By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Located just across Guanabara Bay, off the Niterói Bridge in São Gonçalo, is a historic site called Ilha das Flores (Island of Flowers) which is the location of Rio’s Immigration Museum.
The recently opened interactive museum and open-air attraction tells the stories of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who passed through the island before entering Brazil.
Similar to Ellis Island in New York, from 1883 to 1966, newly arrived immigrants to Brazil, upon arriving on the shores of Rio, were immediately brought to Ilha das Flores to be examined and processed.
Fleeing poverty, political conflicts and wars, during that time period, it is estimated that some five hundred thousand immigrants braved the harrowing transatlantic journey, mostly from European countries such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Croatia.
“The main goal of the Immigration Museum is to assure the access to our historical asset, which is well researched and comprises the main part of the interactive exhibition,” explained museum coordinator, Admiral José Luiz Corrêa da Silva, to The Rio Times.
“Visitors to the museum are taken to a run through the time of immigration in different eras and are given an interesting view from the perspective of the immigrant families and from the workers and their descendants,” he added.
Visitors to the museum’s grounds, property of the Brazilian Navy since 1968, can still see the beach where immigrants landed and many of the structures used at that time, such as the Hospedaria dos Imigrantes (Immigrant Hostel), where immigrants were processed, and the immigrants living quarters. On average, immigrants stayed on the island for eight days before being permitted to leave and begin their new lives in their new country.
“The museum’s main building, as well as the other facilities on the island, are very well preserved and serve as a link to the time of immigration in Brazil,” expressed Admiral Da Silva. “The seaside view is a must and the visitors are invited to take as many pictures as they wish while experiencing the same visual sensations from that time,” he added.
In addition to preserving the past, the Immigration Museum also has modern features to enhance the visitor experience such as touch-screen monitors and a film room screening various documentaries about the site and the immigrants that passed through. Historians and tour guides are also on hand ready to relay stories and interesting notes about the immigrants’ journey and life on the island.
“The visit is interactive,” Admiral Da Silva explained, “one might see and hear many different documentaries, stories about authorities and characters from that time, testimonies about their family origins and about the immigration process and the current problem of displacement in general.”
Recently, the Museum received a visit from the operational director of Ellis Island in New York, who Da Silva proudly relates, called the Immigration Museum, the “’Brazilian Ellis Island.’”
“My team and I are proud of the work we’ve been doing here,” Admiral Da Silva exclaimed. “We hope to raise visitors’ curiosity about the huge cultural treasury concerning all the people from different nationalities and ethnic groups that formed the cultural cauldron that characterizes the current Brazilian society….After all, we are all immigrants!”
The Immigration Museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 9AM to 5PM. Admission is free. There are guided tours throughout the day, and group tours can also be arranged and scheduled in advance. All highlights and hours are subject to change, so it’s always recommended to check the Museum’s website before visiting.