The Borough of Sé – São Paulo

Sé is the name of the most central borough in the city of São Paulo, in Brazil, divided in eight districts. Bela Vista, Bom Retiro, Cambuci, Consolação, Liberdade, República, Sé & Santa Cecília are the names of those districts. The name Sé comes from the presence of São Paulo Cathedral (Catedral da Sé) in the borough, and it is also the name of the central square (Praça da Sé)*

* In the central square, you can find homeless children in the public fountains taking baths and closer to the Cathedral, you may see camelôs (illegal street vendors) running away from a battalion of policemen only to come right back 15 seconds later.

Estação da Luz

The Station of Light (pictured above) was built in the late 19th century in the district of Bom Retiro with the purpose of being the headquarters of the newly-founded São Paulo Railway. In the first decades of the 20th century, it was the main entrance to the city, a fact that gave it a major economic relevance, because the majority of the coffee from Santos was delivered in the station, along with the imported supplies. Today it still functions as a train station but it is becoming more notable for having a new museum.

The three-story Portuguese Language Museum (2nd story pictured above) opened its doors on March 20th, 2006. The objective of this interactive museum is to create a living representation of the Portuguese language, where visitors may be surprised and educated by unusual and unfamiliar aspects of their own native language. The museum targets the whole Brazilian population, made up of people from many regions and social backgrounds, but who still have not had the opportunity to gain a broader understanding of the origins, the history and the continuous evolution of the language.

I had the good fortune to visit the museum one year after it opened and found it to be an eye-opening experience. There is such a wealth of information, including video lessons by Portuguese language experts, interactive touchscreen videos for learning etymology, and a time-line running along the entire back wall which even includes internet slang as the latest mutation of the language.

Japantown, USA Brazil

Liberdade (Liberty) is home to the 2nd largest Japanese community in the world that has been growing since 1908, spurred on by the wide-spread poverty that hit Japan at the time. Being São Paulo’s own equivalent to Japantown in the USA, it is a haven for everything Japanese.

Significant populations of Chinese (this includes those from mainland China, Taiwan and Macau) and Koreans are also found in the district of Liberdade. It is served by the São Paulo Metro. An estimated 300,000-600,000 Brazilians of Japanese descent live in the community.

The entrance to Liberdade has been marked by a nine-meter tall red torii (a Japanese arch that marks the entrance to Shinto temples, pictured right) since 1974. This towering structure, situated on Rua Galvão Bueno, is a distinctive representation of the neighborhood. Liberdade was successfully connected to the São Paulo subway network in the 1970’s, opening up this area to commerce like never before. Today, thousands of paulistanos (citizens of São Paulo) flock to the public square in Liberdade every Sunday to purchase craft goods at the weekly fair. In January of 2008 a project of revitalization of the quarter, due the 100 years of japanese imigration in Brazil, was aprooved by the mayor Giberto Kassab.

Another distinctive feature of this neighborhood is the image of the red light post with white lights (as seen in the picture below).

More Facts

Also located in the Sé

– Pátio do Colégio (site of the foundation of the city in 1554)

– the São Paulo stock exchange (the Bovespa)

– the 25 de Março Street (one of the most popular areas of commerce, though often illegal)

If you don’t like big crowds or cheap knick-knacks, I’d shy away from this street. That being said, its worth the experience just to check it out.

– the Municipal Theater of São Paulo & the São Paulo Music Hall (Sala São Paulo)

Immigrant groups established in the Sé borough include Italians (in Bela Vista), Japanese (in Liberdade), and Jews (in Bom Retiro). Sé is also the borough with the largest number of subway stations. The famous Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista) is the southwest limit of the borough. Sé is also an important college center with the very traditional Law School of the University of São Paulo and Mackenzie University, founded by North American Presbyterian missionaries in the 19th century.