Brazilian americans

by Alphine W. Jefferson


The country of Brazil, officially called the Federative Republic of Brazil (or RepĂșblica Federativa do Brasil), is located in central eastern South America. A vast country, it covers 3,290,000 square miles—nearly 45 percent of South America's land mass. Brazil is bounded by French Guinea, Guyana, Venezuela, and Suriname to the north, Columbia to the northwest, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina to the west, Uruguay to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The nation is divided into 23 states, three territories, and one federal district, the last of which includes its capital, BrasĂ­lia.

According to United Nations estimates for 1995, Brazil has a population of approximately 165 million people of various ethnicities. Like the United States, Brazil is a land of immigrants. People of Portuguese descent make up a slight majority of the population; among the other ethnic groups in the country are Africans, Italians, Germans, Japanese, and Native Americans (primarily of the Tupi and Guarani linguistic families). More than a third of all Brazilians are of mixed racial heritage. Racial identification in Brazil, as in much of Latin America, is rather nebulous. Latin Americans with some white blood often claim a "white" racial identity.

Eighty-nine percent of Brazilians are Roman Catholic. Other Brazilians subscribe to various forms of Protestantism. There are also very small Islamic and Jewish communities in the country. Many Brazilians who subscribe to one of the mainline religions also practice other religious traditions, including Spiritism, Candomblé, Macumba, Umbanda, or Santería. These religious practices are informed by Christianity and traditional African and Amerindian religious ceremonies.

Brazil's official language is Portuguese, although a variety of other languages, such as Japanese, German, and various Native American languages, are spoken. The nation's capital, BrasĂ­lia, is in the interior of the country; large coastal cities, including SĂŁo Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Recife, and Salvador, are important to Brazilian trade. The national flag of Brazil is a yellow diamond centered on a green field. In the middle of the diamond is a blue globe bearing 23 white stars and a banner with the words "Ordem e Progresso," which means "order and progress." The green and the yellow represent Brazil's forest and mineral wealth, while the blue represents both the sky and the vastness of Brazil's states and capital.


Recent archaeological evidence suggests that Brazil may have been inhabited as early as 40,000 years ago. Various Native American groups are known to have lived in Brazil for thousands of years. The first European to lay claim to the region was Pedro Cabral, who discovered the land for Portugal in 1500. The next year, Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci traveled along the South American coast. Brazil's first settlement was established at Salvador da Bahia. Salvador was Portugal's most important city—after its own capital of Lisbon—for 300 years. In the nineteenth century, colonization of Brazil by the Portuguese settlers began in earnest.

Brazil was ruled by Lisbon as a colony until 1808, and during these years the early Brazilians helped to frame the development of the country. Native American groups living on the coast of Brazil were pushed to the interior of the country by the Portuguese as early as 1616. The coast of the country was then settled by Portuguese. In 1533 the first Africans were forcibly brought to Brazil to be used as slaves, primarily on coffee and sugar plantations. Slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, by a law that was signed by the regent Princess Isabel. Finally, the Treaty of Madrid, signed in 1750, definitively drew Brazil's borders, which were remarkably similar to the nation's contemporary boundaries.

In 1808 French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal, touching off the bloody Peninsular War. The Portuguese royal family, led by King Dom JoĂŁo VI, fled from Napoleon's army and reestablished its kingdom in Brazil, first in Salvador and later in Rio de Janeiro. Dom JoĂŁo returned to Portugal in 1821, leaving his son Dom Pedro I as regent. Pedro I declared Brazil's independence on September 7, 1822. His son, Dom Pedro II, succeeded him in 1831 and ruled until 1889.


A federal republic was established following an 1889 coup, and for the next 41 years the Brazilian government was a constitutional democracy with a limited franchise. GetĂșlio Vargas, a member of the revolutionary Liberal Alliance, staged a military coup in 1930, establishing a dictatorship and ruling as governor for the next 15 years. During World War II, Brazil underwent considerable economic growth. A series of elected presidents followed Vargas, but in 1964, as a result of popular frustration with steadily rising inflation, economic stagnation, and various other social problems, the military staged yet another coup. Then-president JoĂŁo Goulart was deposed, and Army Marshall Humberto Castelo Branco officially became president on April 11, 1964.

The military continued to choose government officials until 1982, when a period of liberalization began in Brazil. In 1989 Fernando Collor de Mello became president in the nation's first direct presidential election in decades. However, Collor de Mello, famed for his wide-reaching economic reforms, was accused of accepting bribes in 1992, and on September 29th of that year, was impeached by the Brazilian government for political corruption. He was succeeded by his vice president, Franco Itmar, who officially took office on October 2, 1992. Two years later, former foreign and finance minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso won a hotly contested presidential election against the favored candidate, populist Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, a trade union leader. This election signaled stability for Brazil's fragile democratic institutions and validated Cardoso's stringent financial policies and reforms.


