Pioneers or Mere Labor Force? Post–World War II Italian Rural Migration to Brazil and the Legacies of Colonialism

Abstract: In the early 1950s, the Italian government experimented with organized rural settlement in Brazil and the rest of Latin America. Part of a general effort to ease Italy’s “overpopulation,” rural settlement abroad had special meanings for both Italian and Brazilian elites. These experiments resonated with the memories of mass emigration at the turn of the twentieth century and with the legacy of colonial settlement in Libya and East Africa. These projects also fulfilled ongoing racial and eugenic aspirations in Brazil. Italian rural settlement in Brazil took the form of both employment in the coffee fazendas (estates) and the foundation of relatively homogeneous “colonies.” However unsuccessful on their own terms, these experiments provide evidence of the links between colonial knowledge and development practices, and they challenge the widespread assumption that Italians simply repressed their colonial past after the end of fascism and military defeat.