La migración internacional conduce a un aumento de la diversidad cultural y de la complejidad social a niveles locales. En la medida en que las personas cruzan las fronteras, se encuentran y conviven en diversos contextos étnicos o "zonas de contacto". Este artículo se centra en una "zona de contacto", es decir, la ciudad de Bruselas, capital de Bélgica y de Europa. Demostramos en el texto cómo esta “zona de contacto” ha sido influenciada por la llegada de inmigrantes brasileños. Por otra parte, se demuestra cómo estos inmigrantes brasileños construyen, visualizan y transforman los límites entre ellos mismos y los demás residentes del espacio local que habitan.
Palabras-clave: Bruselas, fronteras, migración brasileña, zonas de contacto, estudios de migración
International migration leads to an increased cultural diversity and societal complexity at the local level. As people cross borders, they meet and live together in ethnic diverse contexts or ‘contact zones’. This article focuses on such a ‘contact zone’, namely the city of Brussels, capital of Belgium and of Europe, and demonstrates how it has been influenced by the arrival of Brazilian migrants. Moreover, it is demonstrated how these Brazilian migrants construct, view and transform boundaries between themselves and other residents of the local space they inhabit.
Although migration has been an inherent part of human existence ever since our ancestors left Africa to populate the rest of the world (Wolf, 1997), mutual contacts have strongly intensified throughout the last decades. Rapid technological development, worldwide trade and a revolution in communication are increasingly interconnecting individuals and places, giving a new impetus to human mobility (Audebert and Doraï, 2010; Bauman, 2000; Schrooten, 2011b; Urry, 2007). These developments have profound implications for contemporary and future migration research. In this article, I argue that the introduction of a ‘border perspective’ in migration studies offers an excellent tool to research the everyday experiences of today’s migrants in the local spaces they inhabit. As Wilson and Donnan (2012:1) argue,
“[T]he proliferation of borders, and the many forces that have created and fostered their development, together have drawn scholars from all the humanities and social sciences to a mutual interest in what happens at, across and because of the borders to nations and states, and in extension to other geopolitical borders and boundaries, such as those of cities, regions and supranational polities”.
As demonstrated in the research of these scholars, borders function as a grand motif in everyday life. On the one hand, many recent events that revolve around changing borders, such as the creation of Mercosul, the expansion of the European Union, the rise of new global forces and new engagements between emerging countries have all made borders and borderlands new sites of processes of localization and globalization in the face of so many forces of change. On the other hand, the current ‘age of migration’ (Castles and Miller, 2009) also leads to an increased cultural diversity and societal complexity at the local level. As people cross international, state and other borders of polity, power, territory and sovereignty, populations mix and metaphorical borderlands of personal and group identities are negotiated (Alvarez, 1995; Anzaldúa, 1987; Barth, 1969; Donnan and Wilson, 1999; Horstmann and Wadley, 2006; Kearney, 1995; Lamont and Molnár, 2002). I argue that in the current globalised world these ethnic diverse contexts or ‘contact zones’ (Pratt, 1991) with a hybrid population are the norm, not only in the regions bisected by the boundary line between states, which traditionally have been at the focus of Border Studies (Wilson and Donnan, 2012), but also in the cosmopolitan cities, which are privileged places of migrant settlements and, as such, cultural crossroads par excellence.
In an earlier article (Schrooten, 2011a), I presented the results of a research conducted in such a contact zone, namely the city of Palmas, the capital of the Brazilian state Tocantins. Because the city was only founded in 1990, internal migration has heavily influenced the composition of the city’s population. Palmas is a city with a population that consists entirely of (mainly internal) migrants, and, as such, displays the characteristics of a contact zone. My research focused on the (re)creation of ethnic boundaries in this city, raising questions related to the possibility that the planned creation of a city such as Palmas would not reproduce the race relations that characterize the rest of the country, as the city was built during a period in which the Brazilian state recognized the existence of racism and started to implement anti-racism measures such as race based affirmative action (Bernardino, 2002; Brandão, 2005; Burdick, 1998; Caldwell, 2007; Htun, 2004; Schrooten, 2008). The research has demonstrated that the ethnic divisions existing in the rest of Brazil are also reproduced in Palmas. Although the government has consciously tried to promote social integration, the internal migration towards Palmas has not changed the existing patterns of ethnic divisions that are observable in the rest of the country. Rather than being purposefully erased, boundaries between ethnicities appear to be as strong as in the rest of the country.
In this article, I focus on another contact zone, namely the city of Brussels, the capital of Belgium and of Europe. I researched how Brazilian migrants residing in this city construct, negotiate and view boundaries between themselves and other residents of the local space they inhabit. I will demonstrate how the arrival of Brazilian migrants in Brussels has influenced these local spaces and how these migrants interact with other migrant communities and with the Belgian population. The research presented here is part of a PhD study on Brazilian migration to Belgium (2008-2013). Data collection and analysis of this research are typified by a qualitative approach, inherent to the anthropological method of ethnographic fieldwork. The study makes use of a multi-sited research design, with data-gathering taking place both online and offline (Schrooten, 2012). Data were collected through participant observation, analysis of web-based discussions and personal and e-mail interviews with Brazilians residing in Belgium (forty-one in total). The age of the interviewees ranged from 23 to 56 years. Twenty-nine of them were women and eleven men. Similar to findings of recent research amongst Brazilians that more than 57% of Brazilians in Belgium are coming from the Brazilian states of Goiás and Minas Gerais (Góis et al., 2009:38-41), most of the interviewees indicated these states as their region of origin. More than half of them had a high school degree, while some also had obtained a university diploma, and others had none or only primary education. Although most Brazilians in Belgium are undocumented (see later in this article), twenty-seven out of forty-one interviewees had a legal status in this country. The length of stay in Belgium varied between 6 months and 35 years. All were first-generation migrants.
The choice for Brussels as a research location was based on its role as capital of Europe, which gives the city a significant position within the trans-Atlantic relations. Secondly, Brussels displays the characteristics of a contact zone at the national level due to its socio-political position within the Belgian state, reinforced by the international position of the city and the presence of an ethnic heterogeneous population. Since the 1960s, migrant populations have increased to the point of outnumbering local populations in several municipalities (Corijn et al., 2009; Geets and Timmerman, 2010; Jacobs, 2006). Furthermore, because of the indigenous bilingual complexity that is specific to the region, Brussels is an area where symbolical boundaries are continuously renegotiated. Belgium is divided into a predominantly Dutch-speaking region in the northern part of the country (Flanders), a French-speaking region in the southern part (Wallonia), a German-speaking region in the south eastern part (within Wallonia), and the bilingual region of Brussels, although French is clearly the dominant language in the capital city. Fourthly, the choice for Brussels allows dissociating the trans-Atlantic migration of Brazilians from a former colonial tie. Finally, as the next section will show, the Brazilian community in Belgium is largely concentrated in Brussels (Dienst Vreemdelingenzaken, 2009; Góis et al., 2009).