The Latvians in Argentina

On March 1, 2016, I had the pleasure of visiting Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina. The city is beautiful and dynamic where the old European architecture (but well maintained) meets the modern and tall buildings. The population of Argentina is mostly made up of descendants of Spanish colonists and immigrants, and although some street names have indigenous names, there are not many of them. There are not many Afro-descendants, since the “Rio de la Prata” was not an African slavery route. The largest group of immigrants in Argentina was definitely Italians.

The first Latvians that arrived in Argentina were before the First World War for personal reasons. As was the case with Dr. Prof. Karlis Bergs, Researcher in Natural Sciences (botany and zoology), by the sculptor Virginia Krasting Carreño, who arrived in 1912 and aviator Otto Balodis, who arrived in 1927 and who worked as a flight instructor. The first consul consul was Karlis Bergs, from 1927 to 1931.

However, the second wave of immigration was the most important, after the Second World War (1948-1949), during the second government of the Argentine populist president, Juan Domingo Perón, when 89 Letos arrived in warships with another 800 immigrants from Austria and Italy through the Port of Buenos Aires.

The refugees’ first residence was the Hotel dos Imigrantes, in the Boedo region, located near the Port of Buenos Aires (where there was a train station and today is the Immigration Museum in Argentina). Thanks to Father Luis I García, immigrants organized a colony in the city of San Miguel, in the Province of Buenos Aires. The first pieces of land and houses were shared by large groups of families with low financial conditions. Conditions were so poor that the men had to sleep on the ceiling. The construction of the new houses was done in a very supportive way, everyone helped each other, due to the lack of resources. This priest was well liked by the Latvian community for his permanent concern in solving problems, finding land for lodging, work for those in need, teaching the language, etc… Father Garcia helped to found the Congregation of “San Pablo” in San Miguel. The first service with the participation of the Latvians took place on March 27, 1949 and the Latvian artisans helped in the construction of the temple. Padre Garcia managed to find two blocks of land for 38 families, the street where these blocks of land were located is now called “Calle Letônia”. (Latvia Street)

Note: Some photos are compressed in the gallery because they are very large, if you want to see them in full size, click under the photo with the right button and select “open image in new tab”.

For three years, Preacher Garcia helped the families, but there was a need for services to be taught in the Latvian language. In 1951, the Congregation “La Reurrección” was founded. The first preacher of the church was Anroldo Liepins who along with his family, helped for 25 years, the Latvians in Mendonza (Argentina), Santiago (Chile) and Montevideo (Uruguay).

He was rescued from a camp of displaced persons in Europe to take charge of the Congregation in 1952 – La Resurrección. They had Sunday school and traditional orchestrated music taught by pianist Elvira Vitolins de Liepins. In 1953, they founded a parish in Hurlingham, where they started to build a church with the help of Latvian artisans. All the activities of the Congregation were carried out in this new location. From the age of 50 until his death, Preacher Liepins wrote and printed the newsletter “Vests”, bringing information about the activities of the Congregation, using a manual mimeograph. From that moment on, the growth of the Latvian community was rapid. The Latvians found jobs in different areas, according to their training, in carpentry, metallurgy, machinery, electromechanical services, education, domestic services, etc. And many, little by little, built their own workshops and stores. From the 1950s to the 1970s, they focused on making plastic textiles. These activities took the Latvians to the Argentine middle class at a time when industrial activity grew in the country and had many jobs.

The largest organization of Latvians in Argentina was La Asociación de Letones Libres (The Association of Free Latvians) and the Asociación de la Letonia Libre (PBLA – Association of Free Latvia), which still prevail around the church today. For more than 40 years, they practice monthly services, followed by a lunch with the community (a la canasta) where people talk in Latvian and Castilian.

The Congregation of “La Resurrección” is led today by Preacher David Calvo and President Ilgvars Ozols. In the last decades, the number of people who re-apply the activities of the Congregation has decreased to about 20 people. The Congregation celebrates the main holidays, such as November 18th and Christmas, when they gather the largest number of Latvians in Argentina, concentrating more than 70 people and with the participation of musicians. Among the celebrations are the “Day of Christian faith in Latvia” and “Day of deportees from Latvia-Siberia (1941-1949)”.

The relationship between the Latvians in Argentina and those in Latvia began to reestablish itself in 1990, when Soviet merchant ships arrived in Argentine waters to fish and treat squid. The meetings took place at the initiative of some Latvian sailors who sought contact with the Argentines. The meetings, despite the surveillance of the Soviet police, were very emotional. This happened when direct contact was reestablished and was broken for decades. The sailors participated in various social and family events during their stay. However, with the end of the USSR, there were huge corruption deals made by former Soviet regime officials and the Russian mafia linked to Argentina, which ended the fishing fleet, leaving the sailors / fishermen in the Port of Buenos Aires without resources to survival. In 1991, the New Republic of Latvia promoted Adolfo Bruziks as the first Honorary Consul of Latvia in Argentina. He, who was born in Latvia, took responsibility and risked many of his personal belongings by resolving the problem of repatriation of sailors. The Congregation still has contact with some of them and their families.

Shortly after Bruziks’ appointment, Mirdza Resbergs was appointed and began to deal with issues more appropriate for an Honorary Consul, such as the issue of passports for the first immigrants and their descendants, in such a way that more than 40 passports from Latvia were issued – people who participated in parliamentary elections in the 1990s. Since 1991, many Latvian natives have traveled from Latvia to visit their relatives, generations born during exile, and to recognize what was once their property.

