In the 1820s, a newly independent Brazil realized the strategic importance of this region on the frontier between the Spanish and Portuguese Americas. The emperor invited German-speaking immigrants to develop the land and serve as a buffer against Spanish insurgency. The German immigrants – and the Italians who followed – never adopted the plantation culture of the Northeast. Instead, the economy was based on small family-owned farms, a legacy that lives on in the region’s egalitarian politics and equitable distribution of income.