The Great Grape Festival of Caxias do Sul

The Festa da Uva (or, Grape Festival) is a Brazilian celebration of Italian heritage which takes place every two years in the town of Caxias do Sul, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. For close to 80 years, the residents have put on the celebration which usually falls around mid-February, lasting two weeks. As part of the festivities, local producers of food and wine present their best products to the public in an effort to both spread knowledge of their Italian roots and, of course, make a few sales.

The festival started not as a festival, but as an agroindustrial fair back in 1881, which brought together local farmers and producers so they could share ideas and showcase new methods to improve the harvesting of their crops. The fair was created as a means to centralize, even if just for a few days, those that normally worked scattered about in different locations within the region. It wasn’t until June 1st, 1910, that the first train began to run through Caxias do Sul, connecting the city (it was elevated to city status on the very same day) to nearby Montenegro and the state capital, Porto Alegre. The prosperous little city only became more prosperous with the new train since from Porto Alegre, a ship could take salesmen, along with wines, cheeses and other products, to São Paulo.

The new train didn’t just take people to far away places, it allowed others to come to the region such as traders and relatives who instead of just visiting, decided to move there and look for work. With the growth of the local industries and of the city, a Caxias do Sul resident named Joaquim Pedro Lisboa suggested in 1931 that a festival be created to celebrate the grape harvest. The press from the capital called it the “Little Grape Exposition” and though it only lasted one day, it was highly popular and even included airplanes doing fancy moves in the sky. The next year, they decided to do another Festa da Uva and in 1933, they added a new twist, the election of a Grape Festival Queen. In addition, the 3rd offering of the festival included the participation of three neighboring towns, Flores da Cunha, Bento Gonçalves and Garibaldi. The festival didn’t just reach other towns, its message of solidarity spread much further.

Brazil’s own president, Getúlio Vargas, said such bastions of cultural pride were nothing more than “social cysts” because to him they represented a fragmented society. Nonetheless, in Fascist Italy, there was an increasing interest in reconstructing the history of the emigrants. By doing so, such a history could be interpreted as a shining example of how the “Latin race” could contribute to the civilization of the New World, while also urging the Italians abroad to take pride in their ethnic origin. And take pride, they did.

Cleodes Ribeiro, a professor and researcher of Brazilian-Italian culture, describes the festival in the following way…

“If the celebration of the Grape Festival ritual served to proclaim the identity of the celebrants, display the result of their work over more than half a century and claim the status of being Brazilians, their defining characteristics were explained by the vocabulary employed in the symbolic ritual. The speeches, the exhibition and the distribution of grapes, the triumphal procession, the shopkeeper in their costumes, songs, banquets, congress and flags lining the streets, all reflected the efforts of the festival hosts in the process of self-representation.”

It is also important to note that these immigrant clusters in Brazil were not just refined to Italian descendants, nor was Caxias do Sul the only place Italians settled into upon moving to Brazil. These were people who created and sustained models of success that essentially came to replace the master-slave dynamic (of Portuguese descendants and their African slaves) that had encompassed Brazil for so long. To me, these often historical concentrations of once-separate nationalities that all landed in one country and eventually became one people, so to speak, are what makes Brazil so infinitely interesting. Even more so, each concentration retains either strong markers or, to a lesser extent, noticable vestiges of a more cohesive community-based identity. How many other nations can truly say the same of their people?

Originally written for Street Smart Brazil.

Scenic Routes through the South

There are a few scenic routes through the South of Brazil which show off the natural beauty of one of Brazil’s most mountainous regions, the Serra Gaúcha. A little further below, I’ll describe two of the more popular ones.

Serra Gaúcha

The Serra Gaúcha, or The Gaucho Highlands, is the mountainous region in the northeastern portion of Rio Grande do Sul, a state in southern Brazil. This mountainous region is home to many Brazilians of German and Italian descent. Consequently, the cities in the Serra Gaúcha reflect German and Italian influences through their architecture, gastronomy and culture.

