in Italy.[29]

Due to the internal migration, many Italians, second and third generations descendants, moved to other areas. In the early 20th century, many rural Italian workers from Rio Grande do Sul migrated to the west of Santa Catarina and then further north to Paraná.

More recently, third and fourth generations have been migrating to other areas; thus it is possible to find people of Italian descent in Brazilian regions where the immigrants had never settled, such as in the Cerrado region of Central-West, in the Northeast and in the Amazon rainforest area, in the extreme North of Brazil.[30][31]

Farms owned by a foreigner(1920)
Immigrants Farms[32]
Italians 35.984
Portuguese 9.552
Germans 6.887
Spanish 4.725
Russians 4.471
Austrians 4.292
Japanese 1.167

Southern Brazil

Wine production introduced by Italians in Caxias do Sul.
A typically Venetian community in Southern Brazil.

The main areas of Italian settlement in Brazil were the Southern and Southeastern regions, namely the states of São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais.

The first colonies to be populated by Italians were created in the highlands of Rio Grande do Sul (Serra Gaúcha). These were Garibaldi and Bento Gonçalves. These immigrants were predominantly from Veneto, in northern Italy. After five years, in 1880, the great numbers of Italian immigrants arriving caused the Brazilian government to create another Italian colony, Caxias do Sul. After initially settling in the government-promoted colonies, many of the Italian immigrants spread into other areas of Rio Grande do Sul seeking better opportunities. They created many other Italian colonies on their own, mainly in highlands, because the lowlands were already populated by German immigrants and native gaúchos. The Italian established many vineyards in the region. Nowadays, the wine produced in these areas of Italian colonization in southern Brazil is much appreciated within the country, though little is available for export. In 1875, the first Italian colonies were established in Santa Catarina, which lies immediately to the north of Rio Grande do Sul. The colonies gave rise to towns such as Criciúma, and later also spread further north, to Paraná.

In the colonies of southern Brazil, Italian immigrants at first confined themselves within themselves, where they could speak their native Italian dialects and keep their culture and traditions. With time, however, they would become thoroughly integrated economically and culturally into the larger society. In any case, Italian immigration to southern Brazil was very important to the economic development, as well to the culture of the region.

Southeastern Brazil

Imagine you travel eight thousand nautic miles, across the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and suddenly find yourself in Italy. That's São Paulo. It seems paradoxical, but it is a reality, because São Paulo is an Italian city.

Pietro Belli, Italian journalist in São Paulo(1925).[33]

Coffee plantation in the State of Minas Gerais, employed Italians.
Italian immigrants in the Hospedaria dos Imigrantes, in São Paulo.

A part of the immigrants settled in the colonies in Southern Brazil. However, the majority of them settled in Southeastern Brazil (mainly in the State of São Paulo). In the beginning, the government was responsible for bringing the immigrants (in most cases, paying for their transportation by ship), but later the farmers were responsible for making contracts with immigrants or specialized companies in recruiting Italian workers. Many posters were spread in Italy, with pictures of Brazil, selling the idea that everybody could become rich there by working with coffee, which was called by the Italian immigrants the green gold. Most coffee plantations were in the States of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, and in a smaller proportion also in the States of Espírito Santo and Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro was declining in the 19th century as a farming producer and São Paulo had already taken the lead as a coffee producer/exporter around the start of the 20th century, as well as big producer of sugar and other important crops. Thus, migrants were naturally more attracted to the State of São Paulo and the southern states.

Italians used to migrate to Brazil in families.[34] The colono, as rural immigrants were called, had to sign a contract with the farmer and was obliged to work in the coffee plantation during a minimum period of time. However, the situation was not easy. Many Brazilian farmers were used to command slaves and treated the immigrants as indentured servants.

While, in Southern Brazil, the Italian immigrants were living in relatively well developed colonies, in Southeastern Brazil they were living in semi-slavery conditions in the coffee plantations. Many rebellions against Brazilian farmers occurred and the public denouncements caused great commotion in Italy, forcing the Italian government to issue the Prinetti decree that established barriers to immigration to Brazil.

