Queen of the Sesquicentenary, Mother of the German-Brazilians: Beauty, Fertility, and the Construction of Ethnic Identities in Brazil

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:50 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Glen Goodman, Emory University
In July 1974, military president and German-Brazilian Ernesto Geisel presided over festivities commemorating the sesquicentenary of German immigration to Brazil.  Organizers in Rio Grande do Sul—Brazil’s southernmost state—planned parades, speeches, dinners, dances, craft fares, and other events to highlight and valorize the positive contribution of Germans and their descendants to Brazil’s “progress.” Following less than thirty years after a state-sponsored campaign of nationalization during which simply speaking German in public was a prison-worthy offense, the sesquicentenary represented a conscious and purposeful moment of ethnic “rehabilitation.”

Among the most publicized events were two competitions drawing contestants from all corners of the state: the “Queen of the Sesquicentenary” pageant and the “Oldest German-Brazilian Mother” award.  The two competitions placed both beauty and fertility at the intersection of idealized ethnic and gender identities.  How did judges (and contestants) construct German-Brazilian femininity vis à vis the national imaginary?  What role do conceptions of beauty and fertility play in the construction of German-Brazilian ethnic identity?  More broadly, how did these competitions represent a strategy to further the rehabilitation of German-Brazilians as a desirable part of the Brazilian nation?  My paper uses both the sesquicentenary committee’s materials—including the judges’ deliberations—as well as local and national print media to explore these questions.