Some sources claim that the earliest immigrants from Brazil to the United States were probably eight Jewish Brazilians who entered the country in 1654. But Brazilian American immigration information is not very reliable; the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service did not tabulate Brazilians as a separate group entering the States until 1960. Before that, Brazilians were counted in a group that included all South Americans. It is known that between 1820 and 1960, 234,761 people of South American descent entered the United States, with peak waves of South American immigrants entering from 1841 to 1850 and 1911 to 1930. It is impossible to tell how many of these South Americans were actually from Brazil. According to the 1960 U.S. Census Bureau report, however, 27,885 people of Brazilian ancestry were living in the United States.

From 1960 until the mid-1980s, there was a relatively even pattern of Brazilian immigration to the United States; estimates suggest that between 1,500 and 2,300 Brazilians immigrated each year, mainly from southern and south-central Brazil, including the states of EspĂ­rito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, SĂŁo Paulo, ParanĂĄ, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. The majority of these immigrants were of European heritage and came from the middle- and upper-middle-classes of Brazilian society.

During the mid-1980s, Brazil's economy began to deteriorate rapidly; in 1990 inflation reached 1,795 percent annually. Despite the economic reforms of President Collor de Mello, incomes continued to drop by nearly 30 percent, and many Brazilians lost faith in their government. The Brazilian government estimates that between 1986 and 1990, 1.4 million Brazilians left the country permanently—many of them immigrating to the United States, others heading for Japan and various countries in South America and Europe.

According to Maxine Margolis in Little Brazil: An Ethnography of Brazilian Immigrants in New York City, Brazilian immigration to the United States did not begin on a significant scale until the mid-1980s. Between 1987 and 1991, 20,800 Brazilians immigrated to America; however, 8,133 Brazilians entered the country in 1991 alone. Again, the majority of these immigrants were middle- or upper-middle-class members of Brazilian society, and most of them came from southern or south-central Brazil. The 1990 U.S. Census Bureau report indicates that there are about 60,000 Brazilians living and working in the United States, but because Brazilian Americans were only counted in the census if they wrote "Brazilian" in the "Other Hispanic" category— Brazilians are not Hispanic—this number is most likely too small. Other sources suggest that there are approximately 100,000 Brazilians, documented and undocumented, living in the New York area alone. In addition, there are sizable Brazilian communities in Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix.

As Brazil's economic conditions worsened, the American consulate found that many more Brazilians wanted to immigrate to the United States than quotas legally allowed. Consequently, since the mid-1980s, a significant percentage of all Brazilian immigration to the United States has been illegal. The most common way for Brazilians to illegally enter the United States is to overstay a tourist visa, fade into established Brazilian communities, and obtain low-skill, low-wage work. A riskier method of gaining entry is with "doctored" or fake passports and/or green cards. A number of professional immigration services—legitimate and otherwise—operate in both the United States and Brazil to assist those wishing to come to America. Some Brazilians enter the United States on their own via the Mexican border, but this is extremely time-consuming, dangerous, and expensive. Undocumented persons make up a large percentage of the Brazilian population in the United States, thereby skewing census and immigration data. Margolis notes that there may be as many as 350,000 Brazilians living in the United States without proper documentation.


Nearly half of all Brazilian Americans live in the northeastern United States, primarily in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts; sizable populations also reside in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. First generation Brazilians tend to congregate in areas where other Brazilian Americans are living—such as Little Brazil in Manhattan or Astoria in Queens—especially if they speak little or no English. However, second- and third-generation Brazilian Americans are more likely to have gained financial independence and therefore may relocate to areas with fewer or no other Brazilian Americans. These neighborhoods do not preserve Brazilian cultural heritage as many first generation neighborhoods do. It is estimated that the majority of illegal Brazilian immigrants live in New York City; however, because these people are largely undocumented, their exact places of residence are difficult to ascertain.

Acculturation and Assimilation

Margolis cites some of the misconceptions and stereotypes held by many Americans about Brazil and Brazilians, the most common being that Brazilians are Hispanic and therefore speak Spanish. The term Hispanic, when used correctly, refers to people of Spanish or Spanish-speaking origin from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Although people of many nationalities live in

Michelle Jesus and Adenilson Daros enjoy dancing together at the 1998 New York Brazil Street Festival.
Michelle Jesus and Adenilson Daros enjoy dancing together at the 1998 New York Brazil Street Festival.
Brazil, it is primarily a country of Portuguese origin, and its official language is Portuguese. There is little published information on Brazilian Americans as an ethnic group, even though Brazilian immigration to New York City is rapidly rising and has been since the mid-1980s.

Because of the lack of information about Brazilian Americans, many "established" Americans seem to have stereotyped them as an ethnic group. Media portrayals of Brazil and its citizens contribute to the erroneous belief that Brazilians are less than industrious laborers who favor a good party over a hard day's work. Movies, television, and theatrical productions depict Brazilians as doing little else than dancing the lambada and the samba (popular Brazilian dances) and participating in their world famous street parties. Indeed, participants in the nation's annual Carnaval celebration are hardly inhibited. Moreover, grandly produced and suggestively staged variety shows—featuring Brazilian entertainers such as Brazil Alive!, Oba! Oba!, Rio Ecstasy, and Fantasy Brazil —shock the generally more reserved and puritanical North American audiences. Even sporting events reveal a distinctly Brazilian gusto: when Brazil captured the coveted Copa do Mundo (soccer's World Cup) in 1994, sports fans thought nothing of dancing in the streets. Despite the misconceptions these stereotypes create, Brazilian Americans maintain pride in their cultural traditions and continue to celebrate their Brazilian heritage.


