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Immigration Museum

The Rebirth of a Top Cultural Attraction in São Paulo


Immigration Museum
Photo courtesy of the Immigration Museum

May 31, 2014

The former Immigrant Memorial is reopening today as the São Paulo State Immigration Museum, after four years closed for renovations in its structure and a new concept which focuses more strongly on contemporary issues in addition to historic perspectives.

Located in Brás, a São Paulo neighborhood whose origin is closely associated to the arrival of Italian workers and their families in the 19th century, the museum headquarters is the former Immigrants' Lodge, built between 1886 and 1888, where newly arrived immigrants could stay for up to eight days before moving on to their final destination in Brazil.

São Paulo State's Coffee Cycle was the determining factor in the construction of the lodge, which stayed active through the city's industrial rush and many other historical periods as it received 2.5 million people between 1887 and 1978.

The complex of which the museum is a part still plays a crucial role to immigrants in Brazil today, as it houses Arsenal da Esperança ("Arsenal of Hope"), created in 1996 by SERMIG - Servizio Missionario Giovani, an Italian missionary organization. The building (not open to visitors) in the back of the Immigration Museum has the capacity to assist 1,200 people in a situation of vulnerability, many of them newly arrived immigrants from Africa and other South American countries.

The new museum will host cultural events and temporary exhibitions, as well as a new long-term exhibition.

Immigration Then and Now

The new long-term exhibition at the Immigration Museum invites the visitor to journey through the migration phenomenon through the history of mankind and to the present day, with a focus on Brazil.

With eight modules comprised of documents, photos, objects, videos, and testimonials, the exhibition includes a panorama of the great immigration occurred in Brazil in the 19th and 20th centuries, providing a glimpse into the country's immigration policies and a detailed look at everyday life in the Immigrants' Lodge.

Some of the exhibits offer an immersion experience; in the exhibition's fourth module, you will place one of them is a recreation of a dorm in the former lodge, with large-scale projections of letters and a special soundtrack.

Besides documenting the forwarding of immigrants to their destinations in rural areas, the exhibition presents "Cosmopolitan São Paulo", with a focus on the Bom Retiro, Mooca, Brás and Santo Amaro districts, which uses photography and video to portray the importance and impact of immigrants and migrants in those areas of the city.

To new museum's strong focus on migration and immigration as a contemporary phenomenon is underlined in the module "Immigration Today", which features an interactive panel forming a mosaic of faces including people of various origins. The exhibition's ninth module is a room to be used for group meetings, workshops, and various other activities.

A contemporary installation in the long-term exhibition recreates an overturned container with nearly 30,000 bricks bearing words in French, Czech, Yiddish, German, Hungarian, and English from the book If This Is a Man, by Primo Levi. According to the artist in a museum press release, although his creation relates to an extreme of human experience - the Holocaust - outside the proportions of the immigration theme, "there is no doubt that the curse of work and the diaspora of languages intertwine in the immigrant's life.” 

The First Restoration

The Immigration Museum building, listed by Conpresp and Condephaat, had its first complete restoration since its construction was finished in 1888. The São Paulo state government invested R$ 20M in the restoration work. 

The facade and indoor spaces were completely recovered, including the plumbing, wiring, door and window frames, air conditioning, lighting, emergency exits, electronic safety, wheelchair-accessible features, and the wooden deck for a cafeteria.

Extra care was devoted to the prevention of water damage. When the museum was built, São Paulo climate was different - the city was known as the terra da garoa, or the "land of drizzle". Now the museum is better prepared to withstand today's heavy summer storms, with an underlining plastic coverage reinforcing the whole roof area with the exception of the main building, where the preserved, original French tiles already provide optimal coverage. That roof was improved with the recovery of the original copper gutters and the doubling of downspouts for better rain drainage.

Immigrant Festival:

The new museum will continue hosting the annual Immigrant Festival, which will take place on July 20, 26, and 27 this year.

More than 80 communities from 35 nationalities are participating. Last year, the festival drew 13,000 visitors.

The event has food, dance, music, crafts, and storytelling. There are workshops as well as performances.

See the full schedule: museudaimigracao.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Programacao-festa_web.pdf

A Ride Through History: The Immigrants' Cultural Train

When you visit the Immigrant Museum on weekends, you can ride a historical train pulled by a steam engine thanks to ABPF, the Brazilian Association of Railway Preservation. The ride will send you back to the time of São Paulo State's first railroad (The São Paulo Railway Company - SPR / Estrada de Ferro Santos-Jundiaí - EFSJ), used to transport immigrants from Santos to the Immigrants' Lodge to the coffee farms. The railway system was also used to transport coffee to Santos to be exported.

The 25-minute train ride is open to the general public on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m . to 4 p.m. The train departs about every hour. See more on their Facebook page.

Searching the Past

A great volume of information about immigrants in Brazil is available in the museum. The library is open to the general public for consultation.

In the files, there are 109 registration books (1882 – 1930) on microfilm, dating back to the previous headquarters of the Immigrants' Lodge.

Testimonies from immigrants are an important part of the archives. The museum has collected testimonies from elderly immigrants and saved them in written files and videos.

Contact Information & Directions:

Address: Rua Visconde de Parnaíba 1316
Closest subway station: Bresser-Mooca (Red line)
The museum is one of the featured attractions in Turismetrô, the São Paulo subway tour program.

Hours, Admission & Special Activities:

Open Tue to Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Admission is free in June and July 2014.

Every other Friday, the museum will be open until 9 p.m.   

Coffee Museum in Santos

Expand your experience of the history of immigration in Brazil with a visit to the Coffee Museum in Santos.

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