Chu Choo?

Paranagua Travel Blog

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Most Americans who have taken any form of American history know that a large percentage of our trans continental railroad was built with slave-like labor from the Far East. Chinese, Korean, and many other peoples of the East Asian continent came over to America via San Francisco or Los Angeles looking to start a new life in the land of the free. What they were seeking, they didn't find; after spending everything they had to procure passage on a cramped boat to come to a country of opportunity, many could only find underpaid jobs working for the railroad and mining. America was a place of harsh stereotypes that bled people of their dreams and forced them into a new harsh reality. The history of the American rail system came to mind this weekend when I took an old fashioned locomotive through the jungle to the port city of Paranagua. The tracks were clean although tenaciously perched on the mountainside. The train route was amazing- gliding through the jungle at an impossibly smooth pace with only the chug-chug-chug sound to remind you that you weren’t dreaming. I saw birds, butterflies, and even a cuddly little spider monkey in the mist of the trees. Old abandoned rail stations dotted the line, over grown with thick vines and shrubbery. The train passed small communities with children waiting at the driveway to wave at the tourists on the train. The kids would run along the tracks waving and smiling while the tourists would flash photographs and wave back, saying amongst themselves, “what cute little children.” Horses were tethered to stakes in the ground, allowing them to graze on the fertile grasses of the public lands that outline the roads and open sewers. They were lazy with shrunken hips and malnourished hair, but seemed content to sunbath by morning and graze by night. The train had diverse passengers; I met a boy traveling around South America from Israel. He was using the train merely as a cheap tool to get him to the port city so he could depart to Rio de Janerio. I believe his appreciation of South America was limited to the passionate game of futbol. While riding the train, in the gaps between sighs of awe over the beauty of nature, I was struck by the development of the tracks. How did this highly mechanical form of steel and iron come to be in the middle of the rainforest? It was out of place and seemed like an imposition to the delicate nature that surrounded us. With every twelve inch steel nail that we passed I was more and more affirmed that slave labor must have been used to develop such tracks. From my own personal knowledge I assumed that that labor was imported from another far off country, whether that was immigrants from Asia trying to find a better life (as in the United States) or the slave labor of Africans, I wasn’t certain. Turning these questions over in my head, I was struck again with the imposition of the railroad on the Brazilian economy by a conference at FIEP. The presenter made mention that one of the main restrictions holding back the development of agriculture and industry in the heartlands of Brazil is the lack of inexpensive transport to the rivers or sea ports. The railway system in Brazil is underdeveloped for the potential of industry. The rare areas that do have access to trains are very profitable. What labor force drove the rare but powerful train tracks into the ground? After a little digging I discovered that East Asians were not plentiful in Brazil around the time that the railroads were built. In fact, the driving force behind the migration of many Chinese was the communist revolution in 1949. The other main groups that are represented in Brazil are Japanese and Taiwanese. While Chinese immigrants came to Brazil to find solace from a regime change in their former nation, and were accepted into the community mainly as owners of clothing shops and restaurants, Chinese- Americans were given a paradigm shift of the wrong direction. Because of this history, it would seem that Chinese-Brazilians would have a more naturally integrated place in Brazilian society than Chinese-Americans. However, this is not true. While the initial start with Chinese immigrants in America was harsh, they are currently accepted as a significant part of the American culture. Chinese-Brazilians though, have a difficult time finding their place in society.
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photo by: scacos2006