Italian-Brazilian farmers in 1918.
São Paulo City
Year Italians Percentage of the City[25]
1886 5,717 13%
1893 45,457 35%
1900 75,000 31%
1910 130,000 33%
1916 187,540 37%

In 1901, 90% of industrial workers and 80% of construction workers at São Paulo city were Italians.[35]

In the new neighborhoods follow up to infinite Italians houses, with balustrades, mantels, decorations in stucco and colorful simbolic figurines. Lonis-Albert Gaffrée, a French priest in São Paulo (1911).[36] Photo of Mooca.
São Carlos
Year Italians Percentage of the City
1886 1,050 6,5%[37]
1920 8,235 15%[38]
1934 4,185 8,1%[39]
1940 2,467 5%[40]
Ribeirão Preto
Year Italians Percentage of the City
1886 158 1,5%[37]
1920 10,907 16%[41]
1934 6,211 7,6%[42]
1940 3,777 4,7%[43]

São Carlos and Ribeirão Preto were two of the main coffee plantation centers. Located both, respectively, in the North-Central and Northeastern regions of São Paulo state, a zone known by its hot temperature and a fertile soil in which some of the richest coffee farms were in, it attracted most of the immigrants arriving in São Paulo, including the Italians, between 1901 and 1940.[44]

Rio de Janeiro City
Year Italians[25]
1895 20,000
1901 30,000
1910 35,000
1920 31,929
1940 22,768

Other parts of Brazil

Although the majority of Brazilians of Italian descent live in the South and Southeast part of the country, in recent decades (1960s-present), people from southern Brazil, mainly of Italian descent, have played a vital role in settling and developing the vast "cerrado" grasslands of Central-West, North and the west part of Northeastern Brazil.

These areas, once economically neglected, are fast becoming one of the world's most important agricultural regions. The cerrado (Portuguese for thick and dense, meaning thick grassland) is a vast area of savanna-like grasslands in Brazil. In the State of Mato Grosso do Sul, Italian descendants are 5% of the population.[45]

Decline of Italian Immigration

Italians on Brazilian coffee plantation.

In 1902, the Italian immigration to Brazil started to decline. From 1903 to 1920, only 306,652 Italians immigrated to Brazil, compared to 953,453 to Argentina and 3,581,322 to the United States. This was mainly due to the Prinetti Decree in Italy, that banned the subsidized immigration to Brazil (the Brazilian Government or landowners could not pay the passage of the immigrants anymore). Prinetti Decree was created because of the commotion in the Italian press due to the penury faced by most Italians in Brazil. The immigrants who went to Southern Brazil became small landowners and, despite the problems faced by them (dense forest, epidemics of yellow fever, lack of consumer market) the easy access to lands increased their opportunities. However, only a minority of the Italians were taken to Southern Brazil. Most of the country's economy was based on coffee plantations, and Brazil was already the main coffee exporter in the world (since the 1850s). As a consequence of the end of slavery and that most former slaves left the plantations, there was a labour shortage on coffee plantations. Moreover, “natural inequality of human beings”, “hierarchy of races”, Social Darwinism, Positivism and other theories were used to explain that the European workers were superior to the native workers. In consequence, passages were offered to Europeans (the so-called "subsidized immigration"), mostly to Italians, so that they could come to Brazil and work on the plantations.[25]

Italian students in a rural school of São Paulo.

Those immigrants were employed in enormous latifundia (large-scale farms), formerly employing slaves. In Brazil, there were no labour laws (the first concrete labour laws only appeared in the 1930s, under Getúlio Vargas's government) and, therefore, workers had almost no legal protection. Contracts signed by the immigrants could easily be violated by the Brazilian landowners. Accustomed to dealing with African slaves, the remnants of slavery influenced on how Brazilian landowners dealt with Italian workers: immigrants were often monitored, with extensive hours of work. In some cases, they were obliged to buy the products they needed from the landowner. Moreover, the coffee farms were located in rather isolated regions. If the immigrants became sick, they would take hours to reach the nearest hospital. The structure of labor used on farms included the labor of Italian women and children. Keeping their Italian culture was also made more difficult: the Catholic churches and Italian cultural centers were far from the farms. The immigrants who did not accept the standards imposed by the landowner were replaced by other immigrants. This forced them to accept the impositions of the landowner or they would have to leave his lands. Even though Italians were considered to be "superior" to blacks by Brazilian landowners, the situation faced by Italians in Brazil was so similar to that of the slaves that farmers called them escravos brancos (white slaves in Portuguese).[25]