Several tourist routes run through the most picturesque cities of the Serra Gaúcha, particularly the Rota Romântica, following the tracks of German colonization and also the Italian-flavored route, Caminhos da Colônia.

Caminhos da Colônia

Caminhos da Colônia, Portuguese for “Pathways of the Colony”, is a scenic tourist route of four settlements in the Serra Gaúcha in the state of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. The 35km route runs between the cities of Caxias do SulFlores da CunhaOtávio Rocha and the old settlement of Santa Justina which never developed into a city like the other three.

The tour route passes through the beautiful wine country of Rio Grande do Sul, highlighting the cities colonized by Italian immigrants (some of which still speak a dialect of Venetian called Talian) more than 100 years ago. Highlights include viewing wineries, cathedrals, museums, old mills and the bucolic and beautiful Italian region of the Serra Gaúcha.

Rota Romântica

The Rota Romântica, Portuguese for the “Romantic Route”, is a scenic tourist route that runs through 13 municipalities located in the mountainous Serra Gaúcha region. The area was first colonized by German immigrants in the first half of the 19th century.

The strong German influence can still be seen in each of these beautiful towns and villages – this truly sets the tour route apart from others in Brazil. The Germanic roots are visible in the architecture, gastronomy and occasionally in the accent and language (Riograndenser Hunsrückisch) of the people – and, of course, in their Northern European appearance.

There’s an official website in Portuguese for more info on the ‘Caminhos’ scenic route however its in bad need of repairs. Likewise, for the Rota site, go here (also in Portuguese). In addition, if you’d like to read a magazine articIe I wrote on Italian immigration to Brazil, you can find it on my site here

Here’s the Microregion of Rio Grande do Sul where the Caminho is, while the Rota passes through the region just below the area marked in red.

Ciao Italia, Ciao Brasil – Also In PT

Here’s an article I wrote a few years back on Italian immigration to Brazil. (Traduzi lá abaixo) Enjoy!

As you probably know, the Italian word ciao is not only used for “hello” but also for “goodbye.” It is rooted in the Italian word schiavo, or slave, with the inferred meaning of being at the service of another person. Around 1875, droves of northern Italians came to the service of the Brazilian government by filling the gaps, which the abolition of the slave trade brought about in Brazil.

Although the Brazilian slave trade ended in 1850, slaves were in no way lacking due to Brazil’s more than three-hundred year history of legalized servitude. In 1888, the adoption of the Golden Law by the Imperial Princess Regent Isabel, officially ended slavery in Brazil.

During this period of decline, the government anticipated the effect this would have on the economy and thereby made public the need for foreign manpower. The need was soon met by poverty-stricken Italians from the north of Italy when Brazilian ships, offering free passage, docked at their ports.

Italy which became unified in 1871, was still very much a young country and the national identity wasn’t yet formed. The advent of social and economic changes made land ownership in northern Italy a difficult task.

When they began seeing government-sponsored posters showing off Brazil’s beauty, this ultimately made immigrating a pliable alternative. In the mind of the Italian, coffee soon became the “green gold.”

In one sense it was a win-win situation. The Italians were filled with hope of a better life while Brazil began preparing to receive them, albeit at a better price than the cost of importing slaves.

The First Settlement

More than one million Italians within a 20 year period became accustomed to calling Brazil their home. The first wave settled into small and isolated government funded colonies in the Serra Gaúcha region of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. A few years later, they forced the government to create bigger colonies, one of them being the modern day city of Caxias do Sul.

While growing accustomed to the local culture, they infused some of their own too. Most of the Italians spoke their own variety of Italian called Talian, which is similar to Venetian but with a great deal of loanwords. Eventually, they began doing what they knew best, which was grape-growing and wine making. Even today, the Serra Gaúcha region produces some of the best wines in Brazil.

