Monthly Archives: May 2011

A little corner of South America South London

Move aside much-maligned Eastern Europeans, research by the University of London has recently revealed that the number of migrants to the UK from Latin America has quadrupled in the last decade.

According to the report, No Longer Invisible, London’s Latin American population has now reached over 113,500 – up from 31,000 in 2001.

The total UK “Latino” population now stands at 186,500 – so that’s 61% of the population living in London, perhaps unsurprisingly.

It’s still nothing like the number of migrants from Eastern Europe, but similar local communities and networks are a reality in London – go to Stockwell or Vauxhall and you’ll see Brazilian pubs and a multitude of Hispanophone and Lusophone cafés, shops, hairdressers and bars.

It’s particularly intriguing for me as, just when I’m less than six weeks away from moving to South America it turns out South America has already made it to London, and in a significant way.

Although Spain and Portugal have the greatest initial pull for many migrants from South America – with the obvious easier linguistic experience for many – the UK is fast catching up, with Spain and Portugal acting more like springboards to the UK and other European countries.

So, the UK figures for the top four countries of the 20 Latin American countries surveyed:

  • From Brazil: 41,380 (53,052 total in UK)
  • Colombia: 15,271 (24,040)
  • Argentina: 5,224 (11,696)
  • Ecuador: 4,557 (5,959)
  • Total UK: 186,469 (113,578)

The report concludes that that Latin American population in London are vital to the capital’s economy and prosperity – with a comparatively high level of employment, running at something like 85%.

The problem is that – although they’re mostly employed and very few of them tap into public services and benefits – many migrants from Latin America have to take an painful downsizing in career options when they arrive.

The report says that most of them ends up in low-paid, primary service jobs with “multiple barrier to integration” – and that the only ones that buck this trend are those who end up opening their own company.

Significant populations from South America started migrating to the UK in the 1970s, including some as political refugees – from countries like Chile, some of whom where escaping Pinochet’s reign of terror.

Whether these migrants will in time be able in future to overcome the barriers – mental or real – to properly integration is still to be seen.

That said, historically speaking, hasn’t the community at large had enough time to do this already?

Could it be that they don’t plan on staying here that long? Would a temporary resident bother going to the effort of trying to escape a ready-made local community of compatriots and integrating properly?

Moreover – in London, is there really anything cohesive and properly British to integrate into?

It interests me most of all as, in some ways I’m going to be making the reverse journey – but will probably be facing the same challenges, although with the benefits of a local other half.

Just 40 days till this journey begins…


These scarlet macaws are one of the Amazon's star species

I’m wildlife mad. I don’t deny it. Cards on the table. I have an obscenely long camera zoom for taking pictures of it, and would happily spend hours in front of any David Attenborough series.

One of the places that has seen more than its fair share of nature documentary production teams is the Amazon Basin – located mainly in Brazil.

Forget Africa or Asia, these tropical forests are the most species-rich biome in the world – with unparalleled biodiversity: one in ten of the world’s known species, including:

  • 2.5 million species of insect
  • over 40,000 species of plant
  • over 2,000 bird and mammal species

Impressive, no?

Deforestation has long been an issue in the area – the exact amount is debated – but an area the size of a small country of forestry is destroyed every year.

But the area is protected – particularly by Brazilian law, which although hasn’t been fully implemented in the past, has dealt with the worst offenders fairly well.

Now, with Brazil’s population and economy growing steadily, there has been a bid to lax the rules surrounding the area of land that has to be kept as forest: currently 80% of land, set by the 1934/1965 Forest Code.

Proponents of the amendments – known as the “ruralists” led by the country’s Communist Party (PCDoB), say Brazil needs more area for its agricultural business in the Amazon area.

Although the vote over the divisive issue has now been postponed until next week, it could have a detrimental impact on the forest is passed.

Brazil’s undeniable track record of lifting people out of poverty is again at the heart of this debate, but it’s an easy card to play – especially where the underdogs, the poor region’s small-scale farmers, are claiming discrimination.

The PCDoB argues that current restrictions are unfair as they prevent owners of small tracts of land from developing agriculture to help get themselves away from the breadline.

The “ruralists” also want the amount of required riverbank woodland to be reduced – which could ultimately release more and more soil and sediment into the water system, creating problems downstream, according to environmentalists, and could accelerate deforestation.

Although officials said in December 2010 that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon area was at a 22-year low, there is still a lot to be done – including convincing neighbouring countries to put in place similar protective legislative – and to drop plans to dig up parts of the area for oilfield exploration.

The hole in the ozone layer above a large portion of Brazil is dangerously thin.

Given the links between deforestation and the forest’s reduced ability to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen – and the area’s unparalleled biodiversity – surely this isn’t an argument that should even be taking place, or if we do discuss it, it should be about protecting the area further for generations to come.

Some have said that the Amazon Basin should be more like Antarctica politically – not directly ruled and managed, or fought over – but rather an area of international importance.

