Brazil on the Boulevard

Northeast Philadelphia is home to a fast-growing Brazilian community.

By Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 10 | Posted Aug. 30, 2006

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"That's you?" they'd exclaim. "The famous anchor! Working in construction!" Santos was well known in Brazil, having worked in radio, print and TV journalism before moving to Philadelphia. But his fame and accomplishments meant nothing here, and he drilled and hammered alongside other Brazilian immigrants for 11 months before joining the reporting staff of El Sol, which he now edits along with Brazilian News Week and 100% Brazil.

Santos' background is similar to those of many Brazilian immigrants in the Northeast. Though he was living in Goi�s before he came to Philadelphia, he was born on a farm in Minas Gerais. While almost everyone in the Northeast is from Minas Gerais and Goi�s--relatively poor states--Brazilians from more prosperous S�o Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have always flocked to other parts of the city, often to study at universities here.

Marcelo de Almeida, 55, first moved to the Logan section of Philadelphia in 1970 from Osasco, which is just outside S�o Paulo. De Almeida, who works as an English/Portuguese translator for two local immigration lawyers, and teaches English classes to Brazilian immigrants in his house, has noticed that in the last few years more and more immigrants are coming from the poorer states north of S�o Paulo.