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Brazil arguably has the largest Lithuanian community in South America. This migration peaked in 1920s and 1930s. 35% of all emigrants from interwar Lithuania chosen Brazil as their destination, 25 000 to 50 000 moved in. Unlike elsewhere in America most Lithuanians of Brazil started as rural workers (in coffee plantations). They had little rights and most were quite poor as was Brazil itself. Eventually many of them drifted to the cities and became richer than the average Brazilian.

Sao Paulo (Latin America's largest city) hosts the only true Lithuanian neighborhood in South America - Vila Zelina. Its construction was carried out ~1934 when Lithuanian imigration was peaking. The district is centered around Republic of Lithuania Plaza (Praca Republica Lituania), where 7 streets meet up (one of them named after a Lithuanian priest Pijus Ragažinskas (Pio Ragazinskas, 1907-1988) who started the only Lithuanian-Brazilian newspaper "Mūsų Lietuva"). Liberty statue (1977) that crowns the Plaza center is modelled after the one in Kaunas, Lithuania (that original symbol of interwar Lithuanian freedom had been pulled down by Soviets in 1950, making its reconstruction in communism-free Sao Paulo even more symbolic). It bears a worn out inscription "Lietuviais esame gimę, lietuviais turime būt" ("Lithuanians we are born, Lithuanians we must be") - lyrics of a traditional patriotic song. They are joined by Columns of Gediminas, a symbol of the famous Gediminid dynasty (1315-1572) which brought the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania to its glory as the Europe's largest state.

Lithuanian Freedom statue in the Praca Republica Lituania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian church, a necessity of any Lithuanian district of the era, is also in the Plaza. A modest St. Jose church was built under priest B. Sugintas in 1936. Mass for Lithuanians are still held but in Portuguese as are all the modern inscriptions inside. Old memorial plaques are in Lithuanian. Official Lithuanian-Brazilian community is headquatered in the parish building.

St. Jose Lithuanian church in Sao Paulo. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

One small office building in the area is called "Kaunas" after Lithuania's second-largest city, a real estate agency is known as "Lituania". There are other Lithuanian activities in the area including dance troupes and musical bands. Lithuanian restaurants and bars are largely closed. The most famous among the remaining ones is Bar do Vito. Lithuanians of the district are somewhat aging; most of them have been born in Brazil already.

Kaunas office building. Google Street View.

Sao Paulo hosts the only Lithuania's consulate general in Latin America (Avenida Irai, 438, cj. 34). It was established after the Lithuanian embassy in Argentina was closed down as a cost saving measure in 2013. The larger number of Lithuanian-Brazilians was cited as a reason of the move to Sao Paulo although the decition has received criticism as the Lithuanian-Argentine community is held to be more lively and safeguarding Lithuanian traditions. For example in Brazil there are no Lithuanian sunday schools to pass on the language to the next generation. The true number of Lithuanian-Brazilians is heavily disputed with various sources claiming 30 000, 150 000, 300 000 or even 1 000 000. Presumably the larger numbers include everyone who had at least single grandfather or great grandfather from Lithuania. Lithuanian-Brazilian Community election of 1970 had 821 participants, while its counterpart in 1999 had 177 participants.

Rural Lithuanian communities largely assimilated over a couple generations as they always lived intermixed with other larger groups. Lithuanian rural settlement was largely limited to the states of Sao Paulo, Parana and Rio Grande do Sul. In Rio Grande do Sul Lithuanians established Ijui city (pop. 100 000) where they were later joined and outnumbered by other European ethnicities. There is also a small Lithuanian community in Rio De Janeiro megalopolis. In 1954 there were some 50 000 Lithuanian Brazilians, of them 30 000 in Sao Paulo, 20 000 in the countryside and 300 in Rio. Most were interwar migrants, many once lured in by a free boat trip (in exchange for a long-term contract) and plantation company promises of "American riches" (some believed the entire American continent to be as rich as the USA, while in fact Brazilian GDP per capita was 1/6th of the US one in 1929 and the wages in Brazil were lower than in Lithuania but cheap land compensated this to some). 500 post-World War 2 refugees in 1940s became the last major immigration of Lithuanians to Brazil. There had also been several thousands Lithuanians in Brazil prior to 1918 independence (immigrated in 1870s-1910s).

Lithuanians of Brazil attracted filmmaker interest. In 2002 Brazilian documentary Eldorado - Lituanos no Brazil (Eldorado: The Lithuanians in Brazil) was created, while in 2011 a group of Lithuanians travelled to Brazil for their own documentary on the local community. Several books on Lithuanian Brazilians have been published in both Lithuania and Brazil.

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in Southern Latin America

Map of Lithuanian heritage in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

More information on the Lithuanian heritage in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay.

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