By Lindenberg Junior |Translation: Christine Di Stefano
The extraordinary climate, abundant sun, beautiful beaches, numerous lakes and parks, and surrounding greenery began to attract Brazilians to San Diego towards the end of the 1980s. The economy in Brazil was weak at the time while the United States economy was booming. It was clear that there were plentiful opportunities to be had, and for many middle class Brazilians, the dream of going to California became a reality.
Katia “Baiana” and her husband Beto, who was born in Maceio (Capital of Alagoas), arrived in San Diego in October of 1989. “When we arrived here there was nothing in terms of Brazilian cultural events, not even a Brazilian restaurant to ease our homesickness. At the time, the Cuban restaurant Andres Patio, on Morena Blvd., had the closest thing to Brazilian food we could find, offering on their menu a delicious plate of black beans with rice, fried plantains, and a well prepared steak or chicken”.
Because of this lack of Brazilian culture, Katia began a tradition in 1989. “I always loved being a hostess and adored cooking, I put together practicality with pleasure and began hosting a Brazilian annual night called “Caruru de Cosme e Damiao”, where Brazilians could come together and socialize. We would also celebrate the day of the blessed twins (Cosme & Damiao) on September 27th, which is an important religious tradition in the Northeast of Brazil”. Katia also notes “Steve Spencer, an African American in love with Brazilian culture, was one of the great pioneers in spreading Brazilian culture in San Diego. Together we organized my first job as a promoter in 1990, the Lambada Festival. The main attraction was the Brazilian group Kaoma – a group with much international popularity at this time. It was a huge success and opened the doors for our culture in this city”.
Cristina Portela was born in Rio de Janeiro, but as the daughter of a Brazilian diplomat, she spent a large part of her childhood growing up in New York, and arrived in San Diego in January of 1990. In her very first week in the city, she attended the above mentioned lambada festival that Katia was promoting. “The same week I arrived, Steve organized a festival at the Portuguese Hall and I ended up winning the lambada contest that night. Together with my dance partner we won that contest as well as various other contests that year”.
The American born Steve “Baiano” (nicknamed for his love of Bahia) continued promoting Brazilian culture through music and began hosting a Brazilian night every Sunday at Café Sevilha, located in downtown San Diego. For many of the Brazilians currently residing in San Diego who were around during that time, it was considered to be the best Brazilian dance night in the city until today. Christina Portela herself, along with her partner John Stall, began to give dance lessons at the Brazilian nights held at Café Sevilha. Ruben Moreno, a Brazilian from Pernambuco, became “DJ Rubinho”, the singer Josias dos Santos lead a live band, and Steve “Baiano” became the promoter for these nights. Christina adds that “For a large part of the 90s, the Sundays at Café Sevilha really shook up the city nightlife. The line to get in would double around the block towards Café Basam”.
Among the first samba groups in the city were the groups Sambrasil and the group Supersonics, as well as the group Sol & Mar – which featured the first Brazilian sambista in the city, “Maria Sambista”. The world cup of 1994 also helped to promote awareness of Brazilian culture in San Diego. With the national team’s plays by Bebeto and Romario, and the consequential winning of the World Cup in the US, the rhythms of Brazil became even more popular in the city.
“I remember a huge open air party that happened at Ski Beach after one of Brazil’s wins. It was moving to see the crowd of around 2000 people, Brazilians and Americans, celebrating that victory”, Rubinho Moreno told us. In 1996, Katia “Baiana” together with a Japanese friend produced a Brazilian party at the Hotel Catamaran that was a tremendous success. Along with the good live music of Luiza Marques and Tropical Band, there was an authentic “feijoada” dinner and a Brazilian bikini fashion show with the support of Ana Brazil.
Ana, a native of Natal (Capital of Rio Grande do Norte State), lived for a few years in Rio de Janeiro, where she had her own swimwear store before arriving in San Diego in 1989. According to Ana, “the event at the Catamaran was a knockout! I already had my store Ana Brazil Bikini (created in 1990 and currently on Garnet St. in Pacific Beach) at that time and had many opportunities to participate in Brazilian cultural events in the 90s and early 2000s”. The event at the Catamaran however, was particularly hyped. The parade of girls in Brazilian bikinis together with the beat of samba, the energy of the crowd, and the feijoada meal were featured in various local newspapers. Brazil was in style.
More or less by this time, the “street scene” was considered by many San Diego residents as the best outdoor street party in the history of the city, and through the efforts of Steve “Baiano” Spencer and Christina Portela, along with the help of event’s producer Rob Hagey, this scene opened the doors for Brazil. This partnership of fourteen years generated quite a bit of exposure in local media, in part because of the famous parade where Brazilian culture was the flagship. The fruits of labor of this partnership were the production of numerous shows of great Brazilian musicians such as Olodum, Daniela Mercury, Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben, Marisa Monte, and so many others.
During this decade, there was also a notable increase in Brazilian business owners. “Jaro” began the community publication “Brazilian Pacific Times” and his wife Margo created “Margo Tours”; Mindinho began his trajectory with the group Capoeira Brasil in San Diego and Paulo Batuta did the same with the group Capoeira Mandinga; many Brazilian professionals began to appear in various areas. There were yoga teachers, real estate brokers, insurance offices, manicurist, hair stylist, etc. Various Brazilian Evangelical churches sprang up to provide moral and spiritual support, especially for those new to the country.