The Latvian Honorary Consulate in Argentina has been in existence since 2013 and is currently located in a building of lawyers. Dr. Andrés Ozols (Social Coordinator) works there, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Buenos Aires and who also works for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Río de la Plata and Riga. Consul Hector Días Bastien lives in Spain and visits Argentina periodically to discuss issues related to the Latvian community in Argentina. Bastíen’s work becomes difficult when it comes to legal issues, such as the case of the 20 Latvians arrested for drug trafficking, partnerships between the administration of the ports in Latvia, the issuance of temporary visas, the development and renewal of passports, the issuance of citizenship, commercial exchange between countries and representation at diplomatic events. He has the help of Mercedes Benegas de Homblerg.

Dr. Ozols was kind and gave me a few hours to answer some questions I had about the Latvians in Argentina. He also gave me a book written by his father Ilgvars Ozols, “Latviesi Argentina, Cile um Urugvaja” (2001), which describes how the process of Latvian immigration happened in these countries and some copies of the newsletter “Vests”, also written by Ilgvars, continuing the work of Preacher Liepins.

In November 2015, the Latvian Citizenship and Migration Affairs Office issued 47 passports to Latvians and their descendants in Argentina. See the images below:

The older Latvians, who live in Argentina, are committed to maintaining the Latvian tradition, but they worry that the new generation of Latvian-Argentineans is not very interested in culture and language and, besides, it is difficult to take them to events of the Congregation. Dr. Ozols, who is also a member of the Biomaterials Group at the “Facultad de Ingenieria de la Universidad de Buenos Aires”, has been working to try to change this situation. He has cooperated to improve student exchange programs between the Universities of Buenos Aires and RTU in Riga, mainly in the field of Biomaterials, but he has a desire to extend this program to other areas of study.

As a member of the Rio de La Plata Chamber of Commerce (contemplates Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay) and Riga, Dr. Ozols also works to sign science and technology agreements between countries. He has a desire to use the Port of Riga as a bridge for agricultural products from South America to Europe, with joint administration between the Ports of Riga and the Port of Corrientes. Consul Hector Bastien will be in Argentina in April to discuss this issue.

Written by André Kavalieris

As relações entre os Letos da Argentina e o Brasil

Among the many communities of Latvians around the world, the Argentine and Brazilian communities have always had a very fraternal relationship. It is not known for sure when the first Latvian families arrived in Argentina but it was in the same period of arrival in Brazil.

The cultural contact between the two communities began in 1892, when several latvian families from Rio Novo (Grimm, Berg, Keidann, Sala and others) settled in the so-called “Line 11” of Ijuí (RS), near the Argentine border. Meanwhile, the Akeldans, Kudis, Krombergs, Ulrikis, Mikelson and Priedes families came from Argentina and settled between Lines 4, 5 and 6 on the west side of the center of Ijuí, and the Zakis and Paise family settled between Line 7 and 8 on the east side of the city center.

In Ijuí, the culture between Latvian Baptists (from Rio Novo) and Latvian Lutherans (from Argentina) began to mix. In 1899, Pastor J. Inkis visited Brazil and in Ijuí he formally unified the two churches, the cemeteries, and created the city’s postal system. Together with the German Lutherans in the region, the first school was founded with professor André Gailis, who worked as a teacher in Argentina and whose father lived in the colony of Rio Oratório (a sub-colony of Rio Novo).

Gradually, some latvian families from Brazil also moved to Argentina. Among them were the Match family and the Leimann family, in 1922. From the Leimann family came several Baptist pastors who – having studied at the seminary and worked in Argentina – returned to Brazil.

These families settled in Urdinarrain (Entre Rios), Rufino F. and P. (Santa Fé), Buenos Aires. It is possible to find the descendants of these families living in Brazil and Argentina. Few feel connected to the Latvian community and Latvia, but some maintain correspondence with relatives in Brazil.

Throughout the early twentieth century, contact with these so-called “old latvians” in Argentina was lost, and for several decades community relations in both countries were forgotten.

On April 16 and 17, 1977, a DALA (Dienvidamerikas Latviešu Apvienības) congress took place in São Paulo. This congress renewed the contact of the Latvians from Brazil with the new generations of Latvians from Argentina – who had emigrated in the post-war period. Today the contact has weakened again due to the economic difficulties of holding meetings in Argentina or Brazil, but in 2018 the representative of the Latvians of Argentina, Anita Zalts, was with us at the 1st Festival of Latvian Culture.

The cultural contact and diversity between our two communities is something unique and peculiar and that with these two small articles we aim to preserve for the following generations.

Written by Andreis Purim

The “Calle Letonia”, in Buenos Aires

Latvian Consul Daina Gutmane says Goodbye

On July 14, 2020, the Latvian Honorary Consul in Brazil, Daina Gutmane, left the office for health reasons. Daina was one of the main figures among the Latvians of Brazil in the last decades. She became consul in 2013 and has implemented major changes and new projects with the Latvian community in Brazil. Today’s article will explain her biography, her work, and the challenges of a Latvian Consul in Brazil.

Queridos Amigos, tenho a informar que, por motivos de saúde, desde 14 de julho de 2020 não sou mais Cônsul Honorária da…

Posted by Daina Gutmanis on Thursday, 16 July 2020


Daina Gutmane was born on April 8, 1958, in São Paulo. Her parents fled Latvia as refugees from World War II and the Soviet occupation – and like many latvians, were  scattered around the world. Daina’s generation was born as orphan of their country – news that came were of censorship and deportation – yet, Daina’s family proudly taught her the Latvian language and culture. Since a very young age she participated in Latvian cultural activities, dressed in tautastērpi in commemorative ceremonies and exhibitions.

