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Brazilians make their mark

2014-06-12 08:28

Cape Town - As all eyes turn to Brazil for the World Cup, Brazilians in the US are also gaining notice. According to the US Census, more than 325 000 people of Brazilian ancestry now call the United States home, but experts put the numbers higher. Most have come since the late 1980s, first landing in the nation's traditional Portuguese-speaking enclaves around Boston and more recently congregating in central and South Florida. Still others have settled in New York, California and New Jersey. Here are snapshots of the growing Brazilian influence in Florida and beyond.


It's 7am, and Pompano Beach contractor Daniel Pereira waits in the frigid Miami International Airport for a friend flying in from Sao Paulo to scope out Florida properties for possible purchase.

In good times and bad, Brazilians have flocked to Florida over the last decade. Even with their country's recent economic slowdown - or some say because of it - Brazilians are buying most properties in cash, often by the beach or in Kissimmee, an eastern suburb of Orlando, according to the Florida Realtors association. Last year, they tied Venezuelans for international real estate sales in Florida, behind only Canadians.

Pereira loves playing host. Last week, it was a group of Brazilian civil engineering students learning about US construction techniques.

It reminds Pereira how much has changed since the early 1980s, when he left his widowed mother and 10 siblings in the southern Brazilian state of Minas de Gerais, flying to Canada and crossing the US border on foot. He worked as a dishwasher in Massachusetts but sought warmer climates, eventually opening a floor and tiling business in Broward County. These days, so many Brazilians live in Pompano that the local churches advertise in Portuguese, and the neighbourhood Brazilian buffet carries five different free Portuguese papers.

Pereira says his friends worry about increasing crime and that Brazil's real estate bubble will burst following the World Cup and 2016 Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro.

"A lot of people come, always asking us for help," Pereira says. "I feel glad I can."


Carmen Gusmao strides past the crystal chandeliers embellished with faux bluebirds and the gilded, antique chairs painted with delicate trees. She stops in front of a large abstract painting, emblazoned with Latin phrases and rainforest animals.

"It doesn't matter the medium. I don't stop creating except to sleep," she says, gesturing around her studio in Miami's Wynwood Arts District, where she does both.

Gusmao moved to the US 13 years ago, part of a wave of Brazilian artists and designers helping revamp the former Wynwood warehouse district into a thriving arts scene and driving the region's upscale home furnishing industry with brands like Orinare and Artefacto.

Gusmao straddles both worlds with her furniture, jewelry and paintings. Her views these days of the downtown skyline are a far cry from those of the Amazonian ranch where she spent much of her childhood, but Gusmao reaches back to that history for inspiration.

"Art, like life, gives new energy to old things," she says.


"There is never a typical day," says Alexandre Hohagen. The Sao Paulo native and Facebook vice president is responsible for expanding the social media giant's Latin American and US Hispanic footprints. Travel regularly takes him across the globe. Last week: Turkey and Japan. But this week, he plans to be home in Miami, watching the World Cup from afar - on a long-promised date with his two youngest daughters.

Hohagen credits his rise at Google and later at Facebook to his abilities to manage people and spot future trends, but also to his native country, whose tech prowess dominates Latin America.

"For most companies in my industry, 60 percent to 70 percent of their Latin American businesses' advertising market is there (in Brazil)," he says.

Brazil is among the top 10 US trade partners, and Florida's No 1 merchandise export market, especially for electronic appliances and airplane parts - exchanging $20bn annually in trade with the Sunshine State, according to Florida trade data.


Most Americans might not know his name, but they'd recognize Romero Britto's bright, bulging sculptures and cartoon-like portraits, landscapes and winged hearts. The Brazilian neo-pop artist and businessman moved to the US in 1988 and got his first crack at fame a year later when Absolut Vodka commissioned him to design one of its labels.

Since then, Britto's work has been used to promote everything from Disney and the World Cup - including a series of paintings for this year's tournament - to postage stamps and children's health care. His office walls are covered with photos of Britto with Pope Francis and the last three US presidents. There's also a thank-you note from Queen Elizabeth for a portrait produced for her Diamond Jubilee.

"It's the spirit of celebration, living life. I think that's what people see in my work," he says.

His latest: a World Cup-inspired Barbie.

The collaboration he's most excited about: a project with Harvard international negotiations Professor Daniel Shapiro to create a series of paintings based on students' concepts of crisis and negotiations.


"It was the first time I ever laugh-cried," Renata Teodoro, 22, says of her December trip to Brazil. The visit was her first since she left Brazil at age 6. It also marked the first time she'd seen her mother since the two held hands last summer through a fence at the US-Mexico border.

When Teodoro was 17, immigration officials knocked on the door of the family's Boston home and subsequently deported her older brother. The family had been living in the country illegally, and Teodoro's mother and younger sister quickly returned to Brazil to avoid deportation. Teodoro, then a senior in high school, opted to stay to finish school. Alone and terrified, she began to attend immigrant advocacy meetings, sitting in the back and hiding behind her thick brown hair until an organizer finally noticed Teodoro and asked her to help out.

Soon, the teen was lobbying politicians in Washington and pushing for in-state tuition for youth living in Massachusetts illegally. Today, she chips away at her undergraduate degree at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, one class at a time.

"I didn't understand anything about how the system really worked," she says of her early days of activism. Now she has a better sense. "It's really difficult, and it's really overwhelming, but it's extremely important, and it needs to be done."

Read more on: brazil swc 2014 soccer

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