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By There’s no Brazilian community in New York, but there is a huge crowd
from Brazil trying to make their own America. 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.

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 decade—due to a bad economic situation in Brazil as well as in all
Latin America—when 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.
João 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 be—once again, in my
opinion—what we really are.

Demographics

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.

Migration Patterns

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 Pará, 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. Valadarenses—people born in Governador
Valadares, a town in the State of Minas Gerais—are 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.

Economy

We do have a few restaurants and stores—mainly on 46th street, named
Little Brazil—owned 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.

Cultural

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, but—for lack of a better word—sojourners 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 wld202@nyu.edu

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