The arguments against this include the fact that the Antarctica isn’t inhabited by an indigenous people, that the oceans not the forests do most of the carbon dioxide converting – and no one really regulates those areas, and of course any suggestion that Brazil would have to relinquish some of its territory would be seen by most Brazilians as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

Perhaps a system of International Parks – a global network along the line of National Parks, set up in 1872 as the world’s first – that would still be a sovereign part of the country within whose borders they fall, but internationally monitored and protected, like an ecological UN, dare I say it.

Whatever the solution, a better balance – one that helps both nature and people – needs to be found, and laws need to be more rigorously applied.

As Richard Black put it:

[As] the Brazilian debate makes clear, it can’t guarantee environmental protection when livelihoods are at stake.

The Amazon is one of the places that I’m looking forward to visiting most in Brazil – along with the Pantanal tropical wetlands.

Let’s hope lawmakers see sense and put the appropriate legislation is put in place to safe – and recoup – vast swathes of this amazing New Wonder of the World, while continuing to continue the country’s legacy of reducing poverty among its people.


Today, on the second Sunday of May – 8 May in 2011 – Brazilians are raising a glass to their mothers on O Dia das Mães.

Perhaps a fact not widely known in the UK, and while a number of countries around the world celebrate their mums in March – particularly to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March, Brazil and a whole host of nations, from Australia to Zimbabwe, toast their mums on the second Sunday of May.

The mother – mãe or mamãe – is certainly a revered figure in family life in Brazil, much more so than in other cultures, say, in Europe.

No word out of turn may be spoken about her by people outside the family.

Brazilians living abroad have been sending videos messages to their mum on Mother’s day. People like Luiz – who’s in London along with the other 160,000 allegedly living in London.

He sent his mum – Marilene – who’s back in Açailândia this message on Brazilian broadcaster Globo:

“My mother means the world to me: she’s a beautiful, young and hardworking woman. Happy Mother’s Day. Love you!”

Brazil’s first Dia das Mães was celebrated in 1918 – promoted by the Porto Alegre YMCA. It was fixed into the country’s calendar as the second Sunday of May by President Getulio Vargas, and later into the Catholic Church’s calendar in 1947.

It’s not a public holiday, but very much a commercial affair as with many countries around the world.

So – no matter what day it is – here’s to mothers around the globe…

Feliz Dia das Mães!


"UK-Brazil relations" getting closer, thanks to David Harrad and Toni Reis

This week LGBT people across Brazil are celebrating after the country’s supreme federal court (Supremo Tribunal Federal) ruled in favour of allowing same-sex couples the same legal rights as married heterosexuals.

This will give gay couples in uniões estáveis (stable partnerships) – the same financial and social rights as those in heterosexual relationships.

The ruling stops short of recognising gay marriage, but does allow members of the LGBT community to register their civil partnerships with solicitors and public bodies, giving them proper, equal inheritance and pension rights.

It is hoped that full gay marriage and adoption will follow in time.

The progressive social programme was begun back in 2009 under previous president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

There have been celebrations across the country – including gay couples kissing outside prominent buildings.

This is a huge victory for the LGBT community in Brazil, but a smaller – but nonetheless significant – precedent was set in November 2003, by a judge in the southern city of Curitiba,  Paraná, who recognised the same-sex relationship of national gay activist Toni Reis with British citizen David Harrad.

This was a watershed moment, and thanks to the decision, David was allowed permanent residency in Brazil.

Amazingly, the entire country’s Immigration Service changed its own rules to remove prejudice against same-sex couples just a week later.

The couple, who have been living together for 21 years, are now said to be preparing a big celebration in light of the new gay rights.

Who knows – they might be among the first in line for one of Brazil’s first same-sex civil unions.

Local media have branded Mr Harrad an “English prince”.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have another Royal Wedding on our hands.

Parabéns, Brasil!


The Days of the Week: Numerals, Planets and One-armed Deities

Recently I’ve been writing about the wonders of the days of the week on my other blog.

One of the first things you do when learning a language is learn the days of the week.

With Portuguese – and therefore in Brazil – the first day of the week is Sunday, “the day of the Lord” – domingo.

It is also, secretly, the first feira – or holy day – of the week.

After that, Monday to Friday are number according to the number of days it has been since Sunday. So…

  • Monday: 2nd – segunda-feira
  • Tuesday: 3rd – terça-feira
  • Wednesday: 4th – quarta-feira
  • Thursday: 5th – quinta-feira
  • Friday: 6th – sextafeira

Then, Saturday is named after the traditional final, rest day of the holy week – the Sabbath – sábado.

This all seems simple enough, but actually – this is quite counterintuitive for me, as an English speaker.

When you work, no matter what your religious convictions might be, Monday is the first day of the week.

When you hear terça-feira, there are two steps to recognising the word – working out the ordinal (terça = third), and then realising you have to subtract a day… so it’s Tuesday.

Phew. I’m sure over time this’ll become a lot easier – but it’s strangely distracting while you’re beginning to learn the language.

In other news – it’s now less than NINE weeks to go.

Até logo!