Text and photos by Tiago Bianchi
First, a personal insight
Having more European physical features than an expected “Latin American face” is how my questions about migration encounter me the strongest. Please don’t understand this necessarily as a complaint, but after living one and a half year in Denmark and Germany for my Master’s Degree in journalism, media and globalization, I was suddenly caught by the issue of being a “white Brazilian” in Europe, having to explain something I have never faced in my country, affected by a heavy background of structural racism against african and indigenous descendants that threatens daily more than half of our population. Moreover, I have to draw and explain the privilege of being able to migrate to Europe from the second most unequal country regarding income distribution, only behind the Kingdom of Qatar.
It has become almost a decorated text every time I introduce myself: explain that there are big German and Italian colonial communities in the southernmost parts of my country and the whole “Southern cone” of Latin America (region that embraces Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay), not to mention the Portuguese and Spanish background of our colonization or the fact that we have one of the biggest Japanese immigration poles in São Paulo. Besides that, what does a “Brazilian face” look like? What an irony to hear this in Western Europe, where the richness and growth of most of its societies was built upon colonialism, fact that still shapes the mentality of much of its population and affected most of the world. And how about all that regards to globalization and integration that Europe is so proud of?
I would like to be more objective when starting to write this article about my integration here, but I couldn’t find a better way to draw a conflict that could not only be mine.
Europe to the South of Brazil and back
After these reflections, the first person I spoke with was Thomas Mayer Rieger — yes, despite his name he is also Brazilian, journalist and a master’s candidate at Deutsche Welle, in its Bonn headquarters. We have a lot in common: both white male coming from the southernmost states of Brazil, where German influence is stronger, who studied and worked in media and decided to go abroad for better opportunities that our country was offering. Here we had the same hardships for finding a house, for example — which is very different and much more competitive and expensive than it is in Brazil (even for Germans), or the culture of sharing a housing, known as WG — abbreviation for “Wohngemeinschaft” [shared accomodation], as we both do.
Still, according to himself, he is the perfect example of an easy integration in Germany, socially and professionally, due to this born contact with the country’s culture: like me, he also had the gifted entitlement for a Brazilian for having such access to this world and being able to learn the idiom since young. His main difficulties nowadays might be the darkness of the winter, where the sun rises at 8h and sets at around 16h when closer to the Solstice:
It might sound silly, but it really reminds me of Curitiba, be it for the weather or people’s behavior and the fact that my family has German roots.Thomas Mayer Rieger
Besides also having to explain why he has two “European” last names and how can he speak the language so well, he also faces the same issue of the “nationality guessing”: people will usually think he is Dutch or from Southern Germany, while for me the guessing goes also for Scandinavia.
This cultural and even colonial proximity, which still surprises me to be a shock for Europeans, seems to be determinant for a lot of people migrating here, perfectly illustrated by the example of Brazilians that decided to come back to the land of their ancestors, as reported by journalist Guilherme Becker and published at Deutsche Welle (only in Portuguese).
According to data from the consular Brazilian system, available on the Brazilian Ministry of Relations website, there are records over a 102 thousand brazilians residing throughout Germany, many of these immigrants are either with a working or study visa, living for a long time already, are registered as tourists or are eventually marrying with a German citizen. The number is, however, only an approximate estimation since there, therefore not appearing in the regular registers of migration for his work — many with european passports, German from his requests, or Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.
The same is applied to Hamburg, second biggest city of Germany with over 1,8 million people and where I currently live: according to the lawyer and honorary consul for Brazil in the city, Doctor Jan Curschmann, approximately 2 to 3 thousand brazilians live here. From his experience, those who have better integrated themselves are people who tried harder to learn the language and adapt to the culture and habits — they all end up liking the country a lot, especially due to aspects like public security and general organization, besides interplaying with the Brazilian social characteristics of hospitality, improvisation and flexibility. The numbers for 2019 from United Nations Human Development set the point: Germany has the 4th best quality of living, only behind Norway, Switzerland and Ireland, while Brazil is on the 79th position — surprisingly, there are cases of Brazilians who avoid changing abdicating their nationality, according to him.
Brazilians are usually very deared people here: everybody likes them and I hear this everytime in my work as a consul. I don’t think Brazilians face xenophobia specifically for being Brazilians. Maybe because of being black, although it’s a global problem of racism that of course exists here, although lesser in Hamburg, since it is historically a very liberal and cosmopolitan city.JAN CURSCHMANn
Mr. Curschmann points the easy interaction with the Portuguese community here, so numerous and well integrated in the city to the point of having a neighbourhood for themselves (story only in Portuguese) as a facilitator in the city, apart from the Brazilian Club and the Brazilian Club of Hamburg and the School of Samba “Unidos de Hamburgo” amongst existing activities promoted by Brazilians here. It is also worth to mention the connections to Brazil by the Port of city, especially during the height of the country’s coffee exportation from the 1800’s.
…despite the problems
Hence the cultural proximity seeming to be the biggest facilitator for Brazilians in Germany, the same was confirmed when I ended at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), where I met Pedro Bras Martins da Costa and Jéssica Gomes: coming from Rio de Janeiro, a region of Brazil where the German influence was not as strong, they are both now in Hamburg as research fellows and doctoral students at the Center.
