6064 - Working on Identity, Working as Identity: Images of Industriousness and Slavery in the Construction of German Settler Identity in Southern Brazil

My paper will explore the ways in which members of the German immigrant community in Brazil (specifically Rio Grande do Sul) attempting to use the supposed connection between industriousness and Germanness ( Deutschtum ), already popular among German nationalist thinkers in Europe, to create a distinct ethnic identity within the slave-holding society of their new Brazilian homeland. I will focus especially on how Teuto-Brazilian journalists between 1860 and 1888 presented the institution of slavery as existing mainly outside of the German settler community, thus making it a primary means of distinguishing Teuto-Brazilians from other groups within Brazil.  

Throughout the period of the Brazilian Empire, the Brazilian central and provincial governments actively sought to promote European immigration to their country. Among their many motives, racial concerns regarding the alleged nature of Afro-Brazilians as inferior laborers were central. Furthermore, leaders in Rio Grande do Sul especially wanted to create an agricultural economy based on small-holding to offset the nation’s economic dependence on the plantation system. Cited for their “love of work” and talent for farming, German immigrants appeared to be the ideal candidates to resolve both of these issues, and by 1900, Teuto-Brazilians represented over 13% of Rio Grande do Sul’s population. The supposedly superior quantity and quality of “German work” was at the core of their appeal as colonists.  

This belief in the diligent nature of the German people was also fundamental to perceptions of identity among German liberal nationalists in Europe. A group of these nationalists immigrated to Brazil in 1851, some of whom would become the predominant voices in Rio Grande do Sul’s German-language public sphere that arose in the 1860s. These leading Teuto-Brazilian journalists attempted to use the image of the industrious German to create simultaneously a discrete ethnic identity and assert the superiority of that identity within a Brazilian society permeated by slavery. My paper will thus investigate how the image of the hardworking German was transnationally mutable and juxtaposed by Teuto-Brazilian writers with that of the slave-owning Brazilian, thus playing a pivotal role in identity formation in southern Brazil.

Palabras claves: Brazil, German, Immigration, Slavery, Identity



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