After participating in a 2×2 Latvian Culture camp in the USA and in another one in Venezuela, she was enthusiastic about what she learned and together with other Latin-American Latvians decided to create in 1977 DLJA (South-American Latvian Youth Association) and BRALJA (Brazilian Latvian Youth Association. From these organizations came the great names of Latvians in Latin America, such as Anita Zalts (Argentina), Guntars Gedulis (Venezuela), and of course, Daina Gutmane.

In 1979, inspired by her 2×2 experience, she helped organize the first Latvian culture camp in Brazil, called “Saulaine”, held in Nova Odessa. Among the volunteers was Ms. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, as a teacher, who one day would become the President of Latvia (1999 – 2007). Daina also helped organize the Latvian Sunday school on at the Latvian Lutheran Church in São Paulo. She also joined the Imeria Student Corporation.

DLA (South American Latvian Association) Congress: Ilgvars Zalts, Roberts Pontuška (with the flag), Rūdolfs Ķīvīts, Daina Gūtmane

As a Volunteer

In her professional life, Daina graduated as an Agronomist in 1981 at the University of São Paulo. She obtained her Master’s degree in 1990 and a PhD in 2004. Her doctoral thesis on carbon sequestration earned her the Best Academic Work Award from the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development. She was a Scientific Researcher at the Animal Science Institute from 1989 to 2013, performing various functions, in addition to participating in several national and international scientific events.

To complement the already brilliant curriculum, Daina decided to pursue a Specialization in International Law and Relations, concluding in 2006 at UNIMEP. The first steps in your career as a consul.

Daina is a volunteer at heart. She held several positions in the Latvian Lutheran Community and, from 2003 to 2010, she was the secretary of the Brazilian Association of Latvian Culture. From 1997 to 2015, he was also president of DAKLA, the Latvian Association of South America and the Caribbean (successor to DLA and DLJA) and participated annually in PBLA meetings.

PBLA meeting in 2017. Daina is in the middle of the second row.

Daina organized the visit of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to Nova Odessa in 2007, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis in 2011 and Minister of Defense Raimonds Bergmanis in 2016. He held the photo exhibition “Latvian Immigrants” in 2008 at the Immigrant Memorial, in São Paulo, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia. In 2008, he received a Diploma and Tribute from the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for his significant work on behalf of the Republic of Latvia. In 2009 she received the title of “Novaodessensean Citizen ” from the City Council of Nova Odessa.

Daina – The Consul

Before talking about her job as consul, it is necessary to explain what the position of Honorary Consul is. Without too much legal detail, an Honorary Consul is a 100% voluntary position held by citizens of the target country to represent another country. Honorary consuls do not hold legal / international power, and usually the “diplomatic” role they play is only an aid is in economic matters for companies wishing to do business with the country they represent. 

The office of Honorary Consul of Latvia in Brazil, however, is a position that has come to embody a much greater social and symbolic importance – this Consul not only represents but helps the entire Latvian community in Brazil. After retiring from public service in 2013, Daina was named Consul, being the second to occupy the post after the 1991 Latvian restoration of independence, succeeding Dr. João Grimberg.

It should also be noted that all expenses for the position of Honorary Consul are borne by them, since the country represented does not provide any subsidy or remuneration. And there is always a need for travel, freight costs, and a plethora of actions that require attention and, consequently, costs. During her tenure she was able to assist and assist both Brazilians and foreigners in regularizing documents and spreading Latvia to Brazilians, as well as Brazil to Latvia.

In addition to diplomatic representation, Daina continued to participate and support the activities of PBLA, DAKLA and the Brazilian Association of Latvian Culture, in order to preserve Latvian culture in Brazil. Daina participates in the Brazilian Latvian Choir and during her tenure, both this Choir and the Ijuí Dance Group participated in the Latvian Song and Dance Festival that took place in July 2018.

Daina was also one of the main figures behind the 1st Festival of Latvian Culture in Brazil, held in November 2018 in Nova Odessa and Americana. In 2016 he received a tribute from CONSCRE – State Parliamentary Council of Communities of Foreign Cultures at the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo for her relevant services in the Latvian Community.

Finally, on April 8, 2019, by decision of the Presidential Commission of the highest national decorations, Daina Gutmane was awarded the Cross of Recognition (Atzinibas Krusts), III category, for her relevant work. of the Order of the Cross of Recognition. The award ceremony by the President of Latvia took place on May 3, 2019.

Daina speaks at the National Museum of Latvia, 2019. Right behind is Latvian President Raimond Vejonis and the representative of the Ministry of Culture Jolanta Borīte.

Far Beyond Medals (or The Work of a Consul)

A personal testimony by Andreis Purim

The Honorary Consul’s job is a bit ungrateful – or as a friend once said: “you give your sweat and they ask for your blood” – in addition to being an unpaid position, trying to represent almost 25,000 Latvians in Brazil, (spread across several states) is a titanic job. Unfortunately, most people only see the consul when he receives medals, and few are around when he is working. This article, in addition to being informative, is a dedication to Ms. Daina Gutmane.

If you ever go to a Līgo in Nova Odessa, don’t be surprised to see the Consul working in the back of the food stall.

Daina was one of my first friends when I arrived in Nova Odessa to participate in the Līgo, in 2016. She picked me up at Viracopos airport and gave me a ride to the place where the event would be held. It would be just the first of many rides I received. Whenever an Association event ended, she – along with a few volunteers – stayed until the very end of the organization and helped to pack everything. At the end of the Latvian Festival, 2 am, there were only 4 people in the theater stacking the nearly 200 plastic chairs that we rented for the Choir. Daina was one of them.

