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Brazil Carnival honors South Korea, Korean immigrants


With samba music and allegorical pageantry, the Brazilian Carnival pays glowing tribute this year to South Korea's ancient culture and technological prowess, and to 50 years of Korean immigration.

Friday, South Korean popstar Psy was a star guest at Carnival celebrations in the northeastern city of Salvador, wowing the crowd with his "Gangnam Style" hit that made Internet history last December by clocking more than one billion views on YouTube.

Saturday, he was warmly applauded as he watched the sumptuous parades of samba schools at the Sambodrome parade ground in Rio.

But the accolade to South Korea was taken to new heights in Sao Paulo early Sunday with a spectacular parade by 4,000 members of a local samba school on the theme "Made in Korea."

"We are paying tribute to the courage, perseverance and dedication of Korean immigrants in this country," Isabel Napolitano, an official of the 50-year-old Unidos de Vila Maria samba school, told AFP at the 30,000-seat Sao Paulo sambodrome.

"We are representing Korean history, culture and technology with five allegorical floats," she said.

Led by samba queens hoisting Brazilian and South Korean flags, a Psy impersonator danced "Gangnam Style" atop a giant dragon float surrounded by performers illustrating Korean folklore and mythology.

Another float in the form of a huge tiger symbolized the economic strength of the Asian Tigers, particularly the phenomenal growth of South Korea from the 1970's to 1990's.

One section of the parade focused on the Korean martial art of Taekwondo, with a skillful display by dozens of practitioners led by master instructor Yao Jun Kim, who has been living in Brazil for 35 years.

Another wing celebrated Korean gastronomy while another depicted a gold course.

"It's fantastic, a very authentic, very Brazilian tribute," Jonas Chun, a South Korean photographer who has been living in Brazil since 1972, told AFP as he snapped pictures of the parade.

At the Rio Sambodrome, another samba school, Inocentes de Belford Roxo, was also to pay its own colorful homage to Korean culture, with a theme called "the Seven confluences of the Han River" invoking the protection of the ancient Korean wind goddess Yondung Halmoni.

"It's a historic moment, a recognition of the contribution Koreans have made to Brazilian society," said Marcelo Choi, vice president of the Sao Paulo-based Korean-Brazilian Association.

"The whole world can see that we are an integral part of the Brazilian family. So yes, it's a moment of great pride not just for us Korean-Brazilians but for Koreans around the world," he told AFP.

According to the South Korean consulate in Sao Paulo, there are around 50,000 ethnic Koreans in Brazil.

But Choi said the real size was closer to 100,000 when descendants of immigrants are included.

The overwhelming majority of Koreans live in Sao Paulo, where they have set up around 2,500 small businesses, notably in the Liberdade Japanese district and in Bom retiro, a neighborhood also populated by various European, Arab and Latin American immigrants.

Koreans have notably helped develop the country's garment industry.

In January 2010, Sao Paulo authorities officially recognized Bom Retiro as a Korean Cultural neighborhood.

Choi said Korean immigration officially began in the early 1960's, with the arrival of the first 107 Koreans as agricultural settlers in the port of Santos.

But like the more established, 1.8-million-strong Japanese Brazilian community, Koreans have quickly moved up the social ladder, with the younger generation well educated and fully integrated in Brazilian society, he added.