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Brazilians (brasileiros in Portuguese) are all people born in Brazilmarker. A Brazilian can be also a person born abroad to a Brazilian parent or a foreigner living in Brazil who applied for Brazilian citizenship. The vast majority of Brazilians live in Brazil, although there are significant Brazilian communities in Paraguaymarker(Brasiguayos), the United Statesmarker, Japanmarker, and Europe.

Who is a Brazilian?

According to the Constitution of Brazil, a Brazilian citizen is:
  • Anyone born in Brazil (jus soli), even if to foreign parents. However, if the foreign parents were at the service of a foreign State (like foreign diplomats), the child is not Brazilian;
  • Anyone born abroad to a Brazilian parent (jus sanguinis), with registration of birth in a Brazilian Embassy or Consulate. Also, a person born abroad to a Brazilian parent who was not registered but who, after completing 18 years old, went to live in Brazil;
  • A foreigner living in Brazil who applied for and was accepted as a Brazilian citizen (naturalized Brazilian).

According to the Constitution, all people who hold Brazilian citizenship are equal, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion.

A foreigner can apply for Brazilian citizenship after living for 15 uninterrupted years in Brazil and being able to speak Portuguese. A native person from an official Portuguese language country (Portugalmarker, Angolamarker, Mozambiquemarker, Cape Verdemarker, São Tomé and Príncipemarker, Guinea Bissaumarker and East Timormarker) can request the Brazilian nationality after only 1 uninterrupted year living in Brazil. A foreign born person who holds Brazilian citizenship has exactly the same rights and duties of the Brazilian citizen by birth (jus soli or jus sanguinis), but cannot occupy some special public positions such as the Presidency of the Republic, Vice-presidency of the Republic, Minister (Secretary) of Defense, Presidency (Speaker) of the Senate, Presidency (Speaker) of the House of Representatives, Officer of the Armed Forces and Diplomat.

The Portuguese prerogative

According to the Brazilian Constitution, the Portuguese people have a special status in Brazil. Article 12, first paragraph of the Constitution, grants to citizens of Portugalmarker with permanent residence in Brazil "the rights attached to Brazilians", excluded from the constitutional prerogatives of Brazilian born. Requirements for the granting of equality are: habitual residence (permanent), the age of majority and formulation of request from the Minister of Justice.

In Brazil, the Portuguese may require equal treatment with regard to civil rights; moreover, they may ask to be granted political rights granted to Brazilians (except the rights exclusive to the Brazilian born). In the latter case, this requires a minimum of three years of permanent residence.

The use of citizenship by non-Brazilian nationals (in this case, Portuguese) is a rare exception to the principle that nationality is a sine qua non for citizenship, granted to the Portuguese - if with reciprocal treatment for the Brazilians in Portugal - due to the historic relationship between the two countries.

Ethnic groups


Brazilians are mostly descendants of colonialmarker and post-colonial Portuguese settlers and immigrants, African slaves and Brazil's indigenous peoples, along with several other groups of immigrants who arrived in Brazil mostly from the 1820s until the 1970s. Most of the immigrants were Italians and Portuguese, but also significant numbers of Germans, Spaniards, Japanese, and Lebanese and Syrians.

When the Portuguese arrived in South America on 1500, the current Brazil was inhabited by an estimated 2.4 million Amerindians, who were living there since the Pleistocene. From 1500 until its independence in 1822, Brazil was settled by some 500,000 Portuguese, mostly men. Portugal remained an the only significant source of European immigrants to Brazil until the early 19th century. As a result of the Atlantic slave trade, from the mid-16th century until 1855, an estimated 4 million African slaves were brought to Brazil. In 1808, the Portuguese court moved to Brazil and opened its seaports to other nations. Then, other groups of immigrants started to immigrate to the country.

From 1820 to 1975, 5,686,133 immigrants entered Brazil, the vast majority of them Europeans. Portuguese and Italians arrived in equal numbers, and numbered close to 70% of all immigrants. The rest was composed mainly of Spaniards, Germans, Japanese, Syrians and Lebanese.

The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) classify the Brazilian population in five categories: brancos (white), negros (black), pardos (brown), amarelos (Asian/yellow) and índios (Amerindian), based on skin color or race. The last detailed census (PNAD) found Brazil to be made up of 93 million Whites, 80 million brown people, 11.7 million Blacks, and 1.3 million Asian or Amerindian.

