Invited by the Museum of the City of New York to participate in a panel discussion on the evolution of the Latino communities in the U.S. last October, I was quite delighted to be among a select group of intellectuals from the Latino community of New York. The panel was part of a multi-media project called Americanos: La Vida Latina en los E.U..
Consisting of a photo exhibition, a CD with Latino music (there's not a single Brazilian cut on it) and a series of discussions with the Latino communities throughout the U.S., Americanos is a project of Olmos Productions, organized by the Smithsonian Institution, sponsored by Time Warner Inc., and scheduled to end in the year 2,002.The following is the speech I delivered on the occasion:
Brazilians are supposed to be a new "community" in New York. In my opinion, community wouldn't be a proper word to name this ethnic group. It is said that the eighties was the decadedue to a bad economic situation in Brazil as well as in all Latin Americawhen a huge number of Brazilians came to this country. However, when I worked for a Brazilian newspaper in the mid-80's, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Jo„o D'Agostino who had come to New York in 1929 at the age of 19! I would like to mention that I have also interviewed other Brazilians who came to NY in the 60's. Although this round table is about Latino communities in NYC, I would say that there's no Brazilian community in the sense of what the word really means. We do have a huge crowd of people from Brazil trying to make their own America and that seems to beonce again, in my opinionwhat we really are.
It's a very touchy and difficult issue to tackle. Like any other immigrant ethnic group in this country, fear of the INS is the major problem individuals face on a daily basis. Therefore, it's quite risky to try to give an exact number of how many Brazilians are currently living in the U.S..
Brazilian consulates across the country are ill equipped to collect and subsequently divulge such information. There's rumor that there are around 100,000 Brazilians living in the New York metropolitan area. I would dare say that this is a very conservative number.
Brazilian immigration is something new to our history as a people. However some statistics try to reach a number: we are Dekaseguis (children of Japanese immigrants who "return" to their parents or grandparents' native country of Japan), Brasilpeus (Brazilians in Europe), Brasilguaios (Brazilians in Uruguay) and Brazucas (a term referring to Brazilians living in the U.S.). Counting them all, it's said that we are 5 million Brazilians living abroad today. Some say that we are about 600,000 to one million Brazilians living in the U.S. alone. Major American cities where there is a Brazilian agglomeration are Newark, New York, Miami, Boston, Framingham, Somerville, Los Angeles, Berkeley, and San Francisco.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed a Brazilian journalist, Mr. Bispo Filho, who's been living in Framingham, a town near Boston. Actually, this young man is teaching Science and Languages at a middle school that caters to Brazilians (residents and newcomers) in that town. Bispo said that when he lived in Newark, he had interviewed a Brazilian man who claimed that the Brazilian community in the state of Massachusetts started in the 60's. Now, according to this same man, the Brazilian community was first formed by Brazilians from ParŠ, a state in the northern region of Brazil, bordering the Amazon. They were part of a soccer team who decided to stay and reside near Boston.
Newark, for example, consists primarily of Portuguese people. However, in the 80's, Brazilians started to flock to Newark, probably due to the fact that Portuguese was and still is widely spoken in that area. Valadarensespeople born in Governador Valadares, a town in the State of Minas Geraisare undoubtedly the major group established in Newark. How did they come? Probably one individual would call a relative to come, and this same relative would call someone else in the family and so on. Today, people say that Newark has the look and feeling of a small Governador Valadares. There are even two weekly newspapers serving the Brazilians in the Newark area. Both papers cover events in the area as well as news from Brazil.
We do have a few restaurants and storesmainly on 46th street, named Little Brazilowned by a few Brazilian entrepreneurs and a few other businesses in Astoria, a neighborhood which is said to have become Brazilian due to the number of Brazilians living there. However, in that area, the Greek population outnumbers the newcomers from South America.
Brazil is the theme of a cultural event only when a famous Brazilian star comes to town for a show. There is, of course, a Brazilian festival to commemorate Brazil's independence from Portugal on the first week of September every year, but that does not represent the country either, for it consists of a few stands from all over the world, not necessarily only Brazilian any longer.
Of course, there are Brazilian writers, poets, dancers, and teachers living and working in the City; however, these individuals do have to struggle alone in their own fields. There is no support or help for these artists from, say, the local Brazilian entrepreneurs.
We do have people from Brazil working for the major Brazilian newspapers and TV networks in the city; however, these reporters and journalists rarely write about Brazilians in NY. Their news is generally focused on American events and life style. Culturally speaking, Brazil does not offer and has almost no influence on the arts in the City, as a whole.
We are said to be a minority within a minority an invisible community. Thus, it's very hard to call this minority a community. Brazilians do not consider themselves immigrants, butfor lack of a better wordsojourners so to speak. Most Brazilians living in the U.S. claim they will return to Brazil whenever they can save up enough money to open their own business in their hometown. An "excuse" for not organizing ourselves given in the 80's and still today. There is no association, school or club run by Brazilians in NYC. There are two Brazilian newspapers published monthly in the City, but they clearly do not serve the Brazilian population specifically. Instead, they mainly cater to Brazilian tourists looking for information on where to buy such and such thing or sometimes articles related to (most of the time) Carnaval, shows and capoeira demonstrations. Having no clubs, institutions, schools or a really strong media on our side is definite proof that we do not exist as a community as other ethnic groups do.
I have recently heard that the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University is creating an institute whose goal is to develop and exchange information about theater and that Brazil is a member of it. However, the Brazilian participants are not residents in the City, since they live in Brazil
One possible answer for our lack of organization as a community would probably be that we are not united within our own country of 160 million inhabitants today. But that would surely be a legitimate theme for a discussion at some other time, among us, Brazilians, of course.
Wilson Loria, a writer who has resided in New York for more than a decade, can be reached at email@example.com