Jeffrey Lesser – Brazilian Journeys: Contemporary Immigration and Emigration

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Seminar to be held on Monday, October 10th in ERC 115 at 12:00 pm.

Brazil, like the United States, often defines itself as a “nation of immigrants.”  Yet immigration has implications far beyond the direct experiences of newcomers.  The idea of immigration, often so different than the concrete reality of arrival, allowed Brazil’s elites (made up of landowners, politicians, intellectuals, and industrialists) to see a future that was different and better than the present one.

More than five million immigrants flowed into Brazil between 1872 and 1972 and the majority originated in Europe, especially Italy. Yet Brazil stands out for the high numbers of non-Europeans who also entered, notably from Japan and the Middle East.   Today Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo, is one of the largest Italian, Japanese, and Lebanese cities in the world.

This paper will explore the relationship between immigration and national identity both as an historical phenomenon and as a contemporary one by providing an overview of immigration to Brazil and then focusing on the contemporary movement of Brazilians to Japan.

Jeffrey Lesser is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor and Chair of the History Department at Emory University.  His research focuses on issues of ethnicity and national identity.

Lesser received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Brown University and his Ph.D. from New York University.  He is the author of A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese-Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy, 1960-1980 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), winner of the Roberto Reis Prize (Honorable Mention) from the Brazilian Studies Association; Negotiating National Identity: Minorities, Immigrants and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Duke University Press, 1999), winner of the Best Book Prize from the Brazil Section of the Latin American Studies Association, and Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question (University of California Press, 1994) which won the Best Book Prize from New England Council on Latin American Studies. 

Lesser is has edited a number of volumes including Rethinking Jewish-Latin Americans (University of New Mexico Press, 2008; with Raanan Rein) Searching for Home Abroad: Japanese – Brazilians and Transnationalism (Duke University Press, 2003) and Arab and Jewish Immigrants in Latin America: Images and Realities (London: Frank Cass, 1998; with Ignacio Klich).