For more than 80 years, the city of Caxias do Sul has reveled in their talent for grape growing with a biennial celebration called the Festa da Uva, or Grapefest. The Festa da Uva doubles as a chance to celebrate Italian heritage and sell unique locally made products. as well as offer wine and cheese tasting events.

The Second Settlement

The next wave of Italians to put down roots in Brazil settled themselves mainly in the southeastern state of São Paulo. The need for manpower was much stronger there, due to the vast hole left in big business by the emancipation of the local workforce. In and around São Paulo, the landowners might have been powerful but coffee was the real king.

Not only did the Italians come at an advantageous price but they were also renowned for their love of coffee. The production of coffee required greater care and maintenance than other cash crops and the Brazilians needed experienced growers. The match seemed made in heaven.

Soon after their arrival in São Paulo, the Italians found themselves taking on the role of the slaves they were replacing. Coffee barons turned greedier and were demanding the same amount of work for a cheaper cost.

As a result of poor working conditions, many rebellions occurred which caused the Italian government to halt the influx of immigrants to Brazil. Eventually the farm workers earned enough to purchase small pieces of land where they would build a house and operate a small farm of their own. Others moved to areas where the job offerings weren’t so scarce.

Italian Influences

The capital city of São Paulo, of the same name as the state, is known by many Brazilians today as the “City of Italians.” because over a quarter of its inhabitants were Italian. According to the Italian Embassy in Brazil, over 25 million Brazilians are of Italian descent, a great majority of them hailing from southern or southeastern Brazil.

A quick look through any Brazilian telephone book will give an idea of how widespread they have become. In the same respect, listening in on a random telephone conversation will expose the myriad of loanwords adopted into the Portuguese language.

Some examples are novela (soap-opera), favorito (favorite), caricatura (caricature), espaguete (spaghetti) and desenho (drawing). If in São Paulo, listen carefully to their accent to notice the Italian influence.

No matter where one travels within Brazil, one is confronted with a true melting pot of ethnicities and cultures. Although Italian-Brazilians only make up a small percentage of the population of Brazil they seem to be all over. People with African, German, Japanese or Portuguese blood also seem to be in every corner. But that is another story.

E agora em português!

Como vocês já sabem provavelmente, a palavra italiana ‘ciao’ não é usada somente para dizer ‘oi’, mas também para dizer ‘tchau’. Tem raízes na palavra italiana ‘schiavo’, ou escravo, com um sentido inferido de ser à vontade de alguém. Cerca do ano 1875, uma turba de italianos do norte vieram ao serviço do governo brasileiro por enchendo as brechas que a abolição da escravidão causou no Brasil.

Mesmo que o tráfico dos escravos terminasse em 1850, os escravos estavam faltando de jeito nenhum devido à história de mais de trezentos anos de servitude legalizado no Brasil. Embora no ano 1888, a adoção da Lei Áurea, pela Princesa Isabel, oficialmente terminou o tráfico dos escravos no Brasil.

Durante este período de declínio, o governo antecipou o efeito que a Lei Áurea teria no economia e desse modo deu publicidade à necessidade para trabalhadores estrangeiros. Essa necessidade foi atingida logo pelos italianos pobres do norte da Itália quando os navios brasileiros, oferecendo uma passagem grátis, acoplaram em seus portos.

O pais da Itália que foi unificado em 1871, era um pais novo e a identidade nacional ainda não foi dada forma. A chegada de mudanças sociais e economias fez a propriedade da terra na Itália do norte, uma tarefa difícil.

Quando eles começaram a ver anuncias patrocinadas pelo governo brasileiro que mostraram a beleza do Brasil, as imagens acabaram mudando as mentes dos imigrantes. Na mente do italiano, o café logo se tornou o “ouro verde”.

Em um sentido, foi uma situação ganha-ganha, ou seja uma que gera um resultado positivo para ambas partes em negociação. Os italianos foram enchidos com a esperança de uma vida melhor enquanto o Brasil começou a preparar-se para recebê-los, só de um preço melhor do que o custo de importar os escravos.