Brazilians have many traditions, customs, and beliefs that have existed for hundreds of years and are woven into Brazilian culture. Though common throughout much of the country and observed by all racial groups, many of these practices can be traced to the traditional beliefs and behaviors of Africans, Amerindians, and European folk culture. Indeed, some scholars observe that the fusion of different cultural beliefs finds its greatest expression in Brazil. Religious rituals, military and political rallies, festivals, and family celebrations are important parts of Brazilian society. Brazilians also give parties to celebrate such events as soccer ( futebol ) victories; soccer is such an important part of Brazilian and Brazilian

This Brazilian American dancer is wearing a Carnaval costume.
This Brazilian American dancer is wearing a Carnaval costume.
American life that it is not uncommon to see hundreds of people gathered around a single small television set watching a game.

Brazilian Americans have preserved their cultural heritage by maintaining some of Brazil's customs, traditions, and beliefs, including the value and importance of the extended family and the observance of Brazilian festivals and holidays, which celebrate Brazilian culture. These cultural traditions have changed over time as more and more Brazilian Americans are assimilated into mainstream American life.


Brazil is a country filled with people of many different backgrounds and origins; its cooking reflects its multicultural roots. Brazilian cooking has been influenced by African, Native American, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, and even Japanese cuisines. In particular, Brazilian cooking reflects the cooking styles of the African slaves who were brought to Brazil beginning in the sixteenth century. DendĂȘ; (palm oil), coconut milk, spicy peppers, feijĂŁo (black beans), and farinha (manioc flour) are principal ingredients in Brazilian dishes. The national dish of Brazil, feijoada, consists of a variety of smoked or sun-dried meats and sausages, black beans, and a sauce made from the juices of the beans and the meats. It is usually served with sliced oranges, shredded kale or collard greens, farofa (toasted manioc flour), and various hot sauces and condiments. Popular beverages include Brahma, a Brazilian beer; caipirinhas and batidas, tropical drinks made with rum and cachaça; and GuaranĂĄ, a popular Brazilian soft drink made from the berries of the guaranĂ­ tree.

Other Brazilian foods that are popular among Brazilian Americans and can be found in many Brazilian restaurants in the States include churrasco à rodizio, a meal of barbecued chicken, pork, and beef served with rice, black beans, French fries, and potato salad; frango à passarinho (literally, "chicken in the style of a little bird"), small pieces of chicken wrapped in garlic leaves; moqueca, a fish stew native to the Brazilian state of Bahia; and bacalhau, or codfish casserole. During Brazilian parties or street festivals, a variety of Brazilian snack foods are served. Among them are kibe, fried snacks of Lebanese origin; acarajé, a deep-fried black bean fritter filled with spicy sauces, shrimp, green peppers, and chiles; and pasteis, a pastry filled with meat, shrimp, or olives.


There are different traditional costumes for different states and regions of Brazil. One such costume—often worn during street fairs and at other Brazilian American events—comes from the Brazilian state of Bahia. For women, it consists of a huge, hooped white skirt, a white bodice with elaborate sleeves, strings of colorful looped beads worn around the neck, and elaborately wrapped white turbans. Tiny string bikinis, called fio dental, or "dental floss," are worn by many Brazilian women on the beach. For everyday wear, most Brazilians and Brazilian Americans dress in American-style clothing. Indeed, the influence of the United States is so great that many Brazilian and Brazilian American youth wear "hip-hop" or "rap" style garb. Poorer Brazilians may wear western clothing, reflecting their rural or gaĂșcho ("cowboy") traditions.


For the many states, cities, and communities in Brazil with patron saints, it is customary to hold festivals for these saints each year. During Holy Week—the week before Easter, which is seen as one of the most important weeks of the year—Brazilians recreate the passion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some Brazilian communities also recreate the events of the birth of Jesus during the Christmas season. Military parades are common in Brazil as a way of celebrating state holidays, such as Brazilian Independence Day, which occurs during Fatherland Week. Two other major Brazilian festivals are Carnaval, a huge, nationwide, annual celebration that takes place the week before Lent, and Festa do Iemenja, a solemn ceremony held on New Year's Eve. The Festa do Iemenja, dedicated to the "Queen of the Sea," is a major rite in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. Flowers, perfumes, fruits, and even jewelry are tossed into the sea to please the mother of the waters and gain her protection for a new year. Moreover, this is the time when many Brazilians place on their wrists a cloth bracelet bearing the words: "Lembra do Senghor do Bonfim," which translates as "remember the bishop of the good end." (This is a reference to a famous church in Bahia, Igreja so Senghor do Bonfim, built in 1745 and famous for its healing powers.)

