This Sunday I went to the Bolivian street fair at the Kantuta Square, in the Pari neighborhood in Sao Paulo. I talked to the Bolivians at their stands, asked about their food and learned that it is very rich due to the cold weather and the basic ingredients are chicken and pork, cheese, corn, grains, potatoes and lots of chilies. I bought a lot of interesting ingredients like red skin potatoes, black corn, delicious chilies and grains, and I also ate their their salteñas, loved it and expressed. They’re pleased and asked me to tell my friends and bring them with me the next time. I tried to talk about it with some friends but they didn’t care, they rather talk about the fancy restaurant they went or the trip they did to New York five years ago. I felt sad. They are missing an interesting experience, good food and the opportunity to get to know a little about another country. Besides I know what is to be an immigrant and how important and good it feels when at least we are seen and people are interested in our culture.
There are almost two hundred thousand Bolivians in São Paulo and between 30 and 50 thousand of them are undocumented. This exodus reflects the sad reality of Bolivia, which has one of the worst social indexes in South America. It is because of such a miserable situation that many Bolivians subject themselves to subhuman working conditions in the city of São Paulo. The sector that uses most illegal workers is the sweatshops, controlled by Koreans. The Bolivians work from 6am to 11pm or from 7am to 12am and make between R$200 and R$400 ($70 to $140 US dollars) per month. But they also have to pay for their poor food (usually potato, rice, salad and sausage) and housing (small rooms 2.00m x 1.50m, which house the worker, their family, their sewing machines, and a space to put the clothes they produce). Barred by immigration laws from taking legal jobs, which provide the rights and protections established by the Brazilian constitution and labor laws, undocumented immigrants have no choice but surrender themselves to exploitation, long working hours and vile wages. Fear of deportation keeps them silent.