Pedro studies German since he was 9 years old and later went to the Goethe Institut in Rio. After paving his way, he won a bursary from the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, the biggest German student exchange service) in 2012 for a German winter course and came for the first time in Germany to Leipzig.
There he had the main clashes within the country: simple problems with the strong accent of the region and the lack of hospitality of the region led to some of his first contacts with xenophobia, even besides looking like an European and having a very good level of language: people passing by car and swearing at him while together with another group of foreigners to the case of a medical doctor that told him “to go home” if he wanted to avoid health issues caused by the weather. It is worth to remember that the city is the capital of the State of Saxony, region of rising conflicts of nationalism and xenophobia propelled by far-right-wing parties.
His second time in Germany was shockingly more calm, when he went to Cologne, capital of North Rhine-Westphalia state, for another studying opportunity, where he was impressed by the notorious and recognized openness of its people.
Jéssica, had a similar story: she also started studying German as a teenager and also won a bursary from the DAAD to study German in Freiburg, which later led her to do her Master-thesis in International Relations about the Brazil and Germany and later coming back for her PhD studies. For her it is unavoidable to have difficulties while adapting, despite the similar benefits we have.
I think Germany could be much more flexible regarding bureaucracy and language, observing they are a country with a huge immigration context.JÉSSICA GOMES
As all of us, she mentions the fact of being white and, again, “looking like european”, maybe Portuguese, Italian or Spanish but not German this time, always imposing little signs of suspicion from people for her “not-as-perfect” German skills, also showing the common expectation brazilians to be racially homogeneous, specifically to a stereotype of more brunette and darker skin.
Eventual issues, social, cultural or even academic, for being placed into a certain position for being Brazilian are perhaps a thing for the whole continent: she is the only person from a developing country this year (all the others are European or Canadians) in a doctoral program funded by the European Union. She claims to have felt more than once of having to “prove herself twice to be deserving of being there”, making clear the perception that Brazil is still a distant country and seen as not well structured enough to provide education or social conditions for being here.
This resounded to me when Mr. Curschmann pointed that Brazil might be a country that is naturally more open for being a country of immigrants, while Germany sees itself as a country of migrators for the rest of the world, pointing to an european centralized vision of their place in the world.
How to get away along Germany
For every problem or situation mentioned by the people interviewed, I could answer with a very similar and approximate example, meaning we were experiencing this integration process very similarly. Even though with different stories, backgrounds and places, we all share a common point: the simple fact of a Brazilian to migrate to Germany and having a proper integration is a thing for privileged ones.
Not only for us to have the economic power when our currency is at least four to five times lesser valued than the Euro, but being able to embrace and consume the culture, going to the fact of looking more related to a specific stereotype of German or European physical features is, in Germany and Brazil, a matter that shows how far the extension of colonialism and the subsequent racism went: we all perceive it, no matter how much we are benefited or affected by this.
In a more optimistic sense, I could perceive by the commonalities with my interviewees I was following the right tracks. Despite the language as the obvious first tool to get into Germany, dealing with the country’s bureaucracy and eventual lack of flexibility in regard of its already long-established processes and steps as a common social traits and codes were also agreed by all, even when it is seen as organization that indeed works for who is a well-established citizen here.
For me, to be living in Hamburg, city with a story of world trade and cosmopolitanism for being the major port of the country and as “internationalized” as Berlin, Bonn and Cologne was mentioned by all of those who I interviewed as one of the main benefits for their own placements — other regions of Germany were not perceived to be as receptive as these places.
Moreover, my colleague Thomas reminded me the fact that he lived in a WG helped him the most, even despite the initial contact, to be inserted among Germans. Differently from people who live with only English-speaking people or with compatriots, he believes that it is not enough to integrate, but live together and as Germans do:
I created my own comfort zone by the friendships I’ve made. If you go to another place to live your past life you don’t go anywhere, feeling like you’re moving to cities within your own country.Thomas Mayer Rieger, JOURNALIST FOR DEUTSCHE WELLE (BONN)
The thought is shared by Pedro who, besides his level of the language being good enough for teaching academic lectures, also has a German girlfriend, who is a natural guide for her mother-tongue and helps on understanding the very minor cultural differences and everyday speaking. It remains clear, however, that besides the cultural differences within human relations, be it by the closeness and harshness of the German traits related by Jéssica, the key is not only to live amongst Germans, but with them.
Mr. Curschmann compares his experience when working in Rio de Janeiro’s chamber of commerce, when a colleague approached him and quickly presented him to his family — the thing escalated in such a natural pace for us brazilians but so strange to a German person, that he felt integrated to Brazilian people without barely speaking proper Portuguese in less than two weeks. In that sense, he advices:
Preserve the Brazilian optimism. Do not expect that the integration in Germany to happen in 3-4 weeks: here it will take much longer, maybe six to one or two years.DR. Jan Curschmann
Tiago Bianchi is an Erasmus Mundus Scholar studying for a Master’s Degree in Journalism, Media & Globalization.