Not only did Daina dedicate her sweat and work, she also transformed her home into a consulate. In addition to holding various events and meetings, Daina’s house served as an electoral booth for Latvia’s parliamentary elections in 2018 (we work from 5 am to 8 pm). If that wasn’t enough, even her sofa served as a bed for some volunteers from São José dos Campos who realized that it was too late to drive down the road after a Līgo.

But certainly, the most difficult part of the job is taking care of the 33 Latvians who were arrested in Brazil. Most of these prisoners are ethnic Russians with Latvian passports (some do not even speak Latvian), and became involved in organized crime and drug trafficking after the fall of the Soviet Union. These prisoners are in prisons in three different states. Without the voluntary work of Daina – who drives for hours and hours every month to help them have diplomatic representation – these prisoners could end up being recruited by Brazilian criminal factions, as they have no legal protection. This type of work does not earn medals, just expenses and headaches, but she’s always there.

Since Daina opened a profile on Facebook, her inbox has never stopped receiving questions about citizenship, passports, documents and sometimes even travel advice. At the DAKLA meeting in 2018, I needed a real-time latvian translator for my presentation, and she volunteered without hesitation. Instead of luxurious dinners with the big shots, Daina preferred to have a snack on the subway with the volunteers of the Latvian Culture Festival.

After all this, it is easy to understand how demanding the physical and mental exercise of the Consulate is. Of course, I don’t want to belittle the work of other very dedicated volunteers from the Latvian community (each deserves an article in its own right), but Daina really is an example of someone who gave everything she could. It is a great shame that she is leaving the office – but between us – she also deserves a rest.

Thank you!

The History of the Latvians in Urubici

Urubici today is on the list of best tourist destinations in Brazil. The small town, encrusted in the hills that form the mountain range of Santa Catarina, is known for its cold climate and beautiful natural landscapes. In the last decade the city has grown dramatically due to tourism, but most Brazilians or Latvians do not know the impact of Latvian immigration in the region.

The following article is an extract from the visit of the German-Brazilian historian and architect Angelina Wittmann. The full article can be read here (in Portuguese)

Latvians were one of the first to arrive in the region and estabilish the city, togheter with a few german and italian immigrants. In the pictures (ceded by Arvids Puriņš) we can see a little about Latvian life in Urubici.

After visiting Urubici in January 2015 – a city in the mountain range of Santa Catarina that received several ethnic groups from other regions of Brazil and Europe, we will tell you a little about one of the cultures that contributed to the development of this region, at least, in the last six decades. For a good observer, it is enough to take a closer look at the landscape, and realize that there is still the presence of this cultural heritage that was part of the formation and history of Urubici – the cultural presence of the Latvians.

The Latvians of Urubici, which besides being part of the city’s history and present, until the present day, have not lost contact with the larger group that immigrated to Brazil and also, with Latvia, its country of origin.

These immigrants did not come directly to Urubici. After disembarking at the port of Laguna, they settled in Orleans and surroundings in the south of Santa Catarina.
Before, however, in 1888, two young pastors, a Lutheran pastor and another doctor of philosophy and Baptist pastor: Karlis Balodis and Peteris Salitis, respectively, visited the State of Santa Catarina and European immigrant colonies in the city of Grão-Pará and Orleans. They were interested in knowing more about immigration and the advantages offered by the Brazilian government. When they returned to Latvia, they founded an Immigration Company to promote the emigration of lethal families to Brazil and, specifically, to the State of Santa Catarina.
In April 1890, 25 families led by Pastor Karlis Balodis embarked in Riga, the capital of Latvia, on their way to Brazil. After stopping in Germany, they arrived in Brazil – at the Port of Laguna, where they received the amount promised to cover travel expenses and 480 thousand m² of land. The land should be paid for with the production of crops and livestock. From Laguna, the families were taken to the city of Orleans, where the first colony of Latvians in Brazil was founded – on the banks of the Rio Novo and also called the Colony Rio Novo. The absence of primary infrastructure, the need to cut down the forest to rent the main equipment of a colony, made many of these first families seek other places with urbanity, leaving only 4 families of this first wave. But, later, as many families arrived, in other groups of Latvian immigrants to the region and settled in the colony.
As we have already mentioned, social, political and economic movements took place in the first decades of the 20th century, in Europe. Latvia was under the rule of the Russian empire and many were banned from practicing their religion. With this, some decided to flee religious persecution and emigrated to Brazil. The first Latvian Church, and one of the first Baptist churches in Brazil, was founded in Rio Novo – 1892.
The religion of Latvian immigrants was largely responsible for maintaining the group’s cultural hegemony in Brazil. It was important for the cohesion of immigrants, who suffered persecution, not only by the Russians – in Europe, but also on Brazilian soil, by Catholics from Orleans and later, in Urubici.
The old ones telll us that around 1920, not satisfied with the hot climate, very different from their homeland, the conditions and plans of the colonies, a group of Latvians decided to visit the Santa Catarina mountain range through the slopes of the Serra Geral. The climate of the mountains was similar to that of the native land and thus they could grow apples and wheat. They say that they went up through Serra do Engenheiro and along the Bispo river, between Morro da Igreja and Serra do Corvo Branco – current SC 350 highway, arriving in the District of Esquina.

The near 1km of mountain range formed an semi-impenetrable barrier for the colonists in the early 20th century. In 1970, the roads of Serra do Corvo Branco and Rio do Rastro had already been opened.

