April 29, 2010

Culture of Migration in Goiás

Brazil has the tenth largest economy in the world. The state of Goiás is full of businesses – garments manufacturing, meatpacking, agricultural industry, and some tourism. Why, then, do so many Goianos migrate to the United States and Europe?

One in nine Goiás natives lives abroad. About half of Goiás natives who live abroad reside in the US, and most of the remaining live in Europe.

One of the many reasons, I think, for these migration trends, has to do with a culture of migration in Goiás. Most people in Goiás are the children or grandchildren of internal migrants – mostly from Minas Gerais, but also from Bahia and other nearby states. These internal migrants have passed on to their progeny the values of hard work and the quest for financial betterment.

I have spent the last two weekends in Jaraguá and a story of migration in search of economic success has emerged in most of the migrants’ life stories.

In the early 1990s, two Jaraguenses traveled to Danbury, Connecticut. There, they found a community of Brazilians – mostly from Minas Gerais and Parana. These two pioneers established themselves in Danbury. One became the regional manager of Dunkin Donuts.

Other Jaraguenses soon followed. Many found work in Dunkin Donuts – where the manager from Jaraguá gave preference to people from his hometown. Others worked in landscaping or laying foundation. Most of the women worked in housecleaning.

These early migrants returned to Jaraguá with their houses finished, with new cars, and bought farms and livestock around Jaraguá. With the Brazilian Real at R$4 for US$1, their savings went far in Jaraguá. They were able to save thousands of dollars by working 60, 70, 80 hours a week – or more.

People in Jaraguá watched those migrants return and began to build their own dreams and their own plans. Instead of working for ten or twenty years to save up for a house in Jaraguá, they could go to the US and have the money in two to four years.

That is why “Miguel” went to the United States. Miguel had a good job at a telecom company in Jaraguá. He had a small house and a car, but wanted more. So, he went to the US through Mexico to finish and enlarge his house, to buy a better car, and to have money to start a business. Only, it did not work out that way.

Miguel stayed in the US for four years. He had only planned to stay for two, but was not earning as much as he had anticipated. When he was deported back to Brazil, he had finished his house, but did not have much else to show for his four years of work. He reflected that he could have saved up as much money in Brazil had he been judicious with his salary. And, he would not have had to spend four years away from his wife and children – a long separation that led to his divorce.

Miguel was not part of the poor, huddled masses that many people imagine want to travel to the US. He was just looking for a way to improve his fairly decent standard of living in Jaraguá, and saw that many people had been able to do that through labor migration.

This culture of migration is highly localized in Goiás – some towns have it and others do not. In Jaraguá, Matrinchã, Itapuranga, and Itaberaí, most people know someone who has traveled abroad. In contrast, this is not the case in Cidade Goiás – where the culture of migration has not taken hold, yet.

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