Rumors and Dreams of Eldorado that Are Bringing Brazilians to America

Brazilian National newspaper Brazilian emigration to the United States is directly related to globalization, international mobility, technological revolution and domestic economy. The phenomenon presents a long-short term impact on political, economic, socio-cultural, and technological developments in Brazil.

On the other hand, Brazilian immigration into the US has an effect in the
social, economic, and cultural life in the American states where there are
Brazilian immigrant settlements. The same effect is observable in Brazil where
there are cities improved with money sent by immigrants or money former
immigrants saved in the US and then invested wisely upon their return back home.

Given the current status of Brazilian immigrants in the US, who are sometimes
called Brazucas, the crucial problems they suffer concern religion, health care,
dietary habits, economic-social pattern, behavioral changes, and identity

Overall, immigration accentuates inequality and demands for social
assistance. Among many other challenges is the language problem, and the lack of
health assistance. Another challenge not to be ignored has to do with the
Diaspora that immigration creates.

While some Brazilians successfully manage to bring to the US the whole family
others leave behind husbands, wives, mother, children while trying their chance
at the American job market.

Once in the US divorce is more frequent, women get liberated and children
suffer the impact of dual income and two-working parents by acting out, being
depressed, having poor academic performance. Adolescents, brought to America
feel out of place, missing friends, family, the beach, and free entertainment
that Brazil offers.

The attractive American job market for Brazilians brings also some advantages
to Brazil. Among other things it boosts the Brazilian economy with the increased
transfer of funds to families and investments in Brazil and a decrease in the
number of unemployed.

In 2005, according to Brazil’s Central Bank, the country received about US$ 5
billion from immigrants. It is not without any reason that in the last two years
Brazilian politicians have been using immigration in their political discourse
promising to help Brazilians in the US and elsewhere in an attempt to get

Historical View on Immigration in the US

In order to better understand the Brazilian immigration into the US it is
necessary to put the phenomenon into a historical perspective starting with the
first Europeans who immigrated to America. According to the historical
definition, modern immigration in the Western countries dates from the discovery
of the new world.

Records show that 1820 was the first year that official immigration figures
were taken in the US Immigration in the USA intensifies beginning in the late
1840s and peaking in the 1880s. In this decade famine and upheavals in Europe
forced the arrival of more then 5 million immigrants in the US, usually by boat.

The majority came from northern and western Europe, mainly from the United
Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. It is useful to differentiate
between modern immigrants and their colonialist counterparts. Colonialists
founded states and created separatist political and social organizations,
whereas – at least theoretically – immigrants strive to become an integral part
of the already formed society.

More than 1.1 million immigrants arrive each year in the US. About 700,000
are legal. About 200,000 die each year and another 200,000 leave the country.
2.2 million immigrants are Latino (23% of the immigrant population), 9.3 million
are undocumented. There are about 3.2 million of them who are undocumented women
(California -26%). About 4.5 million are undocumented men (18 and over).

The destinations of choice are Texas (12%), Florida (10%), New York (8%),
Illinois (4%), and New Jersey (4%). But the most rapid growth in the
undocumented population since the mid-1990s has been outside these states. 
There are over one million attempts to cross the border every year, according to
Fix and Passel (1994).

The first major in-migration began in the late 1840s and peaked in the 1880s,
a decade during which more than 5 million immigrants arrived on US shores. The
majority came from northern and western Europe, mainly from the United Kingdom,
Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia, following revolutions, famine, and upheavals
in Europe. (p.1)

The US immigration policies are based on five broad goals: (1) the social
goal of family unification, (2) the economic goal of increasing US productivity
and standard of living, (3) the cultural goal of promoting diversity, (4) the
moral goal of promoting human rights, and (5) the national and economic security
goal of preventing undocumented immigration. Critics of immigration often
overlook the non-economic goals. Fix and Passel ( 1994 p1)

To deal with the questions that immigration raises, the phenomenon must be
reviewed in its sociopolitical, personal, and economic context. It appears that
while many factors are responsible for the relocation of people, the primary
factor is economics.

In Brazil religion has become a new factor responsible for bringing
immigrants to America. The evangelic faith is spreading throughout Brazil and
many new Christians want to come to America where the faith is stronger and
where they can get better support.

Other factors that attract Brazilians to the US are aspirations for personal
betterment and religious freedom. Political frictions, sexual discrimination,
racial disputes, and inequality are all important components of the immigration
dynamics that lead Brazilian people to immigrate.

