On my very first visit to Sao Paulo I made sure to visit the Liberdade District after hearing so many stories from my college professors as this was the new frontier for new immigrants from Japan and a handful of other Asian countries. It all started in 1912 when the first Japanese immigrants began to reside in the inexpensive housing on a street called Rua Conde de Sarzedas and within a few years the Taisho Shogakko (Taisho Primary School) was founded with 300 students. By the early 1930s about 2,000 Japanese immigrants and their children had moved from farms into the city for better educational and professional opportunities. These immigrants, some of who had arrived on the famous boat, the Kasato-Maru in 1908, would change the face of Sao Paulo’s capital, bringing new types of business and culture into the city.
On my visit to the Parque do Carmo, I met an elderly Japanese woman who was born in Japan and came to Brazil with the first group of immigrants. Since I speak no Portuguese, I started to speak Japanese and the woman was not only shocked that a non-Japanese looking person could speak Japanese but why? That was the million dollar question in her mind. We spoke for what seemed like hours and she was so saddened by the fact that her grandchildren could not speak any Japanese or for that matter even cared to learn. In reality they were not Japanese culturally, but rather Portuguese and we talked about these differences which were so clear to me, but hard for her to understand and accept.
The art scene in Sao Paulo is strong and vibrant and has been at the forefront for decades. The Bienal de São Paulo is the second oldest art biennial in the world (second only to the Venice Biennial). Artists from Brazil and around the globe take part in the contemporary art biennial each year.