The destitution faced by Italians and other immigrants in Brazil caused great commotion in the Italian press, which culminated in the Prinetti Decree in 1902. Many immigrants left Brazil after their experience on São Paulo's coffee farms. Between 1882 and 1914, 1.5 million immigrants of different nationalities came to São Paulo, while 695,000 left the state, or 45% of the total. The high numbers of Italians asking the Italian Consulate a passage to leave Brazil was so significant that in 1907 most of the Italian funds for repatriation were used in Brazil. It is estimated that, between 1890 and 1904, 223,031 (14,869 annually) Italians left Brazil, mainly after failed experiences on coffee farms. The majority of the Italians who left the country were unable to add the money they wanted. Most of these people returned to Italy, while others re-migrated to Argentina, Uruguay or to the United States. The output of immigrants concerned Brazilian landowners, who constantly complained about the lack of workers. Spanish immigrants began arriving in greater numbers, but soon Spain also started to create barriers for further immigration of Spaniards to coffee farms in Brazil. The continuing problem of lack of labor in the farms was, then, temporarily resolved with the arrival of Japanese immigrants, from 1908.[25]

Italian immigrants arriving in São Paulo (c. 1890).

Despite the high numbers of immigrants leaving the country, the majority of the Italians remained in Brazil forever. Most of the immigrants only remained one year working on coffee farms and then they left the plantations. A small number of them earned enough money to buy their own lands, and became farmers themselves. However, the majority migrated to Brazilian urban centers. Many Italians worked in factories (in 1901, 81% of the São Paulo's factory workers were Italians). In Rio de Janeiro, a considerable number of the factory workers was also composed of Italians. In São Paulo, those workers established themselves in the center of the city, living in cortiços (degraded multifamily row houses). Those agglomerations of Italians in urban centers gave birth to typically Italian neighborhoods, such as Mooca, which is until today linked to its Italian past. Other Italians became traders, mostly itinerant traders, selling their products in different regions. A common presence on the streets of São Paulo were the Italian boys working as newspaper-boys, as an Italian traveler observed: "In the crowd, we can see many Italian boys, shabby and barefoot, selling the newspapers from the city and from Rio de Janeiro, bothering the passersby with their offerings and their shouting of street roguish".[25]

Despite the poverty and even semi-slavery conditions faced by many Italians in Brazil, over time most of this population achieved some personal success and changed their low class economic situation. Even though most of the first generation of immigrants still lived in poverty, the children of Italians, born in Brazil, often changed their social status as they diversified their field of work, leaving the poor conditions of their parents and not rarely becoming part of the local elite.[25]


With the exception of some isolated cases of violence between Brazilians and Italians, especially between 1892 and 1896, the integration of immigrants in Brazil happened quick and peacefully. For the Italians in São Paulo, scholars suggest that this process of assimilation occurred in up to two generations. There is research that suggests that even first-generation immigrants, born in Italy, soon became assimilated in the new country. Even in Southern Brazil, where most of the Italians were living in isolated rural communities, without much contact with Brazilians, and where they kept the Italian patriarchal family structure (and therefore the father chose the wive or husband for their children, giving preference to the Italians) the assimilation process was also quick.[25]

