This week I went to Mãos do Brasil, a huge handicrafts expo in Anhembi that brings together over 500 artisans from every state in Brazil, plus Brasília. It was really interesting to walk around and see the diverse representations of culture. I ended up spending at least four hours looking at everything — plus an undisclosed amount of reais.
Awhile ago, I wrote about attending the Bolivian Independence Day celebration at the Memorial da América Latina, my introduction to the Bolivian community in São Paulo. I got the opportunity to further explore the community in a piece for the South American gastronomy site Como Sur entitled Bolivian Gastronomy in São Paulo: Why It’s More Than Just Food.
I didn’t realize just how many Bolivians are in the city, an estimated 100,000. São Paulo likes to celebrate its immigrant heritage, highlighting the contributions made by Italians, Japanese, Arabs, Jews, etc., and I wondered : why are Bolivians being left out of the conversation when they have such a strong presence here?
So I made it my mission to find out through the angle of food given it’s the most popular way to share culture and because well, I’m writing for a gastronomy site. As I discovered different networks and spaces, I ended up seeing a side of São Paulo I hadn’t seen before. It confirmed my belief that there are many cities within a city. Case in point: I took the metro one Sunday to go to Praça Kantuta, the square that holds a weekly Bolivian fair. At the station, I asked several Brazilians how to get there. They weren’t sure. A group of Bolivian teenagers passed by and I asked them. Without missing a beat, they pointed me to the square, only a few blocks away.
I interviewed a number of Bolivians in the food industry and while their experiences were rather diverse due to age, generation or personality, they were all extremely passionate individuals working to provide a pleasurable experience on a plate. With the number of labels thrown at Bolivians (poor, dirty, primitive, strange, seedy) they’re determined to defy expectations and put forth a positive image of their culture.
It was an extremely interesting experience putting together this piece. It took me awhile, longer than any other piece I had done in the past, because I really wanted to be accurate and do the topic justice. My hope is that people, particularly Paulistanos, will become a little more aware of a community that is very much a part of São Paulo.
Check out my piece Bolivian Gastronomy in São Paulo: Why It’s More Than Just Food at Como Sur.