Seminar: A Building Block of Health: Conflicts between Health Workers and Immigrants in São Paulo, 1900 to the present

Event Name
Seminar: A Building Block of Health: Conflicts between Health Workers and Immigrants in São Paulo, 1900 to the present
19 February 2024
11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Parramatta City Campus

Address (Room): Conference Room 3 (Level 9)


A Building Block of Health: Conflicts between Health Workers and Immigrants in São Paulo, 1900 to the present

Seminar presented by Professor Jeffrey Lesser (Professor of History at Emory University)

Sponsored  by  the School of Social Sciences,  Religion and Society Research & Challenging Racism Project

  • Monday, 19 February 2024
  • 11:00am -12:30pm 
  • Western Sydney University Parramatta City Campus
  • Level 9 - Conference Room 3
  • 169 Macquarie Street, Parramatta NSW 2150


There is a saying in Brazil that “Mosquitos are democratic: they bite the rich and the poor alike.”  While insects generally do not have a highly developed sense of class consciousness, diseases, from Covid-19 to yellow fever to dengue to tuberculosis to hypertension, do differentially affect Brazilians of different classes and races.  One ramification of these variations was and is that state sponsored health programs often create conflictual interactions with the public.  This lecture will show how buildings and vehicles were as critical as people to creating, expanding, and challenging the Health State, in its multiple guises.  I will examine how health workers were as intimidated by immigrant-occupied tenements and unregistered micro-factories, as residents of São Paulo were by health buildings and vehicles.  By focusing on state/population tensions over eradication and disease control I will argue that public health workers’ attitudes about immigrants continue into the present, including in the racism that emerged in Brazil and the US  during the 1918 Flu and Covid-19 epidemics.

Biographical Statement:

Jeffrey Lesser is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of History at Emory University.  His research focuses on the relationships between immigration, ethnicity, and national identity.  His new book, Living and Dying in the “Worst” Neighborhood of São Paulo:  Immigrants and the Health State (Duke UP), focuses on a multi-ethnic, working class, neighborhood to analyze how the state creates and enacts health policies and asks why different immigrant groups often generate similar responses to state actions. Lesser is also the author of a series of prize-winning books published in English, Portuguese, Japanese, and Hebrew: A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese-Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy (Duke/ Paz e Terra); Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil (Duke/UNESP/Akashi Shoken); and Welcoming the Undesirables: Brazil and the Jewish Question (University of California Press/Imago/Tel Aviv University). His most recent book is Immigration, Ethnicity and National Identity in Brazil (Cambridge UP/ UNESP) examines the immigration to Brazil of millions of Europeans, Asians, and Middle Easterners.

Lesser is the winner of multiple teaching awards and has won national and international fellowships from Fulbright, Fulbright-Hays, the Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies.  Research for Living and Dying has been supported by fellowships from the Fulbright Scholar Program, the University of São Paulo Institute for Advanced Studies, and Emory University’s Global Health Institute, University Research Council, and Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellowship Program.

RSVP by Monday, 12 February. Registration through Ticketleap or via the QR code on the flyer attached:

Speakers: Professor Jeffrey Lesser (Professor of History at Emory University)

Web page:

Name: Professor Cristina Rocha

School / Department: School of Social Sciences