Many other reasons are responsible for Brazilian immigration to the US, such
as the myth – spread through rumors – that everyone has a high living standard,
that it is easy to find a job as well as to receive welfare, buy properties, and
have more than one car. Rumors make many Brazilian believe that the United
States pays high salaries, even for simple jobs such as delivering pizza and
newspapers, house cleaning, and yard care.

This misconception yields belief in better opportunities for academic
exposure, making money, or even cross-cultural marriage, all benefits that
attract foreigners to the United States.  Sum it all up, and the advantages
are translated into success and better living.

Many Brazilians are aware of the transformations that the global mechanism
imposes in Brazil and elsewhere and how globalization is affecting the way
Brazil administers and conducts its international policies. Among many
Brazilians there is a new awareness about the inequality among countries.

This raises many questions that lead to blame the US and the Brazilian
government. After all no single answer can explain why developed countries offer
more opportunities and better life conditions than countries undergoing
development and modernization.

On July 5, 2004, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released new data
on the immigrants’ demography. According to the ministry, approximately 2.5
million Brazilians now live outside Brazil. Official data show that only about
1.8 million Brazilians living overseas have used Brazilian Consulates for
services such as newborn registrations, validation of birth certificates, or
issuance of Notary Public.

Demography of Brazilian Immigrants

Our research among community leaders indicates that the New York -New Jersey
area has the most influential members of the Brazilian community, around
300,000. A large number work for Brazilian corporations, government, and media,
and many are small business owners.

Florida has an estimated 2 million Brazilians. A large number are business
owners. As in any immigration influx, the settlements increase and turn into a
magnet for other would be immigrants. First one single person arrives in a
chosen city; the next step is to bring the family or marry some Brazilian left
behind. Then the children are born.

The third step is the dissemination of the news – letters, phone calls,
e-mails and regular trips back home spread the buzz among family and friends. It
goes somewhat like that: “The United States is the place where one can make a
lot of money, have a lot of opportunity. A pizza deliverer can make about US$
1,200 a week. One can open his or her own business and build up the dream of a
better life.”

These proclaimed benefits are enough to get a crowd to follow to the land of
opportunity. The settlement happens by state of origin to state in the new
country. As an example, people from the state of Minas Gerais for some unknown
reason chose the Boston metropolitan area despite the huge differences in

Many give up after finding out they can’t stand snow and that they have to
change jobs in the winter time. The majority of Brazilians in California come
from Goiânia, the capital of Goiás, in Brazil’s midwest. New York is the only
state that attracts Brazilians from all over.

Brazilians are found in almost every corner of the globe, but the United
States does inspire and stimulate most immigration. Portugal, for instance,
shelters around 80,000 Brazilians. Japan has already about 265,000 Brazilians to
the point that crimes committed by its Brazilian population are escalating.

In 1995, Japan claimed that the number of illegal activities committed by
Brazilians, had reached 1.5 million, and in 2002, the number jumped to 2.3
million. By 2002, the Brazilian community was rated second place in criminality
in Japan.

The Japanese police documented about 3,400 offenses by Brazilian immigrants.
The Japanese Consul in Brazil, Hirofumi Ohkuma, states that Brazilian crimes are
not organized, and that so far there are no Brazilian mobs in Japan. However,
there are at least 273 Brazilians in jail.

A Japanese committee was sent to Brazil to meet with Brazil’s Ordem dos
Advogados, an organization equivalent to the American Bar Association. The
Japanese commission wanted to learn more about Brazilian laws, how criminal
punishment is dispensed, and about Brazilian security.

Undocumented Global Mobility

The number of Brazilian women forced into prostitution abroad has increased
considerably in recent years. Most of the women who are forced into sex slavery
are coaxed by international organized crime that sends representatives to
developing countries and takes women between 18 and 20 to Spain, Portugal, and

On arrival, their passports are taken, and they are forced into a life of
prostitution to pay off their travel debt. Admittedly, many of these women leave
their own country voluntarily believing that by leaving Brazil, they can realize
their dreams of making easy and fast money, get rich, marry, and help their

Often, because of this voluntary departure, there is no apparent crime and
the police are shackled in their ability to intervene. As a result, the
Brazilian government is seeking to generate awareness by handing out flyers to
young women at airports, warning them that they “may never see their families

But this seems to be more an European problem. In the US, undocumented
Brazilians become part of a faceless crowd with identity problems. Official
figures from the 1990 Census Bureau estimated that only 94,000 Brazilians were
living in the United States at the time.