According to the 1940 Census in Rio Grande do Sul, 393,934 people reported to speak German as their first language (11.86% of the state's population). In comparison, 295,995 reported to speak Italian, mostly dialects (8.91% of the state's population). Even though the Italian immigration was larger and more recent than the German one, the Italian group tended to be more easily assimilated. In the 1950 Census, the number of people in Rio Grande do Sul who reported to speak Italian dropped to 190,376. In São Paulo, where a larger number of Italians settled, in the 1940 census 28,910 Italian born people reported to speak Italian at home (only 13.6% of the state's Italian population). In comparison, 49.1% of the immigrants of other nationalities reported to keep speaking their native languages at home (with the exception of the Portuguese, of course). Then, the prohibition of speaking Italian, German and Japanese during World War II was not so great to the Italian community as it was to the other two groups.[25]

A major measure of the government occurred in 1889, when the Brazilian citizenship was granted to all immigrants, although this act had little influence on their identity or assimilation process. The Italian newspapers in Brazil and also the Italian government, in turn, were uncomfortable with the assimilation of Italians in the country. This occurred mostly after the Great Naturalization period. The Italian institutions encouraged the entry of Italians in Brazilian politics, although the presence of immigrants was, initially, small. The Italian dialects came to dominate the streets of São Paulo and in some Southern localities. Over time, these languages based on Italian dialects tended to disappear and nowadays their presence is small.[25]

In the beginning, specially in rural Southern Brazil, Italians tended to marry only other Italians. On the other hand, Italians in São Paulo and, mainly, those living in urban centers tended to marry Brazilians. Over time and with the decrease of more immigrants arriving, even in Southern Brazil they started to integrate themselves with Brazilians. About the Italians in Santa Catarina, the Italian Consul asserted:

The marriage between an Italian man and a Brazilian woman, between an Italian woman and a Brazilian man is very common, and it would be even more frequent if the majority of the Italians were not living segregated on the countryside.[25]

There is little information about this trend, but it was noticed a large process of integration since World War I: between 1917 and 1923, in Rio Grande do Sul: weddings between an Italian man and a Brazilian woman (997, 66.1%); Italian woman and Brazilian man (135, 9%) and Italian man and Italian woman (375, 24.9%).

These marriages between Italians and Brazilians were extremely common, mostly in the low classes, and were largely accepted for both people. However, some more closed members of the Italian community saw this integration process as negative. The German Brazilian population was also treated by some Italians as repulsive, even though many Germans and Italians lived together in many areas of Southern Brazil. The Brazilian Indians were often treated as wild people, and cases of conflicts between Italians and Indians for the occupation of lands in Southern Brazil were not uncommon.[25]


Brazilians of Italian descent with President Lula during Festa da Uva, in Rio Grande do Sul.

Historically, Italians have been divided into two groups in Brazil. Those in Southern Brazil lived in rural colonies, in contact mostly with other people of Italian descent. Italians living in Southeast Brazil on the other hand, the most populated region of the country, integrated into Brazilian society quite quickly.

After some years working in coffee plantations, some immigrants earned enough money to buy their own land and become farmers themselves. Others left the rural areas and moved to urban centres, mainly São Paulo, Campinas, São Carlos and Ribeirão Preto. A small minority became very rich in the process and attracted more Italian immigrants. In the early 20th century, São Paulo became known as the City of the Italians, because 31% of its inhabitants were of Italian nationality in 1900.[46] The city of São Paulo had the second highest population of people with Italian ancestry in the world at this time, second only to Rome.[28] In Campinas, street signs in Italian were common,[47] a large commercial and services sector owned by Italian Brazilians developed, and more than 60% of the population had Italian surnames.[48] Today, nearly 30% of the population of Belo Horizonte remains of Italian ancestry.[49]

Italian immigrants were very important to the development of many of the big cities in Brazil, such as São Paulo, Porto Alegre, Curitiba and Belo Horizonte. Bad conditions in rural areas made thousands of Italians move to these big cities. Most of them became laborers and participated actively in the industrialization of Brazil in the early 20th century. Others became investors, bankers and industrialists, such as Count Matarazzo, whose family became the richest industrialists in São Paulo, with a holding of more than 200 industries and businesses. In Rio Grande do Sul, 42% of industrial companies have Italians roots.[30]

Italians and their descendants were also quick to organize themselves and establish mutual aid societies (such as the Circolo Italiano), hospitals, schools (such as the Istituto Colégio Dante Alighieri, in São Paulo), labor unions, newspapers as Il Piccolo from Mooca and Fanfulla (for the whole city to São Paulo), magazines, radio stations and association football teams such as: Clube Atlético Votorantim, the old Sport Club Savóia from Sorocaba, Clube Atlético Juventus of Italians Brazilians from Mooca (old worker quarter from city of São Paulo) and the great clubs (which had the same name) Palestra Italia, later renamed to: Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras in São Paulo and Cruzeiro Esporte Clube in Belo Horizonte.

