The Symbolic Construction of a Paulista Urban Identity

  • Cristina Peixoto-Mehrtens


In 1936, a delay in the work to extend the Brasil Avenue in São Paulo city, part of a public urban improvement program, prevented several Municipal Works Department (DOP) employees from doing their job. The avenue, a vital link in the highway scheme of connecting downtown to the southern and western areas of the city, ended in a cabbage patch twenty meters short of a path already opened farther ahead.1 Visiting the site, Mayor Fábio da Silva Prado took the opportunity to talk to the cabbage patch’s owner, a chacareiro (subsistence farmer), who was watering his garden. In a serious but slightly ironic way, Prado asked, “Tell me, my friend, don’t you want the municipality to build a brand new street that will improve not only the city you live in but the site where your house stands?” Pensively, the Portuguese immigrant explained to the mayor that the piece of land they were on provided his livelihood, that the prefecture offered only 7 contos (7:000$000) for it, and that he did not know when that sum would be paid. The humble man believed this part of his land was worth more than 12 contos, and he added that even if the prefecture agreed to his terms it still might not be a good deal.2 The chacareiro argued that he and his family would starve because nobody would cover the earnings he would lose until he could settle again. Besides, it was common knowledge that the prefecture took a long time to reimburse people, that his total earnings came from this land, and that nobody would cover him until he could settle the compensation.


National Identity Urban Space Municipal Officer Tennis Court Real Estate Company 
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  1. 1.
    Paulo Duarte, lawyer, writer, historian, politician, and Fábio Prado’s right-hand man, narrated this episode twice, first in his eulogy at Prado’s funeral, Fábio Prado (São Paulo: Anhambi, 1964), 40–41, and then in his memoirs, Memórias, Os mortos de Seabrook (São Paulo: Hucitec, 1976), 226.Google Scholar
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    Delcides Carvalho stated that in 1931, the city of São Paulo was surrounded by 9,310 small rural properties dedicated mainly to horticulture and fruit growing. Carvalho used a French pseudonym in his work: Antoine Rénard, São Paulo é isto! (São Paulo: Edição do Autor, 1933), 80–81.Google Scholar
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    In 1936, as São Paulo’s mayor, Fábio Prado, made 8 contos (8:000$000) monthly (Law 3528, October 1936), the highest official municipal monthly wage. A department director received 3 contos and 500 mil-réis (3:500$000), and the lowest remunerated occupation, a servant (servente), was paid 300 mil-réis (300$000) (Act 1146, April 1936). Public officials were considered well paid. In fact, of thirty-one occupations in the DOP municipal chart, twenty-five had wages greater than 1 conto (1:000$000) monthly. According to a 1936 municipal study on the costs and living conditions of workers, a family had to make at least 600 mil-réis (600$000) monthly to survive, and an average worker in private service received between 300 mil-réis (300$000) and 399 mil-réis (399$000) monthly; Samuel Lowrie, “Ascendência das criancas registradas no parque D. Pedro II,” Revista do Arquivo Municipal 39 (September 1937).Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    The study of the Revista do Arquivo Municipal (RAM) was the subject of Silvana Rubino, “Clubes de Pesquisadores. A Sociedade de Etnologia e Folclore e a Sociedade de Sociologia,” História das Ciencias Sociais no Brasil 2 (São Paulo: Editora Sumaré, 1995);Google Scholar
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    Horace Bancroft Davis was ELSP professor of Social Economy (1933–35) under a research grant from the Foreign Policy Association Research Staff. Davis worked on the first study of cost and living standards of the Paulista laboring class (Padrão de Vida dos Operarios da Cidade de São Paulo). Before coming to Brazil, Davis worked for three years in the Bureau International du Travail, where he researched on the social conditions of the laboring class. This research turned into a book, Labor and Steel (1933), the first seven chapters of which were submitted as a thesis to the faculty of political ccience at Columbia University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Davis’s PhD in 1934. Davis stayed less than two years in São Paulo, being replaced by Edgard Otto Gothsch, a London School of Economics and Political Science assistant professor nominated by the England International Relations Ministry and hired by the state government to teach history of economic doctrine at FFCL/USP; Marina Correa Vaz Silva, “Da Maria Fumaça das fábricas a Escola Livre de Sociologia e Política de São Paulo, 1922–1940” (PhD diss., PUC/SP, 1994), 106.Google Scholar
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