Despite having 12 million inhabitants, São Paulo is never big enough. This friendly and welcoming city annually receives hundreds of immigrants – people who add to an already-diverse landscape of different cultures. Our urban area contains the most Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Japanese and Lebanese people outside of their respective home countries.
Like in other big metropolises, immigrants from a certain region usually concentrate in a specific neighborhood. And a trip to these neighborhoods allows us to see how other cultures mix and transform our own; these areas seem like little countries within our municipal limits. In São Paulo, you’re just a metro ticket away from a traditional Chinese New Year celebration, a German Oktoberfest pint, or authentic sushi.
Over 70 countries are represented in São Paulo, and we’re bringing you a list with the nationalities most present in our everyday lives. It is worth remembering that official data refers only to immigrants – and not their Brazilian-born descendants.
São Paulo was founded by the Portuguese. It was a safe place discovered by Jesuit priests to convert indigenous populations, which explains why there are so many Portuguese here – and a Portuguese bakery on virtually every corner
Bolivians officially make up the second-largest foreign population in São Paulo, however authorities estimate that the actual number of Bolivians may be three times bigger – if we count undocumented immigrants. Every Sunday, there is a Bolivian Market on Kantuta Square.
Bolivian parties in São Paulo
Bolivian Independency Celebration Its 11th edition will be held in August, at the Latin America Memorial.
Alasitas Celebrated on January 24 in honor of Ekeko, the god of abundance for Andes populations. Activities are held at the Latin America Memorial, Republic Square and in the neighborhoods of Penha and Brás.
Lautaro Aba/Site Governo de SP
São Paulo is the most Japanese city outside of Japan. You can feel their presence at the dozens of Japanese festivals held throughout the year. Going to at least one of these is a must!
Japanese parties in São Paulo
Nikkey Matsuri Fest Held for the past 10 years, this year’s festival was held on March 12 and 13 at the Latin America Memorial.
Hanamatsuri (Flower Festival) The 2016 festival will be held between April 4 and 9 on the streets of the Liberdade neighborhood.
This festival honors the birth of the Xiquiamuni Buddha. The white elephant is the symbol of the festival, since the Buddha’s mother dreamed of one during her pregnancy – and this was interpreted as a good omen. Tradition tells people to put the Buddha’s image on a flower vase and to bath it with sweet tea.
Japanese Festival The biggest Japanese event outside of Japan, now in its 19th edition, will be held from July 8 through 10 at the São Paulo Expo Convention Center. Here, you’ll see many elements incorporated from Japanese culture, such as ikebana, origami, tea ceremonies, and taiko presentations (a traditional drum) – as well as typical dishes from around the 47 Japanese provinces.
Cherry Blossom Festival It is currently in its 38th year, and will be held between July and August at the Carmo park (East region). Here, you can see flowers blooming on over 4,000 cherry trees.
Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival) This is the most traditional Japanese party in São Paulo, and it’s always held in July, in Liberdade. This festival shares both Chinese and Japanese elements, and it’s based upon the love story between two stars (Orihime and Hikoboshi). It is customary to write wishes on colored pieces of paper (tanzaku) and to hang them on bamboo sticks so they can come true.
Of the 12 million people living in São Paulo, 60% of them have at least some Italian origin. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that the biggest and most traditional Italian celebrations in Brazil occur in São Paulo, usually honoring catholic saints. You’ve got to go to one – Italians really know how to throw a party!
Italian parties in São Paulo
Our Lady of Casaluce Fest The oldest festival – since 1900, it has been held between April and May in the Brás neighborhood.
Saint Vito Fest This party has been around for over 90 years, and is held every weekend of July – also in Brás.
Saint Gennaro Fest A 40-year old celebration held every weekend of September in the Mooca neighborhood.
Our Lady of Achiropita Fest Its first edition was held more than 80 years ago. It happens every weekend of August in the Bixiga neighborhood.
The Spanish celebration is called Laferia, and its 6th edition will happen on April 9 and 10 in the Bela Vista neighborhood.
Somewhere between late January and early March, we celebrate the Chinese New Year. This festival happens over a weekend full of Chinese cuisine and fireworks. The party is held in the Liberdade neighborhood.
Every year at São Paulo’s Brooklin (which has nothing to do with the New York borough and is spelled with an ‘i’) there are two traditional German parties. Get your beer mug ready!
German parties in São Paulo
Brooklinfest This is held in October, a local version of Oktoberfest – currently in its 22nd year.
Maifest In 2016, its 17th edition happens on May 14-15.
Other notable foreign populations:
We also need to mention Lebanese and Syrian immigrants. They are responsible for the popular commerce area on 25 de Março Street. And our diversity is also completed by the Jewish community of roughly 60,000 people, mainly living in the Higienópolis neighborhood.
You can celebrate that diversity at the Immigration Festival, a June celebration at the Immigration Museum (Mooca neighborhood).
There are many discrepancies between the number of registered immigrants living in São Paulo (368,188) and the actual number of foreigners here. Authorities estimates that one third of immigrants living in Brazil are here undocumented.
Find out where each group is concentrated with this interactive map (click on it for detail):
Find the addresses of consulates and embassies in Brazil.
Destino: São Paulo, a fictional series produced by HBO Brazil that tells the story of Korean, Nigerian, Chilean, Bolivian and Orthodox Jewish immigrants.
Map: Estadão Dados e Ibope. Source: Census 2010 (IBGE)
Sources: Sistema Nacional de Cadastro e Registro Estrangeiro (Sincre); Observatório de Turismo e Eventos (OTE), Núcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas da Empresa Municipal São Paulo Turismo (SPTuris).