Palmeiras supporters in Estádio Palestra Itália. The club was founded by Italians immigrants in São Paulo in 1914 as Società Sportiva Palestra Italia.
1907 1920
Brazil[50] 2.258 13.336
Owned by Italians[25] 398 (17,6%) 2.119 (15,9%)
Owners of 204 largest industries in São Paulo (1962)[51]
Generation Percentage
Immigrant 49,5%
Son of an immigrant 23,5%
Brazilian(more than 3 generations) 15,7%
Grandson of an immigrant 11,3%
Ethnic Origin Percentage
Italians 34,8%
Brazilians 15,7%
Portuguese 11,7%
Germans 10,3%
Syrians and Lebanese 9,0%
Russians 2,9%
Austrians 2,4%
Swiss 2,4%
Other Europeans 9,1%
Others 2,0%
Industries owned by an Italian[25]
State 1907 1920
São Paulo 120 1,446
Minas Gerais 111 149
Rio Grande do Sul 50 227
Rio de Janeiro (city + state) 42 89
Paraná 31 61
Santa Catarina 13 56
Bahia 8 44
Amazonas 5 5
Pará 5 10
Pernambuco 3 3
Paraíba 2 4
Espírito Santo 1 18
Mato Grosso 1 3
Other states 5 4

Characteristics of Italian Immigration in Brazil

Saudades de Nápoles (1895) (Missing Naples). Painting by Bertha Worms (Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo).
Italian Immigration to Brazil (1876–1920)[52]
Region of
Number of
Region of
Number of
Veneto (North) 365,710 Sicily (South)44,390
Campania (South)166,080 Piedmont (North)40,336
Calabria (South)113,155 Apulia (South)34,833
Lombardy (North)105,973 Marche (Center)25,074
Abruzzo-Molise (South)93,020 Lazio (Center)15,982
Tuscany (Center)81,056 Umbria (Center)11,818
Emilia-Romagna (North)59,877 Liguria (North)9,328
Basilicata (South)52,888 Sardinia (South)6,113
Total : 1,243,633

Areas of origin

A plurality of the Italian immigrants to Brazil came from Northern Italy; however, they were not distributed homogeneously along the extensive Brazilian regions. In the state of São Paulo, the Italian community was more diverse including a large number of people from the South and from the Center of Italy.[53] Even today, 42% of the Italians in Brazil came from the Northern regions, 36% from central regions and only 22% from the south of Italy. Brazil is the only American country with a large Italian community where the Southern Italian immigrants are minority.[30]

In the first decades, the vast majority of the immigrants came from the North. Since Southern Brazil received most of the early settlers, the vast majority of the immigrants in this region came from the extreme North of Italy, mainly from Veneto and particularly from the provinces of Vicenza (32%), Belluno (30%) and Treviso (24%).[25] In Rio Grande do Sul, many came from Cremona, Mantua, from parts of Brescia, and also from Bergamo, in the region of Lombardy, close to Veneto. The regions of Trentino and of Friuli-Venezia Giulia also sent many immigrants to the South of Brazil. Of the immigrants in Rio Grande do Sul, 54% came from the Veneto, 33% from Lombardy, 7% from Trentino, 4.5% from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and only 1.5% from other parts of Italy.[54]

Starting in the early 20th century, the agrarian crisis also started to affect Southern Italy and many of them immigrated to Brazil. The Southerners went mostly to the state of São Paulo, since it was in need of workers to embrace the coffee plantations. Among the Italian immigrants in São Paulo, most came from Calabria, Campania and Veneto.[55]

