One nation with a long history of diverse immigration is Brazil. And the most diverse city in Brazil is Sao Paulo with a population of 11 million:
The demographics of São Paulo City are evidence of a uniquely large and ethnically diverse metropolis, with 111 different ethnic groups. It is the largest city in Brazil with a population defined by a long history of international immigration.
There are liberals who think of Sao Paulo in very positive terms. Some years ago I wrote about an Australian writer, Ryan Heath, who thought that Sydney needed to bump up its immigration levels so that it could catch up with Sao Paulo and become a real "world city":
The truth is that Australia doesn't really have a world city - and it's too deluded to realise what it needs to do to create one.
Reading the morning papers in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, I was struck by the faces of London. Thirty-two of the 39 photos of victims that stared at us that next morning were under 35 and looked like the United Nations. That's when I realised what a real "world city" is. It's not easy; it's not white; it's not old. It's crazy and colourful and out of control in a way I don't recognise in Australia. Sydney isn't the fifth column after New York, London, Tokyo and Paris ... Sydney is middle-ranking and miles ahead of its Australian rivals at that.
Indeed, it takes no great leap of the imagination to put Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Johannesburg on the same footing as Sydney. But it's a real challenge for white chauvinists to think that a Portuguese-speaking city might be more interesting.
I remembered Ryan Heath when a reader recently forwarded me an article on Sao Paulo. It was written back in 2002 but is well worth taking the time to read. It describes the fears of the upper classes in Sao Paulo, who are so frequently targeted by crime that they buy helicopters to fly above the city they work in, rather than risking the roads below, and who live in gated suburbs, protected by massive police forces.
Here is how one Sao Paulo businessman gets home from work:
En route to his mansion in Alphaville -- a walled city where the privileged live behind electrified fences patrolled by a private army of 1,100 -- Klein quietly stared out the window. His pilot clipped low over the honeycomb-like slums and clogged highways below. More than halfway through a nine-minute commute, the copter grazed over a cluster of inner-city prisons. A squad of machine-gun-toting guards stood near a perimeter wall, their gaunt faces squinting upward as Klein's copter buzzed by.
"The perspective is different from up here," remarked Klein, a graying hulk of a man and executive director of Casas Bahia, one of Brazil's largest electronics retailers. Over the din of the blades, he told a reporter that "it even looks beautiful sometimes. Up here, however, it is safe. Down there -- ." He paused, staring across the metal and glass horizon. "Well, it's another story."
Sao Paulo ... is, by some accounts, a vision of future urban life in the developing world. As homicide and kidnapping rates have soared to record levels, civilian helicopter traffic here has become what industry executives describe as the busiest on Earth. Helicopter companies estimate that liftoffs average 100 per hour. The city boasts 240 helipads, compared with 10 in New York City, allowing the rich to whisk to and from their well-guarded homes to work, business meetings, afternoons of shopping, even church.
And this is why the upper class resorts to such measures:
One result is city life dominated by fear. The homicide rate in greater Sao Paulo, South America's largest city, has more than tripled during the 1990s, to about 60 murders per 100,000 residents, compared with 7.4 in the Washington metropolitan area and 7.8 in New York. Already 63 kidnappings have been reported this year in Sao Paulo, up from only 15 during the same period last year, according to police statistics. The surge in abductions has produced a cottage industry of plastic surgeons who specialize in treating wealthy victims who return from their ordeals with sliced ears, severed fingers and other missing body parts that were sent to family members as threats for ransom payment.
Despite a lackluster economy, a $2 billion-a-year security industry is thriving across Brazil. Brazilians are armoring and bulletproofing an estimated 4,000 cars a year, twice as many as in Colombia, which is in the midst of a 38-year-old civil war. A wealthy Sao Paulo businessman, who spoke on the condition his name be withheld, said he allows his daughter to boogie at nightclubs only under the eyes of a commando turned bodyguard. In a city where the wealthy are known for ostentation, many are now buying low-profile economy cars to fool kidnappers and thieves.
"We have become prisoners in our own homes," said Ellen Saraiva, the elegant wife of a construction magnate, as she sat in her tasteful living room in a heavily guarded building in Sao Paulo's fashionable Jardims neighborhood. After a series of high-profile kidnappings on nearby streets last year, she and her husband paid $35,000 to bulletproof their understated gray Volkswagen. The armoring cost twice as much as the car.
"I pray to God every time I leave my building," she said. "I live in fear for myself and my family. One of my daughters is studying abroad right now, and as much as I miss her, it makes me feel at peace to know she is not here living through this nightmare."
Sao Paulo's population is 70% white (mostly of Italian, Spanish, Greek, German & Portuguese ancestry), 3% Asian (Korean, Chinese, Japanese), 5% black and 22% multiracial.
So what went wrong? The article suggests that the problem is due to an excessive gap in wealth. But that begs the question. Why would there be such a large gap in Sao Paulo? Couldn't one reason be that there is no longer such a sense of solidarity between the upper and lower classes, when they do not feel a sense of common ethnicity and a common purpose in advancing a shared heritage? And couldn't another reason be that the lower classes have less motivation to hold together a productive culture of family life and a work ethic when society is more atomised?
What will happen to those Western nations which undergo a fall in living standards, with the welfare state no longer able to fund large numbers of people? Won't these nations then be vulnerable to a similar kind of social development that has occurred in diverse Sao Paulo?
I can't help but think that it was short-sighted for the Western political classes to give up the advantages - the social solidarity - of a more homogeneous population. There is a strong chance that they will one day pay the same price as the upper classes in Sao Paulo.
As for Ryan Heath, he might like to consider this question: if Sao Paulo is such an "interesting" world city, then why do its leading residents choose to spend large sums of money flying over it rather than experiencing it on the ground? And is the word "interesting" really the best one to use to describe living in a gated suburb guarded by a private army of 1100?