Ethnicity and the Shifting Margins of Brazilian Identity

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Dávila offers a remarkably rich investigation of ethnicity in Brazil as he reviews two new and two earlier studies of Arab, Japanese, Portuguese (and, in passing, Chinese and Jewish) identities in that country. The books are Jeffrey Lesser’s A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy, 1960–1980 (Duke UP, 2007), Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Duke UP, 1999), and Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question (U of California P, 1995); and John Tofik Karam’s penetrating Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil (Temple UP, 2007). Dávila uses a famous Brazilian joke—”When the guy first arrived … he peddled, he was really a pauper, and was a turco. He started to make a little bit of money and turned into a Syrian. When he became a millionaire of high society, he turned into a Lebanese”—to indicate the elasticity of such identities and the unusual impact of the marketplace on them. He examines how Karam explores the constructions of Middle Eastern ethnicity in Brazil and the ways these are woven into Brazil’s marketplace and its international economic and cultural relations. Looking at a large range of phenomena, from the participation of Japanese-Brazilians in guerrilla movements to the role of ethnics in a genre of pornographic comedy, he illustrates both the endurance of some stereotypes and the changing nature of many others. In passing, Dávila argues that the changes in the 400-year-old “majority” Portuguese identity in Brazil are one major factor enabling the new identities of Arabs, Japanese, and others. Another such factor is the fact that, in Brazil, “constructions of race and ethnic identity are commonly abstract conceptions in which individuals serve as examples for broader metaphors about the nation … Unlike in the United States, where discussions about race commonly apply in direct ways to individuals, Brazilians commonly see race and ethnicity as fluid constructs that everyone participates in.”
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-200
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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