By Claudia Guedes
Six years ago I arrived in San Francisco with my little bag and a backpack full of copies of eighteenth century Brazilian documents to be examined during my post doc at UC Berkeley. With the “weight of my career” on my shoulders, my eyes were shining with the pleasure of seeing nature and city in the most harmonic coexistence. My first tour of the Bay Area was given by my advisor, who proudly showed me its many Portuguese influences. However, I also soon made another observation: the number of Brazilians I met when I arrived was more than I expected. It is not rare to hear Portuguese being spoken on every form of public transportation, in stores, and even when ordering a pizza. Nor is it difficult to find Brazilian products, a Brazilian restaurant, or Brazilian clothes when you need them. A piece of Brazil can be found in the Bay Area.
According to Brazil’s Consulate General in San Francisco, there are approximately 5,000 Brazilians living in the city, and, if one considers all the Bay Area plus San Jose, this number can go up to 15,000. In these days of economic crisis, the “American Dream” has become increasing difficult for most Brazilian immigrants to realize, however, they keep arriving and those with an entrepreneurial orientation will find his or her to way to success. If this doesn’t happen, at least some experience and money will obtained and brought back to the home country.
Successful and permanent projects have also made it possible for some Brazilian immigrants establish their lives around the Bay Area; for some, San Francisco is home. This is the case for several Brazilians who arrived here 20 years ago, who got married, got and/or created jobs, and established families.
Brazilian Entrepreneurship in San Francisco
Several examples of successful commercial entrepreneurs can be found; such as the owners of Brazilian restaurants like Canto do Brasil, Manga Rosa, Bossa Nova, Café do Brasil, Espetus, and even pizzerias done “Brazilian Style” like Cybeles in Daly City and Mozzarella di Buffula in San Francisco. Since last year, the city’s Brazuca’s trendy event is to stop at Sunstream Café on Geary Street. It is the “lanchonete” that every one of us knows: the small tiled place with fresh coffee, Brazilian appetizers (“coxinhas”, “risoles” and “empadas”) and cakes.
At 4:00 pm everyday it is crowded and it sounds deliciously like an afternoon work break in one of the corners of Ipanema beach in Rio. Besides eating and having moments of pleasure at one of the restaurants around the city, we can easily find Brazilian products and souvenirs at many small markets and stores such as the Touch of Brazil on Geary Street, Mercado do Brazil on Valencia Street, Brasil Express in Richmond, Brazil Marin in San Raphael, Paraiso Imports and Brazilian Depot in Daly City, among others. Usually at these locations, you can sit down and talk about life, send money home, and feel comfortable to say anything about Brazil or Brazilians. Once there you can try on some of the clothes, buy that cookie that you usually find only in Brazil, or that CD you heard about, all while getting updated on the latest news through any number of available free Brazilian publications.
Find the art of Brazil
The treasure of Brazil – the music, in any genre – is also a remarkable presence in San Francisco. From Bossa Nova to Heavy Metal to Rock’n Roll to Samba, Brazilian influenced music can be found. One such band, Bat Makumba, has received several music awards. They take traditional Brazilian rhythms like baião and samba-reggae and create new and unexpected forms. Others like Brazuca Brown perform MPB originals and covers. The musical sensation lately performing at the Elbo Room is a band called Nobody From Ipanema that performs Brazilian pop and funk dance favorites, featuring covers of MPB greats like Lenine, Gil, Caetano, and Jorge Ben.