In the 2005 detailed census, for the first time in two decades, the number of White Brazilians did not exceed 50% of the population. On the other side, the number of pardos (Brown) people increased and all the others remained almost the same. According to the IBGE, this trend is mainly because of the revaluation of the identity of historically discriminated ethnic groups.

The ethnic composition of Brazilians is not uniform across the country. Due to its large influx of European immigrants in the 19th century, the Southern Region has a large White majority, composing 79.6% of its population. The Northeastern Region, as a result of the large numbers of African slaves working in the sugar cane engenhos, has a majority of pardos and black peoples, respectively, 63.1% and 7.0%. Northern Brazil, largely covered by the Amazon Rainforest, is 71.5% pardo, due to Amerindian ancestry. Southeast and Central-Western Brazil have a more balanced ratio among different racial groups.




Pardo (Mixed-race)


Brazilian identity

Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, in his book O Povo Brasileiro, compares Brazil with the population of other former European colonies, such as Argentinamarker, Australia or the United Statesmarker. In these countries, the population was directly carried from Europe. They only perpetuated their traditions and way of life in another part of the planet. On the other hand, the embryo of the Brazilians was a hybrid population, so an identity emerged earlier than in most other colonized countries. This population resulted from the mixing of Portuguese men with the Native Indian women (the Brazilindians or Mamelucos). They were rejected by the Portuguese father, as well as by their Indian relatives (the Indians did not consider the children of Indian women like one of them).
Skin color or
(rounded values)
2000 2007
White 53.7% 49.4%
Black 6.2% 7.4%
38.5% 42.3%
Yellow 0.4% 0.8%
Amerindian 0.4%
Not declared 0.7% (?)
In consequence they build an identity that was not European nor Amerindian: it was a Brazilian identity. This new Tupi-Portuguese population mingled both elements. They spoke an indigenous language with Portuguese pronunciation (known as Língua Geral, a lingua franca in Brazil until the 18th century), inherited the adaptation to the rainforest from their Indian mothers, but were proudly Catholics and attacked with violence Indian tribes or Jesuit Reductions to enslave the natives.

The African element appeared later, and according to Ribeiro its influence was more passive than active. The fact that Blacks were brought from different parts of Africa and spoke different languages, along with the conflicts between different African ethnic groups, hindered the emergence of an African identity in Brazil. According to Ribeiro, slavery, based on violence and permanent coercion, dehumanizes the human being, since a person is "reduced to the condition of livestock". There was a violent process of ethnic transfiguration and he concluded that "It is astonishing that Indians and Blacks, taken to this farm of loss of culture, were able to stay human. They only succeed, however, through an unprecedented effort of self-reconstruction in the flow of their undoing process". Soon there were two different blacks in Brazil: the negro ladino (wily black), born in Brazil, in some cases already of mixed-race heritage, who spoke Portuguese and was largely acculturated. The other one was the negro boçal (loutish black), recently arrived from Africa, who could barely speak Portuguese and who was still largely connected to the African tribe of origin. Slaves born in Brazil realized the large cultural difference when they encountered slaves newly arrived from Africa. The negros ladinos, then, built a separate identity that was no longer connected to their ancestral African tribe, but connected to their new home, Brazil. The Blacks, surprisingly, learned how to speak Portuguese with the shouts of foremen. Ribeiro says that Blacks were those responsible for spreading the Portuguese language in Brazil, since they used this language to speak with other African slaves from different ethnicities, as well to the Portuguese and to the Indians. The appearance of the mulatto also builds a new identity, which is neither completely European nor African.

The white children born in Brazil to Portuguese parents kept their Portuguese identities for a longer period. Although they already identified with the new land, they still wanted to keep belonging to Portugal and to differ from the other ethnic groups of the country. Then, these Portuguese Brazilians took a longer time to be incorporated under a native identity. However, over time, this Brazilian born population of direct Portuguese descent was no longer regarded as equal to those newly arrived from Portugal. Then, native born whites also started to see themselves as Brazilians, and not as Portuguese anymore.

