After living in Germany, United Kingdom, China and Argentina,Manuel Schneider, a young German business development manager, spent two years in Brazil. Before he left the country, he wrote a blog post called “What I know about Brazilians…” that contains 100 curious facts (from his point of view) about Brazilians. Although a simple post, to me it shows how much a person can learn and gain and absorb by living abroad. However, if we take the perspective of the actual country, we can ask whether receiving foreigners is always an advantage.
Well, not always. If we look back some centuries, we’ll remember the catastrophic genocide wrought by Europeans in the Americas and Africa. Jared Diamond, in his fantastic Pulitzer prize winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies”, attempts to explain why European countries conquered others, and not the other way around. He argues “against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral or inherent genetic superiority.” In this book Jared shares with us that 95% of the population living in the Americas in the 15th century died from diseases brought in by the Europeans. In other words the idea that indigenous people didn’t fight enough for their land or were just too naive is simply wrong. So, looked at from the Americas’ perspective, receiving foreigners was not such a great deal.
Having said that, we can fast forward to the present and a country that has received immigrants from all over the world and see how its economy is doing: my beloved homeland, Brazil. I’ll not describe the many great habits and cultures we absorb from another countries. We appreciate all that with our music, food and way of life. Nor will I tell how immigrants suffered in the 15th and 16th centuries to build a life here. What I want to do is see what kind of people are coming to Brazil today. Let me take an immigrant from Haiti as a case in point.
Let´s call him Pierre. Pierre is 28 years old. After the catasrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010, he tried to rebuild his life with his family but there weren’t many things to do. Then Pierre’s neighbor offered him an opportunity he couldn’t refuse: to go to Brazil for a while, without his family, to earn some money. “After all, everyone is going to Brazil to do the same, and I can help you.” Pierre went to Brazil and, today he is among the two thousand Haitians living in Brasiléia, a tiny city in the Amazon area. Everyday 30 Haitians arrive in the country lured by coyotes’ promises of a better life. Usually these immigrants are in the 25 to 35 age bracket. Most are men and are married with family still in Haiti, and the vast majority of them didn’t finish middle school. “Some immigrants sold everything in Haiti. The promise was that they would earn between $ 1000 and $ 2000, in Brazil”, said the Haitian Catholic missionary OnacAxenat to Agência Brasil, the Brazilian news public agency.
However, there are two important points to be made about Haitians like Pierre: they are low skilled workers and they are arriving and staying in the least populated region of Brazil which is a region of fewer opportunities. Economically speaking, the municipality of Brasiléia does not have much to offer to these immigrants. Its economic make-up is 60% services, 12% agriculture / livestock and 7.6% industry. Besides which, it is established as a free trade area (although it’s still not regulated) and is heavily dependent on trade with the neighboring municipality of Cobija, a small Bolivian city of around 20 thousand inhabitants with a underdeveloped economy. I’m not saying I’m against our offering help to people like Pierre. Quite the contrary: maybe it’s a chance to join forces and help the city and the immigrants at the same time. For instance, Brasiléia lacks an infrastructure of hotels and restaurants. Why don’t we offer jobs to start building them?
(All the pictures by Agência Brasil on Flickr, CC BY 3.0 BR)
On the other hand (and on the other side of the country), we have people like Manuel, highly skilled workers who also come here to work. By 2015 Brazil will need 300,000 new engineers, according to the National Federation of Engineers. Today 38,000 engineers graduate each year, but to meet the needs of the market, the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics, this number has to reach a target of 60 thousand per year.
In my opinion, Brazil still has a lot to gain receiving immigrants from all over the world. I believe we can do something for the ones that need help – welcome, Haitians! – and we have to be humble enough to ask for help from those who can offer it – welcome, Germans! And, if we continue along this path, maybe evolutionary biologists will be right: humans beings will eventually homogenize and all look like Brazilians. That can’t be bad, can it?