But these are only three in a list of more than 20 bands (to learn more visit http://www.sfmpb.com). Brazilian music is also present in the music of Americans who are playing around the Bay including Simon Butler, Sandy Cressman, Stephanie Ozer and others. Brazil on the Radio can be found on 88.1 FM, 9:30pm on Wed.(Brasileirinho); 91.5 FM, 6:00pm on Sunday (Brasil Musical); 91.5 FM, 6:00pm on Sunday (Canta Brasil); 96.1 FM, 1:00pm on Sunday (Programa de Domingo); 103.7 FM on Sunday (The Sounds of Brazil) and 90.3 FM, 7:30 on Sunday (Só Dá Brasil)
San Francisco residents are not surprised anymore with our Carnaval or Capoeira presentations. Children of all ages and representatives of the most diverse ethnic groups are among those attending classes and events of Capoeira Abadá which shares its prestige with several other groups such as United Capoeira (in Berkeley, supervised from the legendary California Master Acordeon), Capoeira Mandinga (in Oakland), Capoeira Omulu and Capoeira USA (in SF) among many others. Through these groups capoeira is no longer an exotic dance played in the streets as an entertainment, but it is a social project in which culture is one more educational element. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is another special feature of our physical culture, one which has spread around the Bay Area through many instructors like the ones with last name Gracie.
Educational projects for Brazilians, known as spreading the “yellow and green” culture, are one of the most important initiatives in San Francisco. The Brazilian Consulate General presents the program “Contadores de História” (story tellers) created for Brazilian children. The intention is to provide an opportunity for these kids to be in contact with the Portuguese language, literature, music and folklore of Brazil. Brazilian books for children are read and entertainment provided. They meet once a month for 2 hours and have a lot of fun.
The Faith of Brazilians
The Evangelic Churches are everywhere in the Bay Area and they are an important spiritual/social influence, working to assist and support the community, especially the new comers. Catholic mass in Portuguese (Catholicism is the principal religion in Brazil) can be found in Concord every Saturday, 7:30pm at the Saint Francis of Assis church, in San Francisco every Sunday, 8:00pm at the Saint Thomas Church and in San Rafael every Sunday, 7:00pm at Mission San Rafael Archangel. The mysticism and spirituality represented by the Afro-Brazilian religion is the strongest aspect of Brazilian’s Candombles and Umbanda temples.
In the San Francisco Bay area it is presented by an American woman, Andrée Morgana, founder of the Hayehwatha (orixás) Institute. Morgana was born in Michigan and moved in 1949 to the San Francisco Bay Area. For 40 years she has devoted her life to spiritual development and to the experience and understanding of God, whom she believes is the originator of the universe. For 20 years Andrée was a full time teacher of transcendental meditation, and the last past eleven has been an initiate of the Orixá traditions. Sessions are held in Marin County every Sunday.
For anyone who feels distant from those places where spiritual relief is typically found (usually in each corner in Brazil), there are also many artifacts used religiously by Brazilians available in American stores. For instance, crystals such as amethyst, clear crystals, quartz and others can be easily found at Crystal Way at 2335 Market Street. It is an American store that provides a spiritual academy where one can learn the secrets of the soul. Readers are available for Tarot, Astrology charts, spiritual initiation, healing practices, books, and courses.
Writing this article I have learned more about Brazil and Brazilians than previously when I lived here. As an insider, it is very difficult to recognize how rich the cultural environment and educational and religious opportunities are here. To love Brazil is what Brazilians do best. Even though social life there is most of the time a struggle between safety and prosperity, hard work and miserable salaries, development and corruption, Brazil still is the nation of our hearts. What does it mean to “be Brazilian”?
We are a mix of things, among the most important is that there are no generalizations that could be made. We are human beings that carry many types of characteristics that identify us, most noticeably, our accents. Stereotypic traits such as flirtatiousness, hot party girls, happy and charming people and “not worth taking seriously”, are not among us. Those Brazilians who are educated and have the opportunity to live around other Brazilians have recognized that these assumptions are false. Brazilians are like everyone else, have good and bad qualities. Some arrive with flowers in their hair, others with books and hope. Some leave their heart in San Francisco, others never leave.
To be Brazilian in San Francisco is to learn how life can be easier when respect, dignity, and diversity are not just tolerated, but accepted. Acceptance that “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return” (Nature Boy, Nat King Cole).