Up until the 19th century, the inhabitants of the city of Curitiba were natives, mestizos, Portuguese and Spanish immigrants.
Immigration started to become appealing as of 1808 when - in a decree promulgated by the Ruling Prince Dom João VI - foreigners were granted the right to ownership of land. After Brazil's Declaration of Independence, in 1822, the country began to worry even more about its territory and the settlers on its lands. In Curitiba, this concern become even greater as of 1853, when Paraná, which belonged to the "Comarca" (Judicial District) of São Paulo, became an independent Province. During this period, European immigrants began arriving in great waves.
The first immigrants to settle in Curitiba were the Germans. The couple Michael Muller and Anna Krantz arrived in 1833, after having immigrated initially to Rio Negro in 1829. They brought innovations to the daily life of Curitiba's inhabitants, such as European fruits and a type of potato that came from England, produce that they grew on their small farm. With the profits earned, they bought the whole area which currently spans the streets Riachuelo and Carlos Cavalcanti and spans also from the Rua Barão do Serro Azul to praça (square) 19 de Dezembro.
The Germans settled in the most central and urbanized area of Curitiba. They began the process of industrialization - in metalworking and printing - increased commercial activities, introduced changes in the city's architecture, spread the notion of associations and had a strong influence in the fields of theater, music and even gymnastics.
The Polish immigrants arrived in 1871 and founded the colonies of Tomás Coelho (now the city of Araucária), Muricy (now the city of São José dos Pinhais), the districts of Santa Cândida, Orleans, Pilarzinho and Abranches. They worked mainly on the land and in commerce. Today the descendants of these Polish immigrants that dwell in Curitiba represent the largest Polish colony in Brazil.
The first Italian immigrants arrived in Curitiba in 1872. They were responsible for the creation of the district of Santa Felicidade in 1878, these lands having been bought from the Borges brothers and named in tribute to Felicidade Borges. Made up of factory workers, artisans, specialized professionals, merchants and farmers, the Italians left strong impressions in, for example, architecture (in which church naves were built separated from the steeple), in the cuisine, in crafts made of straw and wicker, in sports such as "bocha" (similar to bowls) and a game known as "mora", in music and in the introduction of farming tools.
The Ukrainians came in a wave in 1895. They settled in "Campo de Galícia" (the Galician Field) (now the square 29 de Março, located in the central region of Curitiba, and its surrounding area) and they spread their lands to what are now the Avenida Cândido Hartman (avenue) and the district Bigorrilho. Their influence holds many features in common with that of the Polish and Russians, in areas such as architecture (churches with onion-shaped domes, for example), in the cuisine and in religious beliefs.
The first Japanese immigrants began to settle in Curitiba in 1915, with the arrival of Mizumo Ryu. In 1924 greater numbers of Japanese immigrated to the city, settling down in districts such as Uberaba, Campo Comprido and Santa Felicidade, in addition to the city currently named Araucária. Among their many contributions it is worth mentioning the introduction of new farming techniques and martial arts.
In addition, during the 20th century, the Syrians and the Lebanese arrived, skilled merchants that set up commercial establishments that dealt in clothing, footwear, textiles and small dry goods. The pioneers were called "mascates" (peddlers), who would travel on donkeys selling their trade from door to door. When they came to set up stores, they chose to do so in the central region of Curitiba.
A feature characteristic of the immigrants is their great capacity to organize themselves in associations, to meet the needs of their communities with respect to medical care and social activities, as well as leisure activities and sports, schooling and religious life.
In urban centers such as Curitiba, the immigrants made up a middle class capable of generating savings and investments, producing an important business group of entrepreneurs. Hence, these immigrants represented a key urbanizing factor, for they made up a great portion of the elite of entrepreneurs.
The process of assimilating the features brought by these immigrants is not simply a process of incorporating the immigrants into the city that adopts them, but it is rather a two-way process. The immigrant receives cultural assets and learns from the society that has adopted him and, at the same time, he contributes to the society with his own cultural values. He brings with him cultural assets, material as well as spiritual ones.
The Italian immigrants were responsible for creating the district of Santa Felicidade in 1878. This district arose from lands bought from the Borges brothers and the district's name is a tribute to Felicidade Borges.
The immigrants brought to the system of landholding of small areas, the fences that enclosed these properties. They also brought with them the plow, the covered wagon, milling, and crops such as wheat, barley and buckwheat. Finally, they introduced corn bread.
In Curitiba people eat this cornbread with "vinas". Nowhere else in Brazil do people know what a "vina" is, only us curitibanos know that it is a wienerwurst, a type of sausage originally produced in Vienna. Here we eat applesauce, stuffed cabbage rolls, many-layered flaky pastries, apffelstrudel, pies made from poppy seeds, and horseradish. Here we eat curds and borsch.
We can also find signs of integration in the city's architecture. Strolling through the city one can come across churches with Byzantine domes. One can also see houses with lambrequins (an adornment that is fitted just underneath the roof of Polish houses), another influence from the immigrants.
The Easter festivities include pysanky with filigrees (hand-painted eggs, a custom brought from Ukraine) and Christmas seasons filled with pine trees dotted with cotton and Santa Clauses, the North American figure derived from Saint Nicholas, bearing heavy Byzantine clothes in the middle of summer. Or even the processions held during Corpus Christi, with the street decorations of "rugs" made of flower petals and colored sawdust.
These influences, brought by the immigrants, have been incorporated into the society that has adopted them, to such an extent that they no longer cause surprise nor curiosity. Nonetheless, they serve to document a history that can be used to build a better existence, mirrored in the multi-faceted aspects of the curitibano that dwells in the city nowadays.
The immigrants formed an evolved middle class, which, in time, became an important business group made up of entrepreneurs. This group was crucial in the process of urbanization.