8th day – Japanese and Korean enclaves

I was pounding the streets of the Japanese neighborhood yesterday (Liberdade)  searching for a business owner to speak with — entering one store upon another — only to feel utterly defeated when the workers in the store claimed that the owner rarely showed up or was away traveling.

The Chinese lunch that I felt obliged to have to secure an interview with the owner.

Today, I returned to the same neighborhood because a waitress at a Chinese restaurant mentioned that the owner’s daughter would be there. I pounced upon this precious piece of information — finally, a link to the owner! However, when I came by today, the manager informed me that the owner was there, but I should return in the afternoon when the place was less busy. In the mean time, would I have lunch? After that, I went to a bakery across the street. To my surprise, after my usual routine — “Olá! Is the owner of the bakery around?” — the cashier pointed me toward a Japanese woman who was the founder. Her bakery is mentioned in every city guide that I’ve seen, so she is accustomed to journalists approaching her for interviews. She proudly handed me a magazine in which she was featured, insisting that all the information that I needed was “in there”. I tried speaking with her further, but she kept insisting that her entrepreneurial story was already on her website. The fact that the interview was for ‘academia’ wasn’t compelling to her since there was no added advertising to gain. We chatted a little about her experience – nothing particularly revealing – but I was not ready to face another day of defeat.

Arab desserts sold at the Itiriki bakery in Liberdade, among other international sweets.

So, I headed to the Korean neighborhood (Bom Retiro) and once again popped into stores. People seemed friendlier, and the owners seemed to be present. By the end of the day, I conducted two interviews: first with a Korean mini mart owner, and next with the Syrian-Brazilian owner of a textile store. I approached the owner of an Arab restaurant after that, but he advised me to speak with his wife who’ll be there tomorrow.

Bom Retiro: recognized as the Korean cultural neighborhood in Sao Paulo

I noticed that almost everyone in Liberdade spoke in Portuguese but in Bom Retiro, the Korean women in the stores spoke very poorly in Portuguese, if at all, and on the streets, even teenagers chatted away in Korean (compared to Japanese youth who are linguistically assimilated). This indicates to me that the Korean community is probably still fresh on the ground and growing with newly arriving women and children. Note: Japanese form the largest Asian population in Brazil (1.5 million), followed by Koreans (50,000).

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