Notes concerning jewish identity in Brazil: From word to image

Berta Waldman, David Foster

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


In his book A imigração (Immigration), the Algerian sociologist Abdelmalek Sayad calls our attention to an apparently banal question, one that seems to me to be fundamental: how immigration must be seen as a "complete social fact" that takes into account the existence of the "emigrant," the person abandoning his community, society, country, and the "immigrant," the person who arrives in a strange land. The paradox, according to Sayad, is that both are one and the same person. The immigrant "is born" in the moment in which he is so designated by the society that takes him in. And to be unaware of what happens at that moment implies the mutilation of a history, an exercise of power interested in erasing difference. If we think about this question with respect to Brazil, particularly with regard to the flows of immigrants that date from the dawn of the twentieth century, the foreigners brought to the country as a substitute for slave labor, seeking to escape the poverty and other problems in their country of origin, came into contact with various repressive mechanisms of the State. These were mechanisms dedicated to obstructing the circulation of foreignizing ideas, manifestations of foreign languages, the publication of newspapers in those languages, the study of those languages in school, and the like, all in the name of the preservation of a national hegemony that, certainly, was thought of as a whole and as occupying a realm free of any sort of contamination. By contrast, sociological and anthropological studies on immigration point out that the cultural behavior of the immigrants fluctuated between two poles: The preservation of their culture of origin and the radical adoption of their host countries. It is clear that a complex and specific mechanism determines which option will prevail in the case of a specific group of immigrants, a specific historical period, and a specific locale. While it is true that a particular practice for the closing down of a part of the migratory process can take place, whether through the action of the State or through an individual or group choice, Hanna Arendt, in Between Past and Future, calls our attention to the fact that we are the prisoners of the traditions that we emphasize: The end of a tradition does not necessarily mean that traditional concepts have lost their power over the mind of men. On the contrary, it sometimes seems that this power of well-worn notions and categories becomes more tyrannical as the tradition loses its living force and as the memory of its beginning recedes; it may even reveal its full coercive force only after the end has come and men no longer even rebel against it. Foreigners and immigrants show up in Brazilian literature in various ways. Foreigners arrive in Brazil principally between 1850 and 1910, with the opening up of the country to international capital investment, in line with the developmentalist spurt in the infrastructure in the realm of transportation, communications, urban trappings, which created an enormous demand for skilled personal non-existent in the country. As a consequence, there was a movement for the arrival of foreigners who would constitute a frame of reference on the basis of the superior training that would distinguish them. Thus they would deserve a literary treatment different from that accorded to the immigrants. The latter would always be presented as dehumanized instruments reduced both to being nothing more than common laborers and a source for the whitening of the Brazilian population, contributing in the process to the erasure of the traces of their origin. It is safe to say that immigrants begin to achieve visibility between 1910 and 1940 with the publication of diverse newspapers and magazines, principally in Rio and São Paulo, which published material written in the "Macaronic style."2 The most well known author of the period was Alexandre Ribeiro Ma condes, who, under the pseudonym of Juó Bananere, wrote La divina incrença (The Divine Non-Belief), a parody of Dante's Divina commedia (see Capela's study of Bananere, as well as Marchand). If the immigrant, up to a certain moment in history, is represented by a native author, who sees him as an outsider, representing him with the traces of a vision that is often officialist and stereotyped, immigrant authors themselves begin to emerge in the middle of the twentieth century. This is a production that extends up to the present day, followed by sons and grandsons who continue to sustain a two-sided literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLatin American Jewish Cultural Production
PublisherVanderbilt University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780826592552
ISBN (Print)9780826516237
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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