Brazilian Americans celebrate secular American holidays, such as the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, and New Year's Day, and Christian Brazilian Americans also celebrate such holidays as Christmas and Easter by attending church services and having special meals and ceremonies at home. Many of these services are held in Portuguese with Brazilian music.

On Brazil's Independence Day, there are feasts in many Brazilian American communities, particularly in large cities in the northeast region of the country, such as Boston, New York City, and Newark, New Jersey. Independence Day, celebrated each September 7th, marks Brazil's liberation from Portugal. The largest celebration by far is the Brazilian Independence Day Parade and Street Fair, which has been held annually since 1985 on New York's West 46th Street ("Little Brazil"). The allday street festival attracts thousands of people, predominantly Brazilian Americans, from throughout the Northeast; participants wear green and gold, Brazil's colors, dance to Brazilian music, and enjoy Brazilian food and drinks.

Brazilian American communities also celebrate Carnaval. In Brazil, Carnaval takes place during the four days before the beginning of Lent, but many pre-festival events start up to two months earlier. In many ways, Carnaval is considered to be the quintessential expression of Brazilian culture, and Brazilian Americans are proud to celebrate the event. Carnaval festivities are also becoming increasingly popular among non-Brazilians in America.


There are no documented health or mental health problems specific to Brazilian Americans. Brazilian Americans generally obtain health insurance at their own expense or through their employers. Most Brazilian Americans who live illegally in the United States have no health insurance and enter the health bureaucracy at risk. Many also rely on "faith healers," associated with one or more of their religious traditions.

Brazilian American Spiritists practice alternative or homeopathic approaches to health and medicine. Instead of traditional medical techniques, Spiritists use such practices as past-lives therapy, dispossession and exorcism therapies, acupuncture, chromotherapy, yoga therapy, and homeopathy. Back in Brazil, some Spiritists have set up psychiatric hospitals that utilize the aforementioned healing methods.


Although Portuguese is not the only language spoken in Brazil, it is the official language of the nation and the native language of most Brazilian immigrants. Portuguese is a Romance language, similar in some ways to Spanish, and is spoken by about 200 million people worldwide. There are two major differences between Brazilian Portuguese and the Portuguese spoken in Portugal: firstly, the Brazilian vocabulary is larger by several thousand words; secondly, the pronunciation is softer. Brazilian Portuguese has "adopted" words and phrases from the TupĂ­-Guarani languages, spoken by many Native Americans in Brazil, and also from the various languages spoken by African slaves who were brought to Brazil. These African languages influenced the softening of the Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation. In 1992 Brazilian Portuguese became the international standard for textbook production and writing because Brazilians comprise 75 percent of the world's Portuguese speakers.

Of the 57,108 people recorded in the 1990 U.S. Census Bureau report (41,395 of whom were first-generation and 15,713 of whom were second- or third-generation), 52,292 people spoke English, although 22,587 said that they did "not speak English very well." Because Brazilian Americans often retain close ties with their old world culture and language, several urban areas with high concentrations of Brazilian immigrants feature radio broadcasts in Portuguese and publish Portuguese-language newspapers and periodicals.


Common greetings and expressions in Brazilian Portuguese include: Bom dia —Good morning; Boa tarde —Good afternoon; Boa noite —Good night; Como vai? —How are you?; Obrigado —Thank you (masculine); Obrigada —Thank you (feminine); De nada —You're welcome; Pois nĂŁo —Certainly; or, Don't mention it; Passe bem —Goodbye; AtĂ© amanhĂŁ —See you tomorrow; Que horas sĂŁo? —What time is it?; Como se chama a senhora ( a senhorita )?— What's your name?

Family and Community Dynamics

Brazilian social life centers around the family. It is not uncommon for Brazilians to see members of their extended families—married siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins, and other relations—on a daily basis. Family is also very important to Brazilian Americans. Many Brazilians are encouraged to immigrate to the States by family members who have already made the journey; new immigrants often live with other family members or close friends until they find homes of their own. Especially in larger Brazilian American communities, family members almost always live near one another. Many Brazilian Americans travel to Brazil as often as they can in order to maintain contact with extended family members who remain in the homeland. Even for Brazilian Americans who have lived in the United States for many years, the social and cultural value placed on the family usually remains intact.

In Brazil, social status is very important. Educated Brazilians are socialized from an early age to show respect in speech and conduct to those of higher social status. Individualism in many forms is generally dismissed by Brazilians as egotistical behavior, since Brazilians tend to focus on the family and the community rather than on the individual. Each step in the life cycle—christening, going to school, confirmation, beginning outside work—is viewed as a rite of passage. In making these significant transformations, Brazilians often have many mediators—usually older family members and friends—who counsel them in understanding the ways of the world.

Economic and social necessity have chipped away at the traditional extended family structure in immigrant communities throughout the United States. Many Brazilian immigrants to America are single; married men and women often leave their spouses and children at home until they can afford to send for them. Until they find their own houses or apartments, Brazilians commonly stay with friends or at cheap boarding houses (often Brazilian-run) in cities with large Brazilian communities, such as New York or Newark. After a single family member has established himself or herself in the States, that person is able to facilitate the immigration of other family members. Brazilian Americans often help each other find jobs and adequate housing, and they share cultural information and news from Brazil. Of course, some Brazilians move to the United States with their immediate families—particularly those who have jobs before they arrive or enough money to last until they can find employment.