During the first half of the 20th century arrived more than 50 descendant families or Latvian immigrants. Some families, such as: Andermanis, Auras, Elberts, Feldmanis, Freibergis, Frišenbruders, Karkle, Karklings, Klava, Klaviņš, Lanka, Liepkalns, Legsdins, Leimanis, Paegle, Salits, Zēbergs, Slengmanis, Karklis, Ungurs, Linde, Ozols, Feldsberg, Maisiņš, Zalits, Karps, Grikis, Bruvers, Bumbiers, Očins, among others. The origin of most of these families in Latvia was from the capital of the country – Riga and the city of Ventspils –  a port city located in the Baltic.
Upon their arrival, the Latvian families acquired the land at the crossroads that arrive in Urubici, near the Canoas River. This crossroads (called “Esquina”, or Corner) is now a neighborhood in the city. More than 3 km were acquired along the street that connects Esquina towards Santa Terezinha. Currently, properties with descendants of the same families can still be found.
Many families who arrived at the end of the first half of the 20th century, also came from lethal colonies in the State of São Paulo, such as the Lanka family, and also immigrants directly from Latvia, such as the Ozols Family, who arrived in the city in 1930, São from the village of Sloka, current district of Jūrmala.

The climate in Urubici is very reminiscent of Latvia’s climate. With cold winters and snow. Here we can see some Latvians enjoying the blizzard that hit the region.

Until they built their Baptist Church, the Latvians met in a room provided by the Karps Family, who later donated the land to build it, in the form of joint efforts and donations. In the finishings of the church they had help from the Pentecostal Latvians, some skilled carpenters. Records say that in this period Pentecostal families converted to the Baptist Church, as well as the other way around. They lived in harmony, until the moment that Pentecostal pastors went to preach in the Baptist Church, creating a malaise that interfered in the good relations between the two churches. As the Baptist Church had not been registered as its heritage, it was appropriated by those who helped to build and donated the land – Pentecostal Church. The fact accelerated the steps to build the second church, now belonging to the Baptist Church Leta de Urubici, which is part of the city’s landscape to the present day and we visited this February.
Currently, the Baptist churches of Brazil maintain a tradition that has been going on since the middle of the 20th century. It promotes meetings of descendants and Latvians spread throughout the country in a great moment of harmony and prayer. In 2015, the event took place in the city of Urubici in July. Valdis Frišenbruders commented during his testimony, recorded and posted in this research. [A later article will touch on this subject]
We visited the Family of Ziedonis Frišenbruders and also, we talked with Valdis and João (Jahnis), his children. Patriarch Krišs Frišenbruders (Name is different due to errors during registrations in Brazil) and family, arrived in Urubici in 1931 from the Colony Rio Novo. Krišs was the father of Ziedonis and grandfather of João and Valdis. In the middle of our conversation, it was reminded again, that Latvia was the domain of the Germans, Russians and Poles.
Ziedonis told us that his grandfather, Juris, wrote to his family – nephews, who could come to Brazil without fear. He described a food from the land that “could be eaten and resembled saw dust and the shape of a candle”, referring to cassava. He also mentioned that wheat was plentiful. Ziedonis’ great uncle came to visit, and for political reasons he couldn’t leave Latvia. When they were able to leave the country, he sold everything and with his family, at first, they went to live in São Paulo, to work in the coffee plantations.

The Frišenbruders family in Urubici.

João Frišenbruders commented that the Latvians as well as farmers were excellent carpenters and many of the historical typologies present in the city are the result of his work, such as the typology of window with guillotine leaves and with certain designs from the layout of the panes.
João is a teacher of the Latvian language, for anyone who wants to learn and says it is very difficult. According to him, there are words that are written the same, but according to their placement in a sentence – which one is inserted, changes its pronunciation
It is very good to know that there is concrete, voluntary work, based on awareness of its importance for the longevity of this part of history, not only in the city of Urubici, Santa Catarina, but in the history of a people, who keep their identity even far away from their homeland.
Urubici’s first hotel was founded by the Andermanis Family, also known to the oldest in the city for the sweets they made and sold in the café and bakery.
We talked to Emils Andermanis’ grandson – Artus Andermanis. Emils was the founder of Hotel Andermann, the bakery and the sale located on the corner. The family arrived in Brazil in 1918. Emílio was 18 years old and his father no longer wanted to participate in the war and brought the family to Brazil. Artus commented to us that his father was disgusted with many [brazilians], that due to lack of knowledge, who harassed them, because they thought they were Russian communists. They owned amateur radio equipment and communicated with Latvia, at the time already under Soviet domination, which raised suspicions among people who were unaware that many of the Latvians came to Brazil to escape authoritarianism and domination, first from the Russian empire and after the Soviet.

The Andermanis Hotel and Bakery.

The Andermanns, very much related to their country of origin, received magazines and this was enough to raise suspicions. They spoke Latvian, German and Russian fluently.

Artus, told us that they intend to dismantle the building of the old Hotel Andermanis built by Emílio, which we regret, as it is part of the history of the Latvians of Urubici, part of the history of Urubici and Santa Catarina.

