The Info List - Italian-Brazilian

Italian Brazilians (Italian: Italobrasiliani, Portuguese: Ítalo-brasileiros) are Brazilian citizens of full or partial Italian descent.[4]

There are no official numbers about how many Brazilians have Italian ancestry, as the national census conducted by IBGE does not ask the ancestry of the Brazilian people. In the last census to ask about ancestry, from 1940, 1,260,931 Brazilians said to be the child of an Italian father, while 1,069,862 said to be the child of an Italian mother. Italians were 285,000 and naturalized Brazilians, 40,000. Therefore, Italians and their children were just over 3.8% of Brazil's population in 1940.[5]

A 1999 survey, conducted by the sociologist, former president of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Simon Schwartzman, indicated that 10.5% of Brazilian respondents claimed to have Italian ancestry; hence they would make up around 20 million descendants in a national population of 200 million.[6] An Italian source, from 1996, cites the number of 22,753,000 descendants.[7] The Embassy of Italy in Brazil, in 2013, reported the number of 31 million descendants of Italian immigrants in Brazil (about 15% of the population), half of them in the state of São Paulo.[2]

Italian immigration to Brazil

The Cavalcanti family arrived in Brazil in 1560. Today is the largest family in Brazil by a common ancestor.[8][9]

According to the Italian government, there are 31 million Brazilians of Italian descent,[10] All those figures relate to Brazilians of any Italian descent, not necessarily linked to Italian culture in any significant way. According to García,[11] the number of Brazilians with actual links to Italian identity and culture would be around 3.5 to 4.5 million people. Scholar Luigi Favero, in a book on Italian emigration between 1876 and 1976, pinpointed that Italians were present in Brasil since the Renaissance: Genoese sailors and merchants were between the first to settle in colonial Brazil since the first half of the 16th century,[12] and so—because of the many descendants of Italians emigrated there from Columbus times until 1860—the number of Brazilians with Italian roots should be increased to 35 million.[13]

Although victims of some prejudice in the first decades and in spite of the persecution during World War II, Brazilians of Italian descent managed to mingle and to incorporate seamlessly into the Brazilian society.

Many Brazilian politicians, artists, footballers, models and personalities are or were of Italian descent. Amongst Italian-Brazilian one finds several State Governors, Congressmen, mayors and ambassadors. Three Presidents of Brazil were of Italian descent (though none of them were directly elected to such a position): Pascoal Ranieri Mazzilli (Senate president who served as interim president), Itamar Franco (elected vice-President under Fernando Collor, whom he eventually replaced as the latter was impeached), and Emílio Garrastazu Médici (third of the series of generals who presided over Brazil during the military regime). Médici was also of Basque descent.


According to the Brazilian Constitution, anyone born in the country is a Brazilian citizen by birthright. In addition, many who were born in Italy have become naturalized citizens after settling in Brazil. The Brazilian government used to prohibit multiple citizenships. However, this changed in 1994 with a new constitutional amendment.[14] After the changes in 1994 over half a million Italian-Brazilians have requested the recognition of their Italian citizenship.[15]

According to the Italian legislation an individual with an Italian parent is automatically recognized as an Italian citizen, the jus sanguinis principle being applied. In order to exercise the rights and obligations of citizenship an individual needs to have all documents registered in Italy, which normally involves the local consulate or embassy. Some limitations are applied to this process of recognition such as the renouncement of the Italian citizenship by the individual or the parent (if before the child's birth), a second limitation is that women only transferred citizenship to their children after 1948.[16] After constitutional reform in Italy, Italian citizens abroad can also elect representatives to the Italian Chamber of Deputies and the Italian Senate. Italian citizens residing in Brazil elect representatives together with Argentina, Uruguay and other countries in South America. According to Italian senator Edoardo Pollastri, currently there are over half a million Brazilians in line to have their Italian citizenship recognized.[15]

"To the Province of S. Paulo, in Brazil. Immigrants: read these hints before leaving. S. Paulo, 1886".


Italian crisis in late 19th century

A family of Italian emigrants.

Italy only united as a sovereign national state in 1861. Before that Italy was politically divided in several kingdoms, ducates and other small states. This fact influenced deeply the character of the Italian migrant. "Before 1914, the typical Italian migrant was a man without a clear national identity but with strong attachments to his town or village or region of birth, to which half of all migrants returned."[17]

During the 19th century, many Italians fled the political persecutions in Italy led by the Imperial Austrian government after the failure of unification movements in 1848 and 1861. Although very small, these well educated and revolutionary group of emigrants left a deep mark where they settled.[18] In Brazil, the most famous Italian in this period was Líbero Badaró. Despite that, the mass Italian immigration that contributed to shape Brazilian culture after the Portuguese and the German migration movements started only after Italian unification.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the newly united Italy suffered an economic crisis. In the Northern regions, there was unemployment due to the introduction of new techniques in agriculture, while Southern Italy remained underdeveloped and untouched by modernization in agrarian structure. Even in the North, industrialization was still in its initial stages, and illiteracy was still common in Italy (though more in the south and islands than in the north).[19] Thus, poverty and lack of jobs and income stimulated Northern (and also Southern) Italians to emigrate. Most Italian immigrants were very poor rural workers (braccianti).[20]

Brazilian need of immigrants

Italians getting into a ship to Brazil, 1910.

In 1850, under British pressure, Brazil finally passed a law that effectively banned transatlantic slave trade. The increased pressure of the abolitionist movement, on the other hand, made clear that the days of slavery in Brazil were coming to an end. Slave trade was in fact effectively suppressed, but the slave system still endured for almost four decades. So the discussion about European immigration to Brazil became a priority for Brazilian landowners.[citation needed] The latter claimed that such migrants were or would soon become indispensable for Brazilian agriculture. They would soon win the argument and mass migration would begin in earnest.