As the standard of living for Brazilian immigrants begins to rise, many invest in such modern conveniences as television sets, microwave ovens, and stereo equipment. (These items are seen as luxuries because they are so expensive in Brazil.) A common concern for many Brazilian Americans seems to be the welfare of those still living in Brazil. Many Brazilian Americans send money to friends and family back home, and charitable organizations sponsor drives to collect money and clothing for the poor in Brazil. There is little organized charitable work by Brazilian Americans, however, to help other Brazilian Americans in need. This can be explained partially by the fact that many are undocumented—and therefore live in fear of detection and deportation.


Many married, middle-class women in Brazil do not work outside of the home, even if they have advanced university degrees. It is common—even among the lower-middle-class in the old country— for households to employ servants and maids. Many Brazilian women must adapt to new roles and obtain outside employment when they immigrate to the United States, as it is usually a financial necessity. According to Margolis, these adjustments in roles can cause many problems for immigrants, particularly for married couples in which the woman is making more money than the man. Moreover, middle-class women who had maids and servants in Brazil are somewhat disheartened at the thought of assuming those same roles in America in order to find employment.


In Brazil, wedding customs conform to the major practices of each religious denomination. The road to matrimony starts with a large engagement reception, where the families of the intended come together; the man gives the woman a simple gold wedding band, which is worn on the right hand prior to the marriage. During the wedding ceremony, the ring is placed on the left hand. Western traditions have influenced weddings in Brazil, making services similar to those in North America. The upper-class in Brazil, however, looks to France for many of its cultural manifestations.

In general, the bride wears white and the groom dons formal wear. Bridesmaids and groomsmen are replaced by the padrinho (godfather) and madrinho (godmother) of both the bride and groom. The service follows the traditional liturgical rites of the Catholic or Protestant church.

The reception is a gala, cross-generational affair, with plenty of food, liquor, music, and dancing. Usually, an older male relative will discreetly gather small monetary donations and present them to the couple before they leave for the honeymoon. Depending on the status of the family, honeymoons can range from a simple night in a room of a crowded house to a week on the beach—a favorite honeymoon spot.


Baptismal traditions are determined by the religious denomination of the family. For Catholics, the child is baptized in infancy and later, after reaching the "age of understanding" (usually between eight and 12), he or she is formally confirmed. The child's godparents play an important role, taking vows to love, protect, and, if necessary, provide for the child. White baptismal clothing is absolutely essential; poor parents reportedly spend food money on the appropriate dress. After the actual baptismal service, the child is showered with presents at a lavish reception.


The death of beloved Brazilian race car driver Aytron Senna (1960-1994) allowed all the world to see how Brazilians deal with death. Within minutes of his demise in the Grand Prix in Italy, thousands of Brazilians flocked to his home in SĂŁo Paulo, stood outside on the walls, and cried. Senna's funeral service went on for hours; every major Brazilian political and religious leader eulogized him.

In Brazil, the color of mourning is black. Usually, a large picture of the deceased is on display at the funeral service. Generally speaking, bodies in Brazil are not embalmed. Thus, most burials occur within 24 hours. In addition to mourning, funerals function as vehicles for public displays of emotion, belonging, and connection. Women are expected to wear heavy veils and to actively mourn the dead. Sociological sources indicate that unrestrained displays of raw emotion are such a basic part of Brazilian culture that they are expected and encouraged. Thus, it is customary to give fainting mourners a mixture of sugar water to calm them.

Funeral customs vary from place to place and are informed by the religious traditions of the deceased. In the northeastern part of Brazil, the dead are paraded throughout the streets in their coffins, with family and friends walking behind as they leave the necrotério (morgue and funeral home) and proceed to the cemetery. Among the middle- and upper-classes in urban areas, cars and hearses are used. For many Catholics, a special mass is held 15 days after the burial; this signifies the final act of public mourning.


Many Brazilian immigrants to the United States have university degrees and held skilled jobs in Brazil. However, these immigrants often have difficulty finding desirable jobs in the United States because the requirements for degrees are different in Brazil—and because many Brazilian Americans, even those with advanced education, are not fluent in English. Illegal immigrants are largely excluded from the American labor market, since they pose a legal risk to perspective employers. Overall, second- and third-generation immigrants are more likely to have skilled, high-paying jobs, as they have been educated in the United States, are more likely to be fluent in English, and have legal permanent resident status.


Although the vast majority—nearly 90 percent—of Brazilian Americans are Roman Catholic, others belong to fundamentalist Protestant churches. In addition, a small number of Brazilian Americans practice Spiritism, a faith based on communication with the spirits of the dead; Umbanda, a combination of Spiritism, folk Catholicism, and African-Brazilian beliefs and rituals; and CandomblĂ©, an African-Brazilian religion that originates from the Brazilian state of Bahia. Little is known about the existence of these religions in the United States because their practitioners fear censure from both Brazilians and Americans.

