The blood, sweat and tears in Brazil

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The blood, sweat and tears in Brazil

The author is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo Innovation Lab.

Sixty years ago on Dec. 18, the first group of 103 immigrants to Brazil left the port of Busan. It was the first immigration since the enactment of the Overseas Migration Act in March 1962. In the early 1960s, Korea drew up an active immigration policy to address overpopulation and food shortages. Brazil, with a small farming population, wanted to reclaim farmland by accepting immigrants. The interests of the two governments matched.

By 1966, four more immigration groups were sent, but the agricultural immigration failed. The Korean immigrants who travelled more than two months by boat arrived in Brazil but were provided with poor facilities. The immigrants struggled to find food and places to stay, fighting swarms of ants and poisonous insects without proper lodging or equipment. The land ownership was also vague. As most immigrants were veterans and merchants, they could not cultivate wasteland as farms. In the end, most of them moved to big cities like Sao Paulo.

If the first generation of immigrants to Japan had the Pachinko business, the first generation of immigrants to Brazil had the clothing industry. Having difficulty finding a proper job in the city, Korean women jumped into door-to-door clothing sales. The clothes they brought were popular as they were of better quality than those of the Brazilian working class.

In 1971, technicians in the clothing industry of the Dongdaemun market and others joined the immigration. They set up a few sewing machines and worked as contractors or purchased fabric and sold clothing. With the synergy of the peddlers and sewing industry, Koreans had their own production and sales network. It was a symbolic event for the Korean immigrants to establish a Korean general clothing center in Brazilian fashion mecca Bom Retiro in Sao Paolo in the late 1980s. In 2010, the district was officially designated as a Korea Town.

According to the Americas section of the “The History of Overseas Koreans in Records” published by the National Archives in 2016, Korean immigrants accounted for 50 percent of Brazil’s middle and high-priced clothing production, contributing to Brazil’s rise as a global fashion powerhouse.

That’s why immigration to Brazil is considered a success. At one point, 90 percent of Koreans in Brazil were employed in the clothing industry, but the occupations have diversified since. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of immigration to Brazil, I expect a new history of success by the 1.5 and second generations of immigrants.
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