In 2000 the Brazilian-Korean family “Gi” successfully opened the churrascaria “Rei do Gado” in the French Quarter of downtown San Diego, and the restaurant became a Brazilian staple in the city, something gringos would call “All You Can Eat Brazilian BBQ”. Also in the mid 2000s, Brazil was well represented by the Portuguese restaurant “Portugalia” and it’s “Brazilian Nights” in Ocean Beach, which continued until the restaurant closed in 2011.
In 2003 the “Brasil By the Bay” restaurant was founded by Brazilian Helena and her American spouse Shannon featuring an ambience that was simple but cozy, as well as serving some great “boteco style” Brazilian bar food in a location just behind the Sports Arena. The “pagode” and “forro” nights on Fridays became great meeting points for people.
In 2006, a Peruvian named Fredy Palma opened the small “Latin Chef” offering the best of Peruvian but also offering Brazilian food in the menu thanks to her first chef, the Brazilian Paula Almeida. Offering home style food and affordable prices, years later the restaurant double in size and most recently started playing live Brazilian music during the weekends. Some years later the “Brazil By the Bay Market” was opened by “Amadeu” as an annex to the restaurant.
In 2007, Fernanda Silveira opened her “Açaí Brazilian Market” on Garnet St., though it would later be moved to Cass St., both locations in Pacific Beach. With a new concept and a new name, Fernanda opened the “Açaí Power Café”. The friendly Paulista (born in Sao Paulo state) brought to “PB” a luncheonette where the star menu item was the original version of the famous Açaí in a bowl served in Rio de Janeiro. Other restaurants and luncheonettes began to spring up after 2010, like the Café and Deli “Villa Brazil” in Mission Center and the Central SD Café (better known “Brasileiro”), on Third St. in downtown. The Central SD Café inclusive became a mandatory stop for many Brazilian that studying English as a Second Language in two different schools in downtown SD.
Rubinho Moreno that organized the first version of the San Diego Brazilian Day at the former Café Sevilha in 2004, in 2008, together with the capoeira Mestre Paulo Batuta, moved the original idea for Brazilian Day to the streets of Pacfic Beach. Paulo Batuta, who was born in the Brazilian state of Parana, arrived in San Diego in 1996 and began heading the production of the festival in 2010. Thus began one of the biggest street festivals in San Diego, and even today, the biggest Brazilian event on the west coast.
For many Brazilians, starting in 2000, the longing and nostalgia for Brazil diminished due to being able to easily find Brazilian food, buy Brazilian products, deal with more Portuguese speaking professionals, and of course, with the fast pace of technological innovation, various new ways to stay in touch with friends and relatives in Brazil. Brazilian TV networks such as “Record” and “Globo” became available, and of course, social media made a huge impact.
Gracy Ferregutti, who is from the Espirito Santo state, arrived in SD in 1996 and reminisced “I remember talking on the telephone in the 90s cost an absurd amount of money per minute. Today you can talk for free using Skype or communicate almost instantly using social medias”. Gracy, also known as Professora “Marrom” (her Capoeira nickname) lived for several years in NY before arriving in SD. In New York she was enrolled in beauty school to become a hair stylist and have participated in various dance programs with focus in learning and later, to teach. In San Diego, the multi-talented Gracy was a pioneer in Brazilian hairdressing, and introduced the Keratin straightening treatment to the city. More recently, in September of 2010, Gracy opened a modern salon called “Gracy Elements SPA”.
Brazilians continue to arrive in San Diego, especially because of the aforementioned natural beauty of the city. In the last few years many of the Brazilians arriving have been students who choose to study in the US. The University of California, San Diego (UCSD), for example, is the University with the largest number of Brazilian students (undergraduates, graduates, and exchange students) on the west coast. Many English schools also receive a large number of Brazilian students annually. In the summer months from June through September, you can hear Portuguese being spoken by many of the young people on the beaches at Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, and Wind Sea in La Jolla.
Here in this article only a few names are cited of Brazilians and “gringos” who are fans of Brazilian culture, and who helped spread our culture in the city of San Diego. Among so many others who have had a big part in the dissemination of Brazilian culture in this beautiful California city, there are Ruy Diniz, Humberto Branco, Marcelo Pereira, Adley Soares, Carmen Catalanis, Mazinho Marques, Marcos “Car Mania”, etc. With a passion for Brazil in their hearts, all of these Brazilians (and American “Brazucas”), have in one way or another, helped to proliferate the culture of the land of Bossa Nova throughout the city of San Diego.
* The Gracy International Hair Design is a reference in everything related hair and manicure with a Brazilian touch – www.gracyhair.com / (619)275-2119
* Coastal Sage, the school of Botanical & Cultural studies offer Portuguese lessons in a cool environment – 3685 Voltaire St., San Diego / (619)223-5229
* The Latin Chef is owned by a Peruvian with a Brazilian heart and presents the Brazilian and Peruvian cuisine with a homemade style food in the heart of ‘PB” – 1142 Garnet Ave, Pacific Beach, CA 92109 / (858)270-8810.
* Brazil by the Bay is what we can call, “o cantinho brasileiro”. This traditional Brazilian spot is known among Brazilian culture lovers in special for its “boteco” style and affordable Brazilian delights, the Brazilian soccer games in its two plasma TV’s and the live Brazilian music on weekends – (619)692-1410.