Brazil is the world's largest Roman Catholic country. The Brazilian Catholic church is seen as radical by more conservative Catholics and has been instrumental in pushing for social change in Brazil—often in direct opposition to the state. Most Brazilian Americans are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. In areas of the United States with large Brazilian immigrant communities, Catholic churches offer services in Portuguese or have Brazilian or Portuguese-speaking clerics to assist parishioners. In New York City, the largest and best-known Roman Catholic church with services in Portuguese is Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Manhattan. This church features a prominently displayed statue of Nossa Senhora Aparecida, a Brazilian saint, and serves as a center for many Brazilian Americans to congregate and worship together.

About ten percent of Brazilian Americans belong to one of several Protestant churches. In the United States, particularly in the Northeast, most Brazilian American Protestants are either Pentecostals or Baptists. Pentecostal Brazilian Americans tend to socialize primarily with members of the Pentecostal church, and therefore Pentecostal churches—several of which have services in Portuguese— often become the center of the social lives of most members. Baptist Brazilian Americans, on the other hand, tend to socialize more outside of the church. Some Baptist churches in the United States, such as the Baptist Church of the Portuguese Language in Queens, New York, offer services in Portuguese. In addition to the Pentecostal and Baptist denominations, the Universal Church (a Protestant sect which is Brazilian in origin) and Seventh-Day Adventist churches also attract Brazilian American believers.

Spiritism is a Brazilian practice that combines science, philosophy, and Christian morality and follows the teachings of Allan Kardec, a nineteenth-century French philosopher who set forth his principles in two books: The Book of the Spirits and The Book of the Mediums. Spiritists, who tend to be white and middle-class, believe in communication with the dead via spirit mediums. Small groups of Brazilian American Spiritists meet in communities with large Brazilian American populations.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Because Brazilian immigrants who entered the United States prior to 1960 were not documented separately, little information exists on their employment history. According to the 1990 census, of the 43,190 Brazilian Americans who were over the age of 16, 31,662 were a part of the labor force. The majority of Brazilian American workers are members of one of four categories: service occupations; technical, sales, and administrative support occupations; managerial and professional specialty occupations; or operators, fabricators, and laborers.

Margolis conducted research on Brazilian immigrant workers in New York City. (The majority of the people with whom she worked were illegal immigrants.) She found that restaurant work is the most common form of work for male Brazilians who have recently immigrated to the United States. Many other undocumented Brazilian males take jobs in construction or with small companies that pay wages in cash; others work as street vendors or as shoe shiners. The vast majority of female Brazilian immigrants to the United States, both legal and illegal, take jobs in domestic service and in child care, usually for private households. Margolis notes that other Brazilian women take jobs as restaurant workers, street vendors, or even go-go dancers. Her findings also indicate that illegal immigrants tend to take positions where they can be paid "under the table," avoiding possible detection or deportation from immigration authorities.

Politics and Government

Hardly any information exists about Brazilian American participation in the U.S. voting process. However, Brazilian Americans are actively involved with politics in Brazil. First-generation immigrants, Brazilian Americans who remain close to family members still living in Brazil, and business people with ties to Brazil, are especially interested in the political situation in the homeland.


During the 1989 Brazilian presidential election— the first direct presidential election since 1964— many Brazilian Americans became involved in the election process. Brazilian Americans who were still eligible to vote through the Brazilian consulate organized themselves in support of each of the candidates. Fernando Collor de Mello, who won the election and was later impeached, was supported most heavily by business people and wealthier Brazilian Americans. Collor de Mello ran against Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva, a trade union leader and Labor party candidate who received support from many middle-class Brazilian American merchants and newer immigrants.

Despite the fact that many Brazilian Americans were very interested and involved in the presidential campaign, relatively few of the eligible immigrants voted through the Brazilian consulate; the consulate apparently did not advertise the necessity of registering in June for the November election. Illegal Brazilian immigrants to the United States, who were eligible to vote in their elections at home, generally did not do so because they feared being reported to immigration authorities. Of the Brazilian Americans who did cast ballots, da Silva won the majority.

Two years after Collor de Mello's impeachment, former government minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso won the 1994 presidential election against "Lula" da Silva, the favored candidate. Cardoso's financial policies have improved the Brazilian economy considerably.

Individual and Group Contributions

Several Brazilian Americans have made significant contributions to American culture. Brazilian American journalist Jota Alves founded the New York monthly newspaper The Brazilians and also started the tradition of the New York City Brazilian Independence Day Parade and Street Fair in 1985. Jazz musician Airto Moreira and jazz singers Astrud Gilberto, Flora Purim, and Tania Maria are well known among Brazilian Americans and jazz enthusiasts. In addition, numerous Brazilian American professors and students have contributed to American colleges and universities. Anthropologist Roberto DaMatta teaches at the University of Notre Dame. He has written many books about Brazilian culture and society.




A scholarly journal of Brazilian literature with text in English and Portuguese.

Contact: Nelson H. Vieira or Regina Zilberman, Editors.

