|Kwon Young-sang, the Chief of the Korean Cultural Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Korea Times photo by Dong Sun-hwa|
By Dong Sun-hwa
SAO PAULO ― Brazil has been dubbed a hub of Korean culture or hallyu in South America, thanks to a growing number of local supporters. The total number of hallyu fans in Brazil is estimated to be 300,000, according to Kwon Young-sang, chief of the Korean Cultural Center in Sao Paulo.
Kwon said the rise of K-pop is particularly remarkable, with more K-pop singers including phenomenal boy group BTS staging gigs in the country. Two or three bands visit Brazil for concerts a month, he said.
But K-pop has hurdles to overcome. One of the biggest barriers is Korean music labels' ignorance of Brazil's laws and regulations.
"With vestiges of socialism remaining, Brazil has stringent rules concerning children and teenagers. Minors cannot perform in concerts without their parents' permission here," Kwon said in a recent interview with The Korea Times at the Korean Cultural Center in Sao Paulo. "But most Korean agencies are ignorant of these regulations. Many of them had to call off scheduled gigs because they did not prepare the required documents for their teenage singers."
He added: "Even audience members should be accompanied by their parents or hand in written permission, if they are not old enough. But it is tough for people outside Brazil to know such information. This is why we need someone working in Brazil's cultural field to function as an agent connecting Korea and Brazil. But the number of these people is insufficient, although we have plenty of Korean doctors and lawyers here."
The low number partly stems from Koreans' relatively short immigration history. They arrived in Brazil in 1963, and as of now, an estimated 55,000 Korean-Brazilians are making a living in the South American country. In contrast, the Japanese immigration to Brazil began in 1908, with some 1.5 million Japanese-Brazilians residing there.
|Brazilians take a K-pop class at the center. Korea Times photo by Dong Sun-hwa|
Kwon said more people should strive to introduce and promote K-pop to Brazilians. At the moment, it is difficult to scout decent venues for K-pop singers and other cultural figures from Korea, since Brazilians are not familiar with hallyu.
"I think Brazil tends to be euro-centric. Brazilians, especially the middle and upper class, enjoy European culture and are not that into Korean culture yet," he said. "I try my best to scout fine venues such as the Teatro Municipal (city theater in Sao Paulo) for the artists, but it is hard to get permission from the Brazilians, who do know about the artists and their achievements."
He added that bureaucratic procedures are lengthy too, making it more challenging to organize diverse Korean cultural events.
Nevertheless, Kwon paints a rosy picture about the future of K-pop and K-culture.
"I believe K-pop has been one of the hottest products here for the last 10 years, largely thanks to the meteoric rise of YouTube and other online platforms."
He added some local people form "K-pop bands." Kwon invited some of those groups to Korean cultural events he organized. The center only accepts 50 students for its K-pop class, but more than 600 Brazilians applied to take the course. A Brazilian cultural institution recently opened a K-pop class too and asked Kwon to recommend a teacher.
|Brazilians can learn how to make Korean dishes at the center's kitchen. Korea Times photo by Dong Sun-hwa|
"Not only K-pop, but also Korean food and taekwondo have been thriving here," Kwon said. "I would say K-culture is on its way to becoming mainstream."
Kwon also sees strong potential in Korea's digital comics "Webtoons."
"Brazilians enjoy reading comics and they even have a museum for comics," he said. "I believe webtoons can attract them, if we can introduce the concept and provide platforms."
Since he took the helm of the Korean Cultural Center in Sao Paulo in 2016, Kwon has been giving his blood, sweat and tears to spread Korean culture. He has organized dozens of large-scale "K-culture" events such as the "Sao Paulo Hallyu Expo 2019," which introduced taekwondo, Korean traditional music and food to Brazilians.
The center also allows people to experience K-culture every day. Kwon said he wanted all family members to appreciate K-culture together.
Kwon said, "Brazilians are family-oriented in general. Hence, I want to bring as many families as possible to our center, so they can enjoy different aspects of our culture together. For instance, if a daughter visits the center to learn K-pop choreography, her father could practice taekwondo in another room, while her mother tries cooking Korean food in our kitchen."
|The center offers a wide range of Korean books for local people. Korea Times photo by Dong Sun-hwa|
|The center has several innovative digital devices that can help local people experience Korean culture. The device shown allows them to write their names in Korean. Korea Times photo by Dong Sun-hwa|
|The first floor of the Korean Cultural Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Korea Times photo by Dong Sun-hwa|