We also visited the Urubici Baptist Church and talked to the Pastor. The church is the same built by the first Latvians who arrived in the city in the first half of the 20th century and is located at Rua Adolfo Konder, N ° 2023.
The Urubici Baptist Church was founded on August 25, 1934, under the coordination of Pastor Karlis Strobergs and deacon Osvalds Aurass. At the time, the community had 40 members and was the 19th Latvian Batista Church in Brazil. There were also immigrants and descendants of Latvians who were Pentecostals (Assembly of God). The building of the church that still exists today, with some characteristics, was inaugurated on August 25, 1940.
Social and religious activities in the church are intense, ranging from prayer groups and singing. The singing groups are accompanied by musical instruments. The Pastor introduced us to some historic musical instruments, guarded with zeal, which were brought by the pioneers.
From history, culture, tradition, religion, language, we know a little more, from the scale of community. We learned a little more about part of the History of Santa Catarina. History that also received contributions from the Latvians. Our gratitude to everyone who, directly and indirectly, contributed to this work. In particular, to the Urubici latvian families.
Hugs from Blumenau!

Excerpt from the article written in 2015, by Angelina Wittmann, in her blog.


How plagues and grasshoppers changed the Latvian colonies in Brazil

So far, 2020 has been an absurd year. A cyclone in southern Brazil has temporarily prevented the arrival of a swarm of grasshoppers that destroyed Argentina. In the past article, we reported how the pandemic we face today is not much different than what the Latvians in Brazil experienced in 1918. Spanish flu, however, was only the smallest enemy of the decade: years before, locust clouds darkened the skies and they destroyed entire plantations.

For immigrants who left the old continent to make a living in Brazil, agriculture was everything. Your wealth, your way of life. Plantations destroyed in a difficult year could mean famine, and no enemy was as vile as the grasshopper.

Lizete Roze, in letter to her son.

We are doing well and everyone is healthy. But the plantations do not want to grow, due to drought and a complete lack of rain. The weather is still quite cold. The last rain was on the 16th of October, and just yesterday there was frost in the lowlands. The dry, cold wind blows all day, and if the locusts happen to arrive, there will be hunger.

In this article, we will again be looking at the archive of letters from Rio Novo. Due to the vast number of letters, the link to the original letters is in the descriptions. The swarm caused panic among the colonists. Some, like Arthur Leiman, even called them “little demons”, but soon they were given a more affectionate nickname: “Visitors from Argentina”.

The scientific name of the South American migratory locust is Schistocerca cancellata. Coming from the Argentine chaco, the absence of predators and hot winters can cause the population to get out of control. However, the year 1917 saw a plague of biblical proportions, affecting the lethal colonies of Ijuí and Rio Novo:

Olga Puriņa, in letters to her brother in October and November 1917.

The Kļaviņš property is infested with locusts: an immense amount, reaching, due to the weight, to break the branches of the trees.

A cloud of locusts passed by last week, but they did not land. The mountain people say that there are many locusts in the mountains, but they have not started to descend. In Mãe Luzia there are so many grasshoppers that it is a horror, they form a thick layer and they lay eggs. The Kļava [another family] wrote to Rio Novo asking if there is a possibility of them bringing the cattle, because there is nothing else to eat there and it is possible that they will starve.

Emils Andermanis, in his personal diary in 1917 and 1919.

In October, the locusts began to arrive in flight. The local people were very concerned. Some plowed the fields to bury them, but despite these efforts, a month later, they were born knowing how to jump and were the size of a fly. They stayed in packs and moved from side to side and where they arrived they ate everything that was vegetable. A hard fight against them began; ditches were dug and when they got there, we covered them with soil. We sprinkled the locusts with boiling water, beat with brooms, but despite this effort, many remained and became adults.

Again clouds of locusts arrived and destroyed our pastures and were jumping around looking for a place to spawn.

During the night I lit fires whose light attracted them and the flames burned; I also surrounded the candle fields to impede their progress.

Immigrant pushing away a cloud of locusts. Credits: Unijui

Roberts Klaviņš to Reinalds Puriņš in two letters: November e October 1917

You probably already have news through newspapers that in the Province of Rio Grande do Sul several colonies were literally destroyed, including Ijuí [a latvian colony] and its surroundings. The number of locusts would be so great that the railway traffic would be interrupted in the mountains of that province; there in the mountains the thickness of the locust layers would be more than one meter, in front of which the mountaineers and their troops would not be able to proceed, etc…

In the week of October 23, the first flocks began. (…) They devoured a large part of the cornfield and six liters of beans; thankfully, most of it was left, as many people lost everything.

On Sunday, the last day of October, I was going to Rio Laranjeiras, passing by the lower Rio Novo, when clouds of grasshoppers passed over the river. When I arrived in the land of the Paegles, there was even more, and in that stretch of forest side they had landed and were getting ready to lay eggs. (…) The grass of the pastures no longer exists, and poor cattle have nothing else to eat: they just remain immobile.

The Brazilians said that in Capivaras there were also immense clouds of grasshoppers that landed and laid eggs; when the ground is dug with a hoe you can see an immense amount of eggs, so calculate the damage they will do when they hatch in thousands of new locusts.

[The arrival] according to them was frightening, due to the immensity of the locust clouds, comparable to a devastating storm that made the heavens and the earth darken. The people there used everything to try to scare them and make them continue their route, and they think they got some results.

Near Campinas [Note: Araranguá] a large number of these animals, when flying to the sea, ended up drowning; now fishermen can no longer go fishing, as they get bogged down to the waist in the layer of dead locusts that the sea returns to the beaches. We also have news from Florianópólis, that there was so much locust drowned there that the sea returned to the beaches, reaching a layer of two and a half meters high …

Yesterday a white cloud appeared that moved to the sides of the Rio Pequeno and was moving away from the mountains, and it was nothing but another cloud of them. What else can happen only God knows.

There are many people saying that the locusts are attacking the Minadouro region. They say there are so many that they form thick layers. Here they also pass, but flying high and do not land; it happens almost every day.