O Primeiro Estabelecimento

Mais do que um milhão dos italianos, dentro de um período de vinte anos, sentiram-se em casa no Brasil. A primeira onda estabeleceu-se nas colônias pequenas e isoladas na região da Serra Gaúcha do estado de Rio Grande do Sul. Poucos anos depois, forçaram o governo criar umas colônias mais grandes, uma delas sendo a cidade moderna de Caxias do Sul.

Enquanto achando-se acostumados com a cultura local, eles infundiram nela um pouco de sua própria cultura também. A maioria dos italianos falaram seu própria variedade de italiano chamado ‘talian’, que é parecido com o dialecto veneziano mas com muitos estrangeirismos. Eventualmente, começaram a fazer o que que eles souberam melhor, cultivando uvas e fazendo vinho delas. Mesmo hoje, a região da Serra Gaúcha produz os melhores vinhos no Brasil.

Por mais de oitenta anos, a cidade de Caxias do Sul tem festejado no seu talento para a cultivação de uvas com uma celebração que ocorre cada dois anos chamada a Festa da Uva. Esta celebração dobra como uma boa oportunidade para comemorar as suas raízes italianas, vender produtos feitos localmente e também oferecer eventos para provar os vinhos.

O Segundo Estabelecimento

A onda seguinte dos italianos para colocar raízes no Brasil estabeleceram-se principalmente no estado do sudeste de São Paulo. A necessidade para trabalhadores estrangeiros era muito mais forte lá, devido ao furo vasto deixou no comércio de café pela emancipação dos escravos. Dentro e ao redor de São Paulo, os proprietários de terras puderam ter sido poderosos, mas o café foi o rei de verdade.

Não somente os italianos vieram em um preço vantajoso mas eram também reconhecidos para seu amor do café. A produção do café requereu um cuidado e uma manutenção mais grandes do que outras colheitas e os brasileiros necessitaram cultivadores experientes. O encontro dos dois pareceu feito no céu.

Logo depois de sua chegada em São Paulo, os italianos encontraram-se no papel dos escravos que substituiam. Os barões do café se tornou mais voraz e eram exijindo a mesma quantidade de trabalho para um custo mais barato.

Em conseqüência das condições de funcionamento pobres, muitas rebeliões ocorreram que fizeram com que o governo italiano parasse o influxo dos immigrantes ao Brasil. Eventualmente os trabalhadores de fazenda ganharam bastantes para comprar partes pequenas de terra onde construiriam uma casa e operariam uma fazenda pequena do seus próprios. Outros se mudaram para as áreas onde as ofertas do trabalho não eram tão escasso.

Influências Italianas

A cidade capital de São Paulo, do mesmo nome como o estado, é conhecida por muitos brasileiros hoje em dia como a “cidade dos italianos” porque mais do que um quarto de seus habitantes era italiano. De acordo com a embaixada italiano no Brasil, cerca de vinte cinco milhão brasileiros vêm da descida italiana, uma grande maioria deles originam do sul ou sudeste do Brasil.

Um olhar rápido pelo qualquer livro telefónico brasileiro dará uma idéia de como popular se tornaram. No mesmo respeito, escutar uma telefonema aleatória exporá a miríade dos estrangeirismos adotados na língua portuguesa.

Alguns exemplos são as palavras ‘novela’, ‘favorito’, ‘caricatura’, ‘espaguete’ e ‘desenho’. Se vocês acham-se em São Paulo, escutar com cuidado seu sotaque para observar a influência italiana.

Não importa onde se viaja dentro do Brasil, se está confrontado com uma mestiçagem verdadeira de etnicidades e de culturas. Embora os italiano-brasileiros componham somente uma porcentagem pequena da população do Brasil, parecem ser em toda parte. O povo com sangue africano, indiano, alemão, japonês ou português parecem também estar em cada canto. Embora essa é uma outra história.

– por Adam Charles