Address: Brown University, Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Box O, Providence, Rhode Island 02912.

Telephone: (401) 863-3042.

Fax: (401) 863-7261.

Brazil Watch.

Biweekly newsletter that focuses on political, economic, and business events in Brazil.

Contact: Richard W. Foster, Editor.

Address: Orbis Publications, Inc., 1924 47th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20007.

Telephone: (202) 625-2702.

Brazilian Monthly.

Published in both Portuguese and English, this magazine covers cultural issues in Brazil and in Brazilian American communities and provides information on news, politics, and sports.

Contact: Flavia Smith or Heloisa Souza, Editors.

Address: P.O. Box 93, Brookline, Massachusetts.

Telephone: (617) 566-3651.

The Brazilians.

Monthly magazine published in both Portuguese and English. It seeks to promote Brazilian culture and includes business information, news, and articles on Brazilian music, art, and traditions.

Contact: Eddie Mendes, Editor.

Address: 15 West 46th Street, New York, New York 10036.

Telephone: (212) 382-1630.

Capital to Capital.

Weekly newspaper published in Portuguese, English, and Spanish. Its primary goal is to provide information about the Brazilian American community, but it also includes news, religion, and sports coverage. It is available by subscription or on newsstands in a few areas, including Washington, D.C.

Contact: Dario Santos, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 9861, Washington, D.C. 20016.

Telephone: (202) 723-5854.

The Florida Review.

Biweekly newspaper published in Portuguese (with a small section in Spanish). Designed to meet the needs of both Brazilian Americans and Brazilians visiting the United States, it provides world and community news, cultural information from Brazil, and other services, and is distributed throughout the United States and in major Brazilian cities.

Contact: Marcos Ommati, Editor.

Address: 801 Bayshore Drive, Box 19, Miami, Florida 33131.

Telephone: (305) 374-5235.

Luzo—Brazilian Review.

Devoted to the culture of the Portuguese speaking world. Text in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Address: University of Wisconsin Press, Journal Division, 114 North Murray Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53715.

Telephone: (608) 262-4952.

Fax: (608) 262-7560.

News From Brazil.

Monthly magazine that covers current events and culture in Brazil, including movies, books, music, politics, ecology, and the economy. It is published in English—with a short story every month in Portuguese—and is distributed through subscriptions and on newsstands in the Los Angeles area.

Contact: Rodney Mallo, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 42536, Los Angeles, California 90050.

Telephone: (213) 255-4953.


KLBS-AM (1330).

A Portuguese-language station with daily broadcasts from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Programming includes news, community information, Brazilian music, and interviews.

Contact: Carolina Cota.

Address: 401 Pacheco Boulevard, Los Banos, California 93635.

Telephone: (209) 826-0578.

Fax: (209) 826-1906.


KSTN-FM (107.3).

Features two hours of Brazilian-centered news, commentary, and music, Monday through Friday. On Sundays, the station broadcasts a Catholic mass in Portuguese.

Contact: Knox Larue, Manager.

Address: 2171 Ralph Avenue, Stockton, California 95206.

Telephone: (209) 948-5786.

WRYM-AM (840).

Broadcasts a two and one-half hour program each week in Portuguese, featuring music and community and world news.

Contact: Albino Baptista.

Address: 1056 Willard Avenue, Newington, Connecticut 06111-3540.

Telephone: (860) 666-5646.

Fax: (860) 666-5647.


One Spanish-language channel in New York City broadcasts a weekly two-hour program in Portuguese for the Brazilian American community, featuring a popular situation comedy, sports highlights, and news. In addition, several of the world famous Brazilian "soap operas," called novellas, are shown on Spanish-language stations around the country.

Satellite technology allows some educational institutions to tune into SCOLA, which carries some programs from Brazil.

Organizations and Associations

Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce.

This organization, which was founded in 1968, has over 300 members, many of which are corporate. The Chamber of Commerce promotes the interests of business in Brazil and in the United States. It publishes a newsletter and the Brazilian American Business Review Directory.

Contact: Tony Sayegh, President.

Address: 509 Madison Avenue, Suite 304, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (212) 751-4691.

Fax: (212) 751-7692.


Brazilian American Cultural Center (BCC).

The mission of the Cultural Center is to promote the culture and art of Brazil and Brazilian America. It also sponsors programs and exhibits about Brazilian history, art, and music and publishes The Brazilians.

Address: 20 West 46th Street, New York, New York 10036.

Telephone: (212) 730-0515.

Museums and Research Centers

Brazilian-American Cultural Institute (BACI).

Founded in 1964, this institute focuses on the promotion of Brazilian culture and art in the United States. It has 1,000 members and sponsors films, shows, exhibits, and Portuguese-language courses, all of which are open to the public. The institute also has an art gallery, a concert hall, and an extensive library. The library holds some 6,000 books relating to Brazil—many written in Portuguese by Brazilian authors—and more than 3,000 recordings of Brazilian music.

Contact: Dr. José Neistein, Executive Director.

Address: 4103 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008.

Telephone: (202) 362-8334.

