In This Review

Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil
Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil
By Jeffrey Lesser
Duke University Press, 1999, 281 pp

Brazil is often portrayed as a nation where racial boundaries blur. Lesser has now produced a pioneering and fascinating study that explores the influence of ethnic minorities in Brazil: immigrants from China, Japan, North Africa, and the Middle East. He first examines the policies that brought these migrants to South America and recounts how they responded to their new environment. Some, like the Japanese with their secret societies, became ultranationalist; others, like the Syrians, developed new identities to distinguish themselves. He also follows the debates over definitions of "whiteness," religion, and ancestry -- for example, whether Asian immigrants were related to Brazil's indigenous populations and were therefore more "Brazilian" than other immigrants. But in the end, Lesser demonstrates that the immigration policies pursued after the abolition of slavery in 1888 -- which were intended to make Brazil "whiter" -- in fact produced an immensely multicultural society. A first-rate addition to the literature that is essential for comprehending Brazil's infinite complexity.