Olga Puriņa, in letters to her brother in  December 1917.  Her younger brother also wrote briefly about them in other letter.

This year was a year full of tragedies. At the beginning of the year the floods, then the great frosts, the snow, the locusts, a month and a half of immense drought and then, to complete, the fire.

Grasshoppers appeared again near Orleans, also in Rio Laranjeiras, Rio Belo and Braço do Norte. Near Orleans, I had the opportunity to see a cloud of them, the edges of the roads so full that they wheezed; thankfully they’re not everywhere. Where they are they eat everything and start laying eggs. The government determined that people not affected should go to work for at least two days, killing the young; in the fields everything was easy, but in the woods and capoeiras there was nothing to do. If those who are left go up the Rio Novo, they will eat everything. Below Orleans they say there is much more, that on the railroad you cannot see the tracks.

Gazeta do Commercio, from 03/11/1917, instructing settlers to combat the plague. Credits: Jornal Retrô

Certainly, 1917 was the scariest year for the colonists. For many, who had never experienced such a natural catastrophe in Latvia, locusts were almost an apocalyptic sign. The combat was successful due to the colonists’ work and government action. However, swarms of locusts would still plague the colonies in the years that followed, until the late 1940s.

Olga Puriņa, in letters from June, August and October 1918, and one from April 1919

On June 6, just after noon, on the side of the hill of the Griķi [family], locusts started to come, but in an immense amount as I had never seen before. They did not land near our house; everyone headed towards the Liepkalņi [family] hill.

It was a cloud so dense that it darkened the sun and a noise that was a harbinger of a storm. They started to appear at 1:30 pm and ended at 3:00 pm;

This year we had visits from Argentina [grasshoppers]; few have appeared here on our land, but there have been immense clouds in the Klaviņi and Leimani.

Earlier this year we worked hard to eradicate locusts. We all had the opportunity to see an immense amount of these insects. When they passed, they provoked a snoring as dull as a storm, and they even shadowed as clouds do: not even the sunlight could be seen.

In a way, the locusts of 1917 represent the beggining of a change in the Latvian Colonization of Brazil. The beginning of its agricultural decline. The lands that the immigrants had bought from the Brazilian government were rocky, sandy and distant from civilization. At the end of the 1930s, it became clear that those colonies were not proper to mechanization. Factors such as tropical heat and shifting rains, in addition to plagues, have caused a brutal decline in agricultural activity.

When we look at history, we can understand why colonies like Rio Novo disappeared, and others like Vārpa, never became cities. The plague of locusts, that would ravage the colonies for decades to come, forced many to migrate to urban spaces, gradually dispersing the Latvians across Brazilian lands.

Emils Andermanis, in his personal diary in 1920


The locusts also devoured everything from the pasture and crops, and on agricultural activity I had no more hope and I was tired of insisting.


Another wave of locust attacking the colony in Ijuí, 1933. Credits: ´Unijui

Cover image: Ijuí memória virtual
Author: Andreis Purim

This Universal Disease Reached Our Home

How did the Latvians face the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic in Brazil?

A week ago Brazil completed 100 days of lockdown. Our country is the second largest Covid-19 hub in the world, accounting 55,000 deaths. Latvian communities in Brazil had to cancel their events because of public health concerns. For the first time in 70 years, the LBBA will not hold the yearly Latvian Congress. The traditional Līgo party in Nova Odessa was canceled, as well as the Latvian Meetings in Curitiba.

Although alarming, 2020 is not the first time Latvian Brazilians face a global pandemic. 102 years ago, the dreaded Spanish Flu plagued Brazilian cities and piled up corpses on the street – and threatened the young latvian colonies in Brazil.

Thanks to the Letters from Rio Novo Archive, we can get a sense of what the colonists thought at the time. On the website are numerous letters exchanged between friends and relatives. In this article, we will only highlight the parts concerning the Spanish Flu, but the complete letters can be accessed by clicking on their respective headings (place and date).

As we have already discussed in previous articles, the first immigrants from Latvia arrived in Brazil in 1890, creating the colony of Rio Novo, in the state of Santa Catarina. In the following decades, several of these colonists spread throughout the south and southeast of Brazil, building cities like Ijuí, Urubici and Nova Odessa.

The epidemic was brought to Brazil by English sailors in Rio de Janeiro in September 1918. But the Brazilian authorities neglected the news of the alarming pandemic that engulfed Europe. At the same time, the population was ignorant of the danger that was to come. It didn’t take long for the disease to reach exorbitant figures. In Rio de Janeiro, 600 thousand fell ill, 66% of the city.

In the year of the pandemic, some Latvian students from the colony of Rio Novo studied in the capital. The first mention of the dreaded disease was in a letter written by Pastor Karlis Leimanis (Carlos Leiman) to his friend Reinalds Puriņš (Reynaldo Purim), who at the time studied at the Theological Seminary of Southern Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro.

Karlis Leimanis (Riga, March 7, 1880) was pastor of the Baptist Church of Rio Novo and director of the colony school.

Cachoeiro do Itapemirim, October 27, 1918

The rumors here, coming from Rio, are to frighten the world. What’s the reality there? Has the “Hespanhola” reached the College yet? Is it still working? We closed our school even without reasons of “bigger force”, because here the “one” does not inspire fear, but the people are alarmed and are the worst. What is your destination for holidays? Already decided? I am proposing a deal to Mr. Reno – If he accepts …? I don’t know – but I want to know your opinion – directly and frankly.

Reinalds Puriņš, born in the colony in 1897, attended the same school and church that Leiman was a pastor. Almost like a mentor, they were both great friends and discussed the issues of the colony. Reinalds had left Rio Novo the previous year, 1917, to study theology in Rio de Janeiro.

