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Brazil

The Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral arrived at present day Pôrto Seguro (Safe Harbor) in the state of Bahia on the Brazilian coast in April 1500 and named the new territory Ilha de Vera Cruz, Island of the True Cross, thinking he was on an island. A year later, Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci sailed to Brazil on a voyage commissioned by the Portuguese crown and returned home with a cargo of hard, reddish wood. The wood was similar to an East Indian variety called pau brasil, which was then popular in Europe for making cabinets and violin bows. Pau brasil (brazilwood), the first product to be exploited by the Portuguese in this new territory, is the origin of the country's name, Brazil.

Because of its size and diversity, Brazil is one of the nations most deserving of the name "land of contrasts." The country is often divided into five regions: Norte (North), Nordeste (Northeast), Centro-Oeste (Central-West), Sudeste (Southeast), and Su l (South). These divisions are used for administrative purposes such as the national Brazilian census and they roughly correspond to geographic, demographic, economic, and cultural variation within this sprawling nation. The Northeast has the greatest proportion of people of African descent, the South and Southeast are home to the bulk of Brazilians of European and Japanese ancestry, while indigenous peoples live largely in the North and Central-West. Still, regional migration and extensive miscegenation (racial inter-breeding) has made Brazil one of the most racially diverse nations on earth.

Aside from the official fivefold regional division of Brazil, a simpler economic distinction is made between the poor, underdeveloped North and the wealthier, more industrialized South. This distinction is sometimes referred to as the "two Brazils" or "Belindia," with the wealthy South being compared to Belgium and the poor North to India. At times these contrasts are translated into negative stereotypes as when inhabitants of São Paulo, the huge metropolis in southeastern Brazil, blame their city's poverty and high crime rate on migrants from the North.

Those who consider themselves urban sophisticates—particularly inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo—have a long tradition of maligning people from smaller cities and towns in the Brazilian interior, calling them uneducated hicks and hillbillies. Urban, middle-class Brazilians are generally unfamiliar with the interior of their own country and misrepresent it as a region of unrelenting poverty and backwardness—a stark place of few creature comforts that is best avoided. One consequence of this attitude is that middle-class and wealthy Brazilians are more likely to have visited Miami, Orlando, or New York than to have traveled to tourist destinations in their own country.

Brazilians are aware of these regional and rural/urban distinctions and closely identify with their place of birth. One is a nordestino (northeasterner) or a mineiro (native of the state of Minas Gerais) or a carioca (native of the city of Rio de Janeiro). Nevertheless, Brazilians share a national culture—making Brazil a true case of unity in diversity. The legacy of the Portuguese in language, religion, and law serves to unify this vast land and its people. Until the mid-twentieth century almost all Brazilians were— at least nominally—Catholic and today, virtually all speak Portuguese and identify with the dominant Brazilian culture.