South America

Coming home to Sao Paulo

By Patricia Galves Derolle

I love traveling, but it’s always a delight to come back home. I guess you just realize how much appreciation you have for your own land when you travel overseas. Once back home, everything seems weirdly familiar; we realize things that have never popped into the mind before. We accept the ordinary with a different perspective, such as listening to the sound of our native language, smelling the aroma of local food coming out of little restaurants, hearing horrible traffic noise, tasting a fantastic orange juice…well, at least these are the things that call my attention when I return home.

I am from São Paulo and I love my city. People usually relate it to really horrible things, such as poverty, violence and pollution. It’s not that we don’t have such things — we do, but we also have many great things, too! São Paulo is home to almost 12 million people, and it’s acknowledged worldwide due to its financial and economical significance to Brazil. Business can be synonymous to São Paulo; however, it’s not the only thing that my city is known for.

São Paulo has a vibrant cultural life. From art galleries to small museums, fine dining to popular restaurants, designer shops to high street, there’s something for everybody. It’s a big city with a diverse immigrant background: Brazilians are constituted by a mix of European, African, and indigenous people (a book, called Raízes do Brasil – or Brazilian Roots – is great for really understanding Brazilian identity). São Paulo is also home to many Italian and Japanese immigrants, as well as Chinese, Bolivians, and Paraguayans.

Thankfully, paulistanos (people from São Paulo) are cosmopolitan and they accept other cultures easily; sometimes we even give a twist to our own taste. An interesting fact is that São Paulo has several ethnic neighborhoods, such as Liberdade (once exclusively for Japanese, but now can be described as Asian due to the number of Chinese and Korean people – yes, we are different, we don’t have a Chinatown, but a Japantown), Brás, Bexiga, Barra Funda and Moóca (for Italians, which are the vast majority in the city), Higienópolis and Bom Retiro (for the Jewish community), Santo Amaro (for the German community), Vila Zelina (for the Lithuanian community) and so on.

Our Portuguese background is present in the old buildings of the city, such as the one in Páteo do Colégio, downtown São Paulo. The first Jesuit church was built in this archeological site, and it marks the foundation of the city in 1554. However, the city’s birthplace is close by, in the middle of Sé square. This square, full of palm trees, is the setting of a stunning cathedral, the Sé cathedral. Despite the poverty around it, it’s a dynamic place, with traditional shoe-shiners, live popular music, and gypsies reading your palms. When you go there, you will see poorer and wealthier people walking together to go to work or to take the subway. Unfortunately, the disparity between the poor and the rich is quite big. I myself cross the Sé square everyday and I love its vibrancy. The happiness and simplicity of the people that live in the area amaze me day after day.

This is just a glimpse of São Paulo — see you there!

Patricia Galves Derolle, 26 years old, from São Paulo, is an International Relations student.

Patricia Galves Derolle
Local organizer, São Paulo
Patricia is a post-graduate student of International Relations who was born and raised in São Paulo, Brazil. Her first overseas experience was a solo trip, in 2007, to Europe, where she took an internship in Brussels, and traveled all around for 45 days. Since then, she’s been around the world!

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