When all these peoples did not identify themselves as Amerindians, Africans or Europeans anymore, they created a native identity. Then, a Brazilian identity had to include people of different ethnicities and races, who started to see themselves as members of the same ethnic group. Since that first Tupi-Portuguese embryo that constituted the backbone of the Brazilian population, millions of Africans and thousands of more Portuguese colonists were added. According to Ribeiro, the Brazilian population, then, was formed by the "mixture of a few whites with crowds of black and Indian women".

The intensive arrival of European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not have a great impact in most of Brazil's regions, since there was already a large and ethnically constituted population. In contrast to the United States, which has a "carried population" and where immigrant communities keep with their original identities, in Brazil the immigrants were quickly assimilated in the Brazilian society. The Brazilian society has always been categorized as assimilationist and it was hoped the children of immigrants to be integrated with the local population, adopting the Brazilian traditions and Portuguese as their native language. Most of the immigrants were easily integrated in Brazil, specially those who came from Latin Europe (Italymarker, Portugalmarker and Spainmarker), since they shared many cultural aspects with Brazilians. On the other hand, some groups of immigrants tried to keep their identities in Brazil. Because of the ability of Brazilians to integrate diverse peoples into a single national identity, the maintenance of a non-Brazilian identity was unacceptable for many people.

In consequence, under Getúlio Vargas's government, there was a program of nationalization of the people who were trying to preserve their languages and traditions in Brazil, particularly Germans and Japanese. It happened particularly between 1937 and 1945 and mainly during World War II, when it was a crime to speak Japanese, German or Italian in Brazil. Not only immigrants who wanted to keep their own identities were persecuted in Brazil. Until the early 20th century, the Amerindians who lived in isolated communities, preserving their languages and traditions, were victims of shares of the Brazilian government and religious entities to be acculturated.
The predominant view was that the Indians should be incorporated to the main Brazilian society. With efforts of Cândido Rondon in the early 20th century, that view started to be changed, and people started to believe that the culture and identity of the Brazilian Indians should be protected, and not destroyed. The Brazilian Constitution of 1988 confirmed this trend, with articles devoted to ensuring the preservation of indigenous culture. The same applies to the culture of the Quilombolas, who are descended from escaped African slaves, who also have their identity protected by the Brazilian law.

Ribeiro points different "rustic ways of being Brazilian" that includes regional differences, such as the Sertanejos in the Northeast, the Amazonian Caboclos, the Blacks of the coast, the Caipira from the Southeast and Center of the country, the Gauchos from the Southern Pampasmarker, and also the Italian Brazilians, German Brazilians, Japanese Brazilians etc. He concluded that "They're all more marked with what they have in common as Brazilians, than by differences due to regional or functional adaptations, or miscegenation and acculturation that lend own physiognomy to one or another portion of the population".

However, the fact that Brazilians share a single national identity does not mean that Brazil is a "post-racial" country without racism. Since the famous Gilberto Freyre's book Casa-Grande & Senzala of 1933, it was built in Brazil the myth of the Racial democracy. The idea that Brazil is a mixed-race country and, then, Brazilian society does not experience situations of racism was challenged by several anthropologists. Darcy Ribeiro pointed that the "white" Brazilian population still occupies the top of the Brazilian society, while Blacks, Indians and mixed-race people are largely found in the poor population. In Brazil, there are citizens of "first", "second" and "third class" and even "non-citizens" who have no voice in society. According to Ribeiro, the poor people of any race is treated by the ruling elite of the country as "insignificant", but this contempt is even more evident against the blacks and mulattos, who make up the bulk of the poor and miserable population of Brazil.

According to Ribeiro "the most shocking social distance in Brazil is the one that opposes and separates the poor and the rich. It is added, however, the discrimination against Blacks, Mulattos and Indians, especially the first two. (...) In fact, in Brazil, the wealthy and the poor classes are separated from each other by social and cultural distances that are almost as great as those found between different peoples".

See also

External links


  1. Constituição da República Federativa do Brasil, Artigo 12, I.
  2. The Phylogeography of Brazilian Y-Chromosome Lineages
  3. The Phylogeography of Brazilian Y-Chromosome Lineages
  4. Genealogy: German migration to Brazil
  5. Brazil and the African Slave Trade
  6. Sources :: Indigenous Peoples in Brazil - ISA
  7. IBGE - Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística
  8. Darcy Ribeiro, O Povo Brasileiro, page 6
  9. Darcy Ribeiro, O Povo Brasileiro, page 5

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