The Archdiocese of Boston estimated in 1993 that there were about 150,000
Brazilians in the greater Boston area alone, but community leaders think that
the number would be much higher, more like 250,000 (Michelle Chihara, Boston
Phoenix, “The Rio World”).

While no definitive numbers exist, some social scientists believe that the
greater Boston area may have the highest concentration of Brazilians outside
Brazil. Brazilians, they believe, have been attracted and continue to migrate to
this area, in part, due to the already well-established Portuguese speaking
communities originating from Cape Verde, the Azores, and Portugal.

The largest settlement of Brazilians in the area is located in Somerville,
Framingham, and Marlboro where they account for 10 to 20% of the local
population. (Maxine Margolis, Encyclopedia of Migration, 1998: 100).

Hillary Wasch of the Miami Herald, in April 21, 2004 p. 2 wrote that in the
city of Pompano Beach, Florida, there are 1,500 Brazilians. However, city
spokeswoman Sandra King and leaders of the Brazilian community in Pompano said
that the number is much larger.

Silai Almeida, pastor of the First Brazilian Baptist Church in Pompano
stated: “The economy is very strong in Pompano and we help the economy here, but
we don’t have any representation. We don’t have a voice.”

Maladaptation and Acculturation

Lack of adaptation among Brazilian immigrants in the US leads to defiant
behavior, ingratitude, stress, abuse of drugs, poor health care and diet habits,
suicide, and conflicts between the two cultures, since the more time an
immigrant spends in the new country, the more adaptation problems he or she will
have in the original culture. 

Immigration brings changes to the mainstream culture, but immigrants also
suffer an impact of transformation by the new environment. Cultural adaptation
is a radical, continuing, and endless process that demands cognition. 

Successful acculturation depends on motivation, lifestyle, level of
education, and personal fulfillment in order to survive and settle. Adaptation
depends on appraisal, a process that involves appreciation for benefits, and
capability of coping with hardship. There is a relational meaning to
acculturation that depends on well-being and the person-environment

In the Bay Area, in California, Brazilian immigrants face housing, health,
and education problems. It is common to find 22 people living in a two-bedroom
house. Most of the immigrants do not have health insurance, mainly for cultural
reasons. They do not feel the need to spend money for “something they are not
going to use.”

Also in Brazil health care is a state duty. As far as education, a large
number of children of Brazilian immigrants face academic poor performance,
stress due to academic challenges, and the impossibility to enter college for
legal problems. Undocumented immigrants can’t go to college.

There are Brazilians who live in a constant back and forth between Brazil and
the US, until the immigration office stops them. Usually these Brazilians have
problems in both cultures. While they are living in the US, their hearts and
minds are still in Brazil.

They have difficulty learning English and mixing with Americans, for fear of
being deported or failing to adapt to the new culture. Usually those
undocumented immigrants and even legal ones socialize among themselves in the
Catholic churches and evangelical temples that offer services in Portuguese.

Small Business and Domestic Force

Brazilians and Latinos in the US can be found working on service jobs:
housekeeper, cook, bus boy, pizza deliverer, newspaper carrier, housecleaner,
caretaker, gardener, agricultural worker, handyman, babysitter, taxi driver, and
construction worker. However there are those who own construction companies,
beauty spas, beauty salons, furniture stores, transportation companies, and
housecleaning businesses.

Some of them open their own pizzerias, spas, beauty salons, gardening and
cleaning services and transportation businesses. Brazilian immigrants in the USA
send home about US$ 1.5 billion a year. Despite their prosperity and hard work
many do not have a bank account. Some Brazilians in some states in the USA are
still waiting for the help that president Lula has promised.

Immigration Hardship

Once in the USA Brazilian immigrants who bring children face countless
hardships. In most cases the children are left by themselves after school while
their parents are working until later. Children can’t count on parents to help
with homework, since the majority does not speak English and have low education
in Brazil.

One of the biggest problems is health care. In the United States, is
mandatory to have health insurance. A good Prefer Provider coverage costs about
US$ 976,50 every three months. The health issues an immigrant faces begin with
diet. Usually there is an increase on body weight due to the new diet, based on
fattening, processed foods, lack of vegetables, and the abuse of fast food.

A large number develop heart diseases, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Children of immigrants born in the US and Brazilian children and adolescents who
come to the US face bullying in schools for being shy, not speaking the language
and having poor academic performance.

Other factor is the language barrier that impairs socialization. In an
attempt to be accepted, many end up adopting hip hop fashion and mannerisms of
other minorities. In schools these minorities form their own groups and try to
impose themselves by abusive language, harassment, and physical violence against
Brazilian adolescents and children.

