East of the Mercado Municipal, the run-down neighbourhood of Brás would have little to offer if it wasn’t for the superb Memorial do Imigrante at Rua Visconde de Paraíba 1316. The hostel buildings house an immigration research centre, a basic café and one of the best museums in São Paulo.
The museum has a permanent collection of period furniture, documents and photographs, and regularly mounts temporary exhibits relating to individual immigrant nationalities. The main building itself is the most interesting feature of the complex, however, with vast dormitories and its own rail siding and platform that were used for unloading immigrants and their baggage. Near the entrance, a separate building contained the rooms where new arrivals met their prospective employers; the government provided interpreters to help the immigrants make sense of work contracts. Designed to hold four thousand people, the hostel housed as many as ten thousand at times, with immigrants being treated little better than cattle. In its early years, the place was a virtual prison. The exit ticket was securing a contract of employment and control of potential plantation-workers was considered necessary, since few people actually wanted to work in the fields and there was a large labour leakage to the city of São Paulo itself. The last immigrants were processed here in 1978.
Although the museum is only a five-minute walk from Brás metrô station, it is next door to a hostel for homeless men and you may feel uncomfortable walking in the area. As taxis are rarely available outside the metrô station, try to reassure yourself any dangers are more imagined than real. On weekends and holidays you have more interesting transport options: either a wonderful nineteenth-century train that connects the complex with Brás and Moóca stations or a tram that runs between the front entrance and Bresser metrô station (both R$5).