Fax: (202) 362-8337.


Sources for Additional Study

Crowley, David J. African Myth and Black Reality in Bahian Carnaval. Museum of Cultural History, UCLA, Monograph Series No. 25, n.d.

DaMatta, Roberto. Carnavals, Rogues, and Heroes: An Interpretation of the Brazilian Dilemma, translated by John Drury. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.

Family, Household, and Gender Relations in Latin America, edited by Elizabeth Jelin. London, England: Kegan Paul International Ltd., 1991.

Harris, Jessica B. "Brazil: A Cornucopia of Culture," Black Enterprise, August 1987, p. 84.

Hess, David J. Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism, and Brazilian Culture. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991.

Hewitt, W. E. Base Christian Communities and Social Change in Brazil. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Kessner, Thomas, and Betty Boyd Caroli. Today's Immigrants, Their Stories: A Look at the Newest Americans. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Margolis, Maxine L. Little Brazil: An Ethnography of Brazilian Immigrants in New York City. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs. Background Notes on Brazil. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, October 1990.

User Contributions:

Newsong Hawk
I just have to congratulate you for such an interesting project. It's out of this world. I would like to know if it's easy - and of your interest - to have all the text read and recorded by native speakers of English so that this could used as a rich source of teaching material.

For example, the overview and all the rest could be turned available in mp3 format. Besides having the written material, the same stuff in sound format would give the learners of American English another pretty good source of info.

Once more, congratulations! Bye
Awsome article. My girlfriend, future wife, is from Brazil. This article has really helped me to understand a little bit more about her general background. Trying to get information such as what this article provides is little difficult.
I am from California, a native, and my out look is very different from many other people. Now I understand a little better our differences. Now if I could only get her to read it.
Thanks again
jiminy christmas
i like it a lot, very interesting

ugh i think that the coolest part is that im from brazil so i can relate and say that this article is right on
Lachele Marie B.
Loved it! Extremely educational! The best Brazilian web-site I have came across yet.
Anísio AdÃ¥lio jÃÂșnior
Really great work. Congratulations. I'm from Brasil and it is good to know that a little bit of my culture is being spread around the world. Of Course Brasil has too much more to offer for its visitors, but your project is really helping many peopple to understand a liitle of us. Congratulations once again, and don't forget to visit our beautifull and awesome country guys.
I'm delited to find this text about Brazilian Americans. So informative.
Great job!
Well done! Without generalizations the author was able to convey a fairly true picture of Brazilians in the US and our ties to Brazil. Congratulations!
This is a great website based on true facts! I really recomend it to anyone interested in the subject!
Thank you, great piece on Brazilians in N. America. For a short article it is comprehensive and Margolis' book is outstanding.
I stumbled upon this website upon doing some searching on Brazilian immigrants in the United States. I was born in Rio de Janeiro and moved to the US with my family when I was very young... I haven't been back to Brazil since, so I feel distanced from Brazilian culture, which I treasure very much. This article was very informative and made me nostalgic!
Very good article, however, one should update on the current Brazilian leader, president Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva? He has done marvelous things for Brazil during his presidential terms. He should be recognized.
Its very nice stuff.You done a great job.I appreciate you...

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This is a good site i got an A+.Therefore thanks to whoever nade this website
Brazilians are really good at cooking red meat. Why is it that Red meat seems to be a speciality? What is the most popular dishes in brazil that has red meat in it?
LaV Zegeye
A very informative article on Brazilina- Americans. I am a post graduate student in art and culture.I have a strong interest in Brazilian culture/ music, literature, art and Brizilian people. In my search for information on learning Portuguese I could not locate a university program or course in Denver where I am attending school so as a immediate result I am focusing on looking for a Portuguese tutor. I came upon this article in my search and I thouroughly enjoyed it. Thank you
Vivi Dorfman
As a Brazilian American, I really appreciated finding this article about Brazil's culture, History and Immigration to America. Very well written and clarifies many misconceptions the general population in USA and in the world have about Brazilians and it's culture and History. I really enjoyed and I will share with family and friends. Thank you e muito obrigada!
Liz Kallenberg
I am a school librarian and like your site. I teach students about website credibility, could you please email who/or what organization is responsible for creating this website.
Thank you
very good article, thank you. I need to know what Brazilians immigrants preferred immigrate to US? what are they connection with the environment of their own country that they like in the US context? thank you
Thank you! You made a very good article about Brazilians Americans. This article help me a lot with my Portuguese project about the Brazilian culture in the United State. I was like a hour searching before I found this. I really thank you...
Gladis Borges
I am a Brazilian American w/27 years living in the United States and I enjoy the article very much specially the part that talks about the common stereotypes that Americans and other cultures make about Brazilians because they didn't know the culture well. I love the section about religion because very few people know that is a religion in Brazil that follows the teachings of Allan Kardec a French philosopher. My grandmother follows Spiritism and also my sister in low and many of my friends back home. I enjoy the article because went into details and explain everything very well what demonstrate the command of the Brazilian Culture in general. Obrigada!
boa noite means good night. But the other information was helpful

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