A 2001 census showed that there are 9.3 million undocumented immigrants in
the USA, representing 26% of the immigrant population. The Urban Institute
report states that Mexico makes up over half of undocumented immigrants – 57% or
5.3 million. Another 3.3 million (23% ) are from other Latin America countries.

About 10% are from Asia, 5% from Europe and Canada, and 5% from the rest of
the world. The undocumented make up more then 40% of the foreign-born population
in 10 states which saw their foreign-born population grow rapidly during 1990s.
The high growth population is concentrated in the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest,
and the Southeast. The states where the undocumented populations grew mostly are
Arizona, Georgia, California, and New Jersey.  

The number of undocumented individuals in the labor force in the US is about
6 million, which represent about 5% of US workers. The labor force participation
rate of 96% exceeds that of men who are legal immigrants or who are US citizens
because undocumented labor are young and likely to be disabled, retired, or in

According to the Urban Institute undocumented women are less likely to be in
the labor force (62%) than undocumented men or than women who are US citizens.
One reason is that proportionately more undocumented women are of childbearing
age and undocumented women are more likely to have children and remain at home
than US citizens.

Undocumented workers on low wages earn considerably less than working US
workers. About two-thirds of undocumented workers earn less than twice the
minimum wage of US$ 6.50 an hour. What an undocumented worker makes a month is
not enough to pay health care.

Most of the Latino population in California, for example, rely on Latino
Clinics, such as Clinica de La Raza to receive basic health care needs and
dental care.

Undocumented workers make up less than 10% of the 43 million low-wage workers
in the United States. Women make up a substantial share of 41% of the adult
undocumented population. There are about 4.5 millions undocumented men (18 and
over) and 3.2 million undocumented women.

In the US there are about 1.5 million children of undocumented immigrants,
all undocumented. Another 3 million children whose parents are undocumented are
US citizens because they were born in the United States. Public schools are
stressed out with second languages students. The Latino population, mostly
catholic, does not practice family planning.

According to a study conducted by Capps, Passel and Fix (2005) on The Health
Being of Young Children of Immigrants, children of immigrants are more likely to
present poor health and not have health insurance or a usual source of health
care. These factors contribute in large part to poor health.

Capps, Passel and Fix (2005) write that young low-income children of
immigrants remain twice as likely to be uninsured therefore out of reach for
health assistance if compared with those of natives (22 versus 11%), despite a
substantial increase in the coverage of low-income children of immigrants
through Medicaid and other public programs between 1999 and 2002 (from 45 to

Seven percent of young children of immigrants are reported in fair or poor
health by their parents, over twice the rate for children of natives (3%). More
than twice as many young children of immigrants as natives lack a usual source
of health care (8 versus 3%).

The findings of Capps, Passel and Fix (2005) show that children of immigrants
are more often in parental care and less often in center-based child care.
Children of immigrants under 6 are more likely to receive child care from
parents (53 versus 34% for children of natives) and less likely to be in
center-based care (17 versus 26%).

Children of immigrants in general come from a household where parents have
little or no education. Capizzano and Adams, 2003) wrote that the educational
differences can be partially explained by family structure, low incomes,
patterns of work participation, and, perhaps, by differing propensity for

There is no precise number of Brazilian immigrants in surveys and there is a
reason for that. Afraid of being reported to the ICE, Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, Brazilian immigrants do not participate in surveys. To make matters
worse when they go to clinics or enroll in a school, the questionnaires always
ask for Latinos not for South American, without discriminating among countries.

The National Survey of America’s families (NSAF) in 1999 released a survey
showing that there are three areas of great hardship among immigrants: food,
housing, and health care. These findings reinforce observable problems of a
population whose assistance from social programs has been diminished since
August 1996 with the legislation that extended to each state the option to deny
coverage to non-citizens.

The federal welfare reform law introduced in 1996 a large measure of
restrictions on immigrants to use Temporary Assistance for Needy families
(TANF), food stamps, Medicaid, and other social programs. Since then the federal
government had restored eligibility for some categories of immigrants. However
many others are still ineligible.

There are about 18.7 million foreign-born persons in the USA, 80% of children
with immigrant parents are themselves citizens, 71% of total of the nation’s
population. In California there were 2,000 children born from Brazilian parents
registered at schools in 2004.


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Ilma Ribeiro Silva, Ph.D., is a journalist and advocate for the
Brazilian population in the US. She is president of the Brazilian Foundation in
San Francisco. She is a published author in Brazil. This work is one chapter of
the author’s offprint book Brazil’s Choice, a work to be published in the


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