Pictures of Caxias do Sul. The City was established by Italian immigrants, mostly farmers from the Veneto.
Italian Immigration to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay[56]
Region Percentage
North 53.7%
South 32.0%
Centre 14.5%

Italian regional origin of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay immigrants

Region Percentage
Veneto 26.6%
Campania 12.1%
Calabria 8.2%
Lombardy 7.7%
Tuscany 5.9%
Friuli-Venezia Giulia 5.8%
Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol 5.3%
Emilia-Romagna 4.3%
Basilicata 3.8%
Sicily 3.2%
Piedmont 2.8%
Apulia 2.5%
Marche 1.8%
Molise 1.8%
Lazio 1.1%
Umbria 0.8%
Liguria 0.7%
Sardinia 0.4%
Aosta Valley 0.2%
Main group of Italians immigrants living in São Paulo state(1936)[57]
Region Population
Veneto 228,142
Campania 91,960
Calabria 72,686
Lombardy 51,338
Tuscany 47,874
Main groups of Italians in some neighborhoods in São Paulo
Region Neighborhoods[25][58]
Calabria Bixiga
Campania and Apulia Brás
Veneto Bom Retiro

Italian influences in Brazil


The Italian is more heard in São Paulo than in Turin, Milan or Naples, because while between us the dialects are spoken, in São Paulo all dialects merge under the Venetianss and Toscans' influx, who are the majority, and the natives adopted the Italian as an official language.

Gina Lombroso, Italian traveler in São Paulo(1908).[59]

Italian women in Serra Gaúcha.

Nowadays, most Brazilians with Italian ancestry speak Portuguese as their native language. During the Second World War, the public use of Italian, German and Japanese was forbidden.[60][61]

The Italian dialects have influenced the Portuguese spoken in some areas of Brazil. The Italian Language was so spread in São Paulo that the Portuguese traveller, Sousa Pinto, said that he could not speak with cart drivers in Portuguese because they all spoke Italians dialects and gesticulating as Neapolitans.[62]

Currently, the Italian influence on Portuguese spoken in São Paulo is not as great as in the past, although the accent of the city's inhabitants still has some traces of the Italian accents common in the beginning of the 20th century, like the intonation and also such expressions as Belo,Ma vá!, Orra meu! and Tá entendendo?.[63] Other characteristic is the difficulty to speak Portuguese in plural, saying plural words as they were singulars.[64] The lexical influence of Italian on Brazilian Portuguese, however, has remained quite small.

A similar phenomenon occurred in the countryside of Rio Grande do Sul, but encompassing almost exclusively those of Italian origin.[54] On the other hand, there exists a different phenomenon; Talian, a language which emerged mostly in the northeastern part of the state (Serra Gaúcha). Talian is a variant of the Venetian language, with influences from other Italian dialects and Portuguese.[4] In southern Brazilian rural areas marked by bilingualism, even among the monolingual Portuguese-speaking population, the Italian-influenced accent is fairly typical.


The Italian influence in Brazil reached also the music, not only with traditional Italian songs but also with the merging with other Brazilians music styles. One of the main results of the fusion is the Samba Paulista, a Samba with strong Italians influence.

The Samba Paulista was created by Adoniran Barbosa(born João Rubinato), son of Italians immigrants. His songs translated the life of the Italian neighborhoods in São Paulo, merging the São Paulo's dialect with Samba, what latter celebrate him as the People's Poet.[65]

One of the main example is the Samba Italiano, a song that has Brazilian rhythm and theme, but (mostly) Italian lyrics. Below, the lyrics of this song, with the parts in (mangled) Portuguese in bold and the parts in Italian in normal font:

The Church of Our Lady of Achiropita in Bixiga. The Feast in honor to the Lady happens in August since 1926.
Original in São Paulo's pidgin

Gioconda, piccina mia,
Vai brincar ali no mare í no fundo,
Mas attenzione co os tubarone, ouviste
Capito, meu San Benedito?