The next mention of the infamous disease was made by her sister, Olga Puriņa, in a letter from Rio Novo:

Olga Puriņa (Rio Novo, 1901), Reinalds’ sister, lived in the colony with her family.

Rio Novo, December 18, 1918

(…) It has been a long time since we heard from you, and that is why we did not know where you had been on vacation. The letter of 18 November was lost, as well as that of 7 October.

(…) The letters are probably lost, since several ships were not allowed to enter the port of Laguna because of many passengers with the “disease”. So, no wonder that so many letters were lost.

We are all healthy. None of us got this disease. Here in Rio Novo some caught the flu and in Orleans some have already died, but none of us. Some are so afraid that they will not leave their property to avoid getting the disease, but I often go to Orleans and I didn’t get anything.

Weeks ago the Griķi were sick, but nothing serious. Old Somers is very sick, but not with the flu. So Lūcija sent Dad to make the coffin. Dad was there with the Griķi all day and we were worried about the possibility that he got the disease, but nothing. Well, there would be again [the possiblity].

(…) [Jurgis Karklis] said that in Porto Alegre people die like flies and that vehicles walk around the streets picking up corpses – more than a thousand a day, which makes it impossible to bury everyone. In São Paulo and Rio it is also the same; he was saved because he carried a glass of cresol close to his nose at all times. But he is gaudy, very pompous. (…)

The colony’s relative geographic isolation – close to the coastal mountain range – delayed the arrival of the disease for only a few months. While entire Brazilian cities were devastated, the settlers only knew about the news from travelers. The first infections among Latvians began on Christmas 1918.

Olga Puriņa. Unfortunately, the letters sent by her brother have not been preserved.

Rio Novo, January 8, 1919

(…) This time I have nothing good to write to you. We would be doing well if it weren’t for this epidemic, this universal disease, which reached our home. You may have already forgotten about this disease, but it is only now that it has come this far.

This epidemic has been in Orleans for a long time and here in Rio Novo too, but here at home it started with a headache and tiredness, body slack. As the day was very hot, I thought it was because of that. The other day I had nothing more, just a little cough, and so my illness gave way with a good sleep. Lūcija had to lie down on New Year’s eve. Arthur and Mamma after the New Year. We are hardly bedridden, but only with a lot of cough. But with Papus [“dad”, Jānis Puriņš], who always held on while the others were sick, started on Sunday and he went to bed- and it’s longer than us all together. Today it looks a little better.

It seems that there was no home where no one was sick. Now the Klaviņi and Leimani are sick. Here in the colonies it is not so strong, but there in Orleans several Brazilians have already died due to this disease; also many, after having a hard time, came to recover.

In Orleans, two “hospitals” were improvised: one at the cinema and the other at Jurkis Jakobsons’ house. Some Latvians who went to visit these places said that in a place like this it is very likely that the patients will only get worse and will hardly be able to heal, as there is not the slightest ventilation: the windows are all kept completely closed and it gets hotter inside than a sauna.

(…) [About Christmas festivities] Visitors were not as many as the other years; one explanation is that due to the flu epidemic, several people have avoided gatherings, (…)

[Written on the side:]
9-1-19 – Today I received the newspapers from 12/14/18. Letter, none. I will have to wait longer. Sincere memories from Olga.

Fortunately, Olga’s family survived the epidemic. However, the disease took some of the older settlers. It is not known how many Latvians died due to the Spanish flu of 1918, but reports seem to indicate that colonies were not hit as hard as cities.

Olga passed away due to hookworm complications in 1926.

Rio Novo, February 5, 1919

(…) We are thankful now, thank God, all are healthy and we can all work again. As I already wrote in another letter, that “Spanish” [Spanish flu] settled in at home, but now he’s gone and not all of us were very affected. The one who stayed in bed the most was Paps who stayed a whole week.

Work, as always, we have too much. (…)

[Postcard dated with Orleans’ stamp: 12 February 1919]

Old Somers died on December 20 at the Griķi’ house and the funeral was the following day. Recently, he was so bad that he didn’t recognize anyone and couldn’t move.

Jurgis Karklin, as I already wrote, is at home, but now he doesn’t hear the great “pompe” telling those great things, nor does he talk about leaving. (…)

Then, by the end of 1920, the pandemic slowly loosened its grip. Without hospitals or any aid, the latvians survived the Spanish Flu. The Colony withstood this arduous test of resilience and continued to be the home of the many, many immigrants who had made Brazil their home. However, this was not the Latvian’ last encounter with the disease:

Karlis Leimanis, before being pastor of Rio Novo, had run away from home to live among natives. The rest of his life he was a missionary in Paraná and Bahia.

Castelo (ES), July 25, 1921

Yesterday I arrived back from Vitória, where I spent a whole month traveling, I am now leaving behind 9 more leagues on horseback [almost 60 kilometers], I will be home on Saturday to start classes on Monday.

The weather is very cold and rainy and the people are sick with the Spanish flu. (…)

So it leaves us – those who live today – the task to learn from our ancestors. No matter how desperate or worrying the following years become, we can always look back and see how different, but how similar, our lives are. In the future, it will be our turn to tell our stories to new generations. The Covid-19 pandemic will become one of many challenges in the history of Latvians Brazilians. So, it is up to us to learn and preserve these stories to be told in the future.

Cover image: 1918 field hospital set up at Club Athletico Paulistano in 1918 / Reproduction
Autor: Andreis Purim
Special thanks to Alice and Arvido Purim