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Baltic Brazilians

While the weather is getting fairly frigid for most Balts, there is a group of Latvians Lithuanians and Estonians who have never had to brave the harsh northern winters.
The community of Balts in Brazil, well-established and an estimated 250,000 strong, will spend their winter in a nice balmy average of 27 degrees. But this is nothing new. Many assume that Balts settled in Brazil during and after World War II. But ties go back much, much further. As far back as the 1800's.

The first Lithuanians arrived in Brazil in 1866 with Colonel Andrius Visteliauskas to help Brazil in their War of the Triple Alliance against Paraguay. Himself a prolific writer, he inspired others in Lithuania to make the same journey and in 1890, about 25 Lithuanian families landed and settled in Ijui, then a new colony.
Should one travel today to the Ijui region, you can still run into one of the descendents of the thirty thousand Lithuanian immigrants from the first group of immigrants and from the second wave, who arrived in 1926. Most came to work on the coffee plantations and in other laborious jobs.

Sao Paulo was also a popular settling area for Lithuanians as well as Rio de Janeiro and Parana.  Because both Brazilians and Lithuanians have a strong Catholic background, the two cultures got along well.

 The center of Lithuanian life in Brazil is still Vila Zelina, a district of the Sao Paulo centered on St. Josephs Church.  The Lithuanian culture is still prominent in Brazil as well, although new immigrants are scarce. A documentary by filmmakers Fabiano Canosa and Julius Ziz in 2001 took a look at the life of Brazilian Lithuanians. The movie called Eldorado: Lithuanians in Brazil,
In 2001, a documentary (Portuguese title: Eldorado: Lituanos no Brasil), by Fabiano Canosa and Julius Ziz was released about the story of Lithuanians in Brazil. The official movie review states that "the period from 1924 to 1928 saw a stimulus of immigration of Lithuanians to Brazil. The initiative, however, was part of a government endeavor to make the Brazilian population more white in color."

Brazil and Latvia have also been closely linked since about 1890. It was then that 25 families from Riga arrived in Laguna in search of work. Rio Novo was settled by Latvians in 1890, followed by  Rio Oratório in 1892. The sunny towns of Rio Mãe Luzia and Massaranduba were also soon settled by Latvians in 1893.

Like the Lithuanians, many early Latvian immigrants to Brazil also worked on the coffee plantations. Varpa, a Baptist Latvian settlement in the State of Sao Paulo is still home to a few hundred Latvian families. During the town's peak of production in the 1930s-40s, the population reached about 2000, all Latvians. However today, much of the towns old Latvian mills and cemeteries are overgrown and in need of repair.

Though many aspects of daily life were meticulously documented by some Latvians in Vārpa, only two comprehensive histories of the colony exist, and these are in Portuguese.
The most interesting thing to note about this colony is that the reasons for settlement and migration were different than most European immigrants of the time. Latvian Baptists (rare even in Latvia) came to the region in search of a vast piece of land in order to escape from the increasing religious pressure in the home country. The Latvians who founded the town of Varpa did so just after World War I, when much of Latvia lay in ruins and the struggle for independence seemed fruitless.  A few houses are preserved, and visitors can still hear Latvian spoken in shops and on the street, although not as much as before.

Today the town of Varpa is a quiet, sunny dusty place where Latvian farmers with names like Jose Berzins and Janis Silva, go about their business in an unassuming way, giving little clues to what a prosperous life in the old Baptist colony must have been like.
However, the Latvians in Brazil have kept their culture alive for over a hundred years and are celebrating together with Latvia 90 years of independence.

In addition to Varpa is Nova Odessa is a true Latvian-Brazilian town. 
"One of the most active and largest Latvian communities is in Nova Odessa - a city, which was founded in 1905, by immigrants from Latvia. There are many street names in this city which have Latvian names and there is also a special memorial to Latvians - to the city's founders, and Latvia's maroon-white-maroon flag is raised along with Brazil's flag on the 18th of November," Latin American Latvian Association's President, Daina GÅ«tmane told Latvia's 90th anniversary organizers. 

Currently Brazilians of Latvian origin are about 20 thousand in number, making Brazil the home of the largest Latvian community in South America. The second largest is in Argentina. Interestingly enough, the same amount of Latvians live in Brazil as in Canada. Every few years, the South American Latvian Community, (Dienvidamerikas Latviesu Apvieniba) holds the traditional Song and Dance Festival in correspondence with the festival in Latvia. This year, in correlation with the 90th anniversary of independence, a photo exhibit Latvian Immigrants will take place in the city of Sao Paulo. The exhibit will display over 100 photographs of what life was like when Latvians first arrived in Brazil as well as their struggled to keep their Latvian identity. 

Estonians and sports:
Although there is no real sizable Estonian community in Brazil, there are a fair amount of Brazilians in Estonia playing football (soccer).  Felipe de Araújo Nunes plays for the Estonian team Meistriliiga as a midfielder. Alan Monken Arruda also played for Meistriliiga when he transferred from Helsinki. These are only a few of the most famous Brazilian footballers. There are countless others throughout Estonia and Lithuania as well.

So if you're feeling the urge to heat up this winter and yet get a little Baltic flavor, head down to Brazil and soak up the sun and enjoy the palm trees, sausage and sauerkraut.