Piove, piove,
Fa tempo che piove qua, Gigi,
E io, sempre io,
Sotto la tua finestra
E voi senza mi sentire
Ridere, ridere, ridere
Di questo infelice qui

Ti ricordi, Gioconda,
Di quella sera in Guarujá
Quando il mare ti portava via
E mi chiamasti
Aiuto, Marcello!
La tua Gioconda ha paura di quest'onda

Free translation to English

Gioconda, my little
Go frolicking there, deep into the sea
But pay attention to the sharks, do you hear
Understood, my Saint Benedict?

It rains, it rains
It has rained for a long time here, Gigi
And I, always I
Under your window
And you, without hearing me
Laughing, laughing and laughing
Of this unhappy one here

Do you remember, Gioconda
That afternoon in Guarujá
When the sea took you away
And you called for me:
Help, Marcello!
Your Gioconda is afraid of this wave

St. Vito Festival

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Caravaggio located in Farroupilha. The city was founded by Italian immigrants as Nova Milano(New Milan). There are other five Sanctuary spread in Brazil.

St. Vito Festival is one of the most important Italian festivals in São Paulo. It is a celebration in honor of Saint Vito, the patron saint of Polignano a Mare, a city in the Puglia region, in Italy. Many Italian immigrants in Brás, a São Paulo district, came from Puglia. Festa de São Vito is also a time when the Italian community in São Paulo gathers to party and eat traditional food. Other important Italian celebrations in São Paulo are Our Lady of Casaluce, also in Brás (May), Our Lady of Achiropita, in Bela Vista (August), and St. Gennaro, in Mooca (September). Italian immigrants from the Puglia region who moved in great numbers to the Brás neighborhood in São Paulo at the end of the 19th century brought along a devotion to Saint Vito, a Christian martyr who was killed in June 303 a.D.

Just like Polignano a Mare, eventually Brás had a church devoted to St. Vito. An association was formed and hosted the first festival in June 1919. As São Paulo grew, so did the Italian community and St. Vito Festival. Today, about 6 million of São Paulo's 10,886,518 inhabitants are Italians and descendants (known as "oriundi"), according to statistics provided by Conscre, a São Paulo state council for foreign communities. An estimated 140,000 people were expected to attend the festival in 2008.


Catupiry, a Brazilian cheese developed by the Italian immigrant Mario Silvestrini in 1911.[66]

Italians brought new recipes and types of food to Brazil but also helped in the development of Brazil's cuisine.

Aside from the typical Italian cuisine like pizza, pasta, risotto, panettone, milanesa, polenta, calzone, ossobuco and others, Italians helped to create new dishes that today are typically Brazilians. Galeto(from the Italian Galletto, little rooster), Frango com Polenta (Chicken with fried Polenta),Bife à parmegiana(a steak prepared with Parmigiano-Reggiano), Catupiry cheese, new types of sausage like Linguiça Calabresa and Linguiça Toscana (literally Calabrian and Tuscan Sausage),[67] Chocotone (Panettone with chocolate chips) and many others recipes were created or influenced by the Italian community.

Other Influences

The Italian-Brazilian Benvenutti family, in 1928.
  • Use of ciao ("tchau" in Brazilian-Portuguese) as a 'goodbye' salutation (all of Brazil),
  • Wine production (in the South),
  • A few loan words (italianisms), such as bisogno, entrevero, esquifoso (schifoso, disgusting), imbróglio, male-male, manjar (mangiare), noccia, noja, nonna, nonnino, pivete, and others.
  • Early introduction of more advanced low-scale farming techniques (Minas Gerais, São Paulo and all Southern Brazil).


Italian international schools in Brazil:

See also


  1. 1 2 Simon Schwartzman (1999). "Fora de foco: diversidade e identidades étnicas no Brasil" (in Portuguese). Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  2. 1 2 "Italinani nel mondo: Diaspora italiana in cifre" [Italians in the world: Italian diaspora in figures] (PDF). (in Italian). 1 January 1996. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 February 2008. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 Immigrazione Italiana nell’America del Sud (Argentina, Uruguay e Brasile). p. 36.
  4. 1 2 Enciclopédia de Línguas do Brasil - Línguas de Imigração Européia - Talian (Vêneto Brasileiro). Retrieved September 11, 2008.
  5. 1 2 "Personalidades da comunidade italiana recebem o troféu "Loba Romana"". Revista digital "Oriundi". 7 June 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  6. A game of mirrors: the changing face of ethno-racial constructs and language in the Americas. Thomas M. Stephens. University Press of America, 2003. ISBN 0-7618-2638-6, ISBN 978-0-7618-2638-5. Retrieved on 2010-10-14.
  7. IBGE.Censo brasileiro de 1940.
  8. "Veja 15/12/99".
  9. "Notizie d'Italia - Cavalcanti é a maior família brasileira".
  10. "Migração - Cidadania Italiana - Dupla Cidadania - Encontro analisa imigração italiana em MG".
  11. Clemente, Elvo.Italianos no Brazil p.231
  12. Favero, Luigi; Graziano Tassello. Cent'anni di emigrazione italiana (1876–1976). p. 136.
  13. Constitutional amendment ECR-000.003-1994
  14. 1 2 Desiderio Peron (18 June 2007). "Entrevista com o senador Edoardo Pallastri". Revista Insieme.
  15. "Cittadinanza".
  16. GABACCIA, Ottanelli, Italian workers of the world, University of Illinois Press
  17. Generations. Family Tree plus v.8,5. Software to design genealogical trees. Additional information of groups of immigrants that settled in the USA
  18. 1 2 IBGE. Brasil 500 anos - Italianos - Regiões de Origem. Retrieved September 10, 2008.
  19. DEL BOCA, Daniela; VENTURINI, Alessandra. Italian Migration. Working paper in CHILD Centre for Household, Income, Labor and Demographic Economics. 2001. Retrieved September 10, 2008.
  20. BUCKMAN, Kirk. Italian Citizenship, Nationality Law and Italic Identities
  21. 1 2 IBGE - Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística
  22. 1 2 3 4 IBGE.Brazilian Census of 1940.
  23. p.3
  24. / Note 3, p.3
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Do Outro Lado do Atlântico - Um Século de Imigração Italiana no Brasil, p. 100, at Google Books
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  33. Estados autoritários e totalitários e suas representações, p. 179, at Google Books
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  35. Fazer a América: a imigração em massa para a América Latina, p. 318, at Google Books
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  38. "Recenseamento do Brazil. Realizado em 1 de Setembro de 1920. População (5a parte, tomo 2). População do Brazil, por Estados e municipios, segundo o sexo, a nacionalidade, a idade e as profissões.".
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  40. Censo Demográfico 1940, pt. XVII, t. 1, SP, p. 103
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  42. p. 174
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  50. IBGE - Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística. "IBGE - Séries Estatísticas & Séries Históricas - atividade industrial - indústrias extrativa e de transformação - séries históricas e encerradas - inquéritos e Censos industriais - Estabelecimentos industriais nas datas dos Inquéritos Industriais e do Censo 1920 - 1907-1920".
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  63. "Domínio LocaWeb".
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  65. "Memória Globo".

Further reading

  • Bertonha, João Fábio. Os italianos. Editora Contexto. São Paulo, 2005 ISBN 85-7244-301-0
  • Cenni, Franco. Os italianos no Brasil. EDUSP. São Paulo, 2003 ISBN 85-314-0671-4
  • Clemente, Elvo (et all). Italianos no Brasil: contribuições na literatura e nas ciências, séculos XIX e XX EDIPUCRS. Porto Alegre, 1999 ISBN 85-7430-046-2
  • Franzina, Emilio. Storia dell'emigrazione italiana. Donzelli Editore. Roma, 2002 ISBN 88-7989-719-5
  • Favero, Luigi y Tassello, Graziano. Cent'anni di emigrazione italiana (1876–1976). Cser. Roma, 1978
  • Trento, Ângelo. Do outro lado do Atlântico. Studio Nobel. São Paulo, 1988 ISBN 85-213-0563-X
  •, a site for descendants from Italians in Brazil
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