An Agriculture Congress in 1878 in Rio de Janeiro discussed the lack of labour and proposed to the government the stimulation of European immigration to Brazil. Immigrants from Italy, Portugal and Spain were considered the best ones, because they were white and, mainly, Catholics. Therefore, the Brazilian government started to attract more Italian immigrants to the coffee plantations.[citation needed]

A ship with Italian immigrants in the Port of Santos: 1907.Most migrants came to the State of São Paulo and its mainport, the entry gate of Brazil, was Santos. Thus most migrants from Italy regardless of their final destination in Brazil, entered through the port of Santos.

At the end of the 19th century, the Brazilian government was influenced by eugenics theories. According to some Brazilian scholars, it was necessary to bring immigrants from Europe to enhance the Brazilian population.

Beginning of Italian settlement in Brazil

A 19th-century house built by Italian immigrants in Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul.
Vida nova by Pedro Weingärtner, 1893. Acervo municipal de Nova Veneza

The Brazilian government (with or following the Emperor's support) had created the first colonies of immigrants (colônias de imigrantes) in the early 19th century. These colonies were established in rural areas of the country, being settled by European families, mainly German immigrants that settled in many areas of Southern Brazil.[citation needed]

The first groups of Italians arrived in 1875, but the boom of Italian immigration in Brazil happened in the late 19th century, between 1880 and 1900, when almost one million Italians arrived.

A great number of Italians was naturalized Brazilian at the end of the 19th century, when the 'Great Naturalization' conceded automatically citizenship to all the immigrants residing in Brazil prior to November 15, 1889 "unless they declared a desire to keep their original nationality within six months."[21]

During the last years of the 19th century, the denouncements of bad conditions in Brazil increased in the press. Reacting to the public clamor and many proved cases of mistreatments of Italian immigrants, the government of Italy issued, in 1902, the Prinetti decree forbidding subsidized immigration to Brazil. In consequence, the number of Italian immigrants in Brazil fell drastically in the beginning of the 20th century, but the wave of Italian immigration continued until 1920.[22][not in citation given]

Over half of the Italian immigrants came from Northern Italian regions of Veneto, Lombardy, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. About 30% emigrated from Veneto.[19] On the other hand, during the 20th century, Central and Southern Italians predominated in Brazil, coming from the regions of Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata and Sicily.

Prince Umberto's visit in 1924

In 1924 Umberto, Prince of Piedmont (the future King Umberto II of Italy) came to Brazil as part of a state visit to various South American country. This was part of the political plan of the newly installed Fascist government to link Italian people living outside of Italy with their mother country and with the interests of the regime. The visit was considerably disrupted by the then ongoing Tenente revolts, making it impossible for the visiting Prince to reach Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Nevertheless, he was hosted at Bahia where members of the Italian colony in the city were very happy and proud about his visit, thus partially achieving the visit's purpose.


1940 Brazilian Census

The Brazilian Census of 1940 asked Brazilians where their fathers came from. The Census revealed that at that time there were 3,275,732 Brazilians who were born to an immigrant father. Of those, 1,260,931 Brazilians were born to an Italian father. Italian was the main reported paternal immigrant origin, followed by Portuguese with 735,929 children, Spanish with 340,479 and German with 159,809 children.[23]

The Census also revealed that the 458,281 foreign mothers of 12 or more years who lived in Brazil had 2,852,427 children, of whom 2,657,974 were born alive. The Italian women had more children than any other female immigrant community in Brazil: 1,069,862 Brazilians were born to an Italian mother, followed by 524,940 who were born to a Portuguese mother, 436,305 to a Spanish mother and 171,790 to a Japanese mother.[23] The 6,809,772 Brazilian-born mothers of 12 or more years had 38,716,508 children, of whom 35,777,402 were born alive.

Brazilians who were born to a foreign-born father (1940 Census)[23]
Main places of birth of the father Number of children
Italy 1,260,931
Portugal 735,929
Spain 340,479
Germany 159,809
Syria- Lebanon- Palestine- Iraq - Middle-Eastern 107,074
Japan-Korea 104,355
Women over 12 years old who had offspring in Brazil and their children,
by country of birth (1940 Census)[23]
Country of birth of the mother Number of females over 12 years old
who had children
Number of children
Italy 130,273 1,069,862
Portugal 99,197 524,940
Spain 66,354 436,305
Japan 35,640 171,790
Germany 22,232 98,653
Brazil 6,809,772 38,716,508


On the other hand, in 1998, the IBGE, within its preparation for the 2000 Census, experimentally introduced a question about "origem" (ancestry) in its "Pesquisa Mensal de Emprego" (Monthly Employment Research), in order to test the viability of introducing that variable in the Census[24] (the IBGE ended by deciding against the inclusion of questions about it in the Census). This research interviewed about 90,000 people in six metropolitan regions (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, and Recife).[24]

The results of this survey stand in contradiction with the claims of the Italian embassy to Brazil. While the latter point to "Italian Brazilians" making up to 18% of the Brazilian population, with absolute figures varying between 28 and 31 million, and figures for the city of São Paulo as high as 60% or 6 million, the IBGE found actually a figure of 10%, which would correspond, at the time, to a total population of about 3.5 million people of Italian origin in the whole set of metropolitan regions it researched, including São Paulo (and Porto Alegre, another metropolitan region with a high concentration of oriundi).[citation needed]

Arrival of Italian immigrants to Brazil by periods (source: IBGE)[22]
1884-1893 1894–1903 1904–1913 1914–1923 1924–1933 1934–1944 1945–1949 1950–1954 1955–1959
510,533 537,784 196,521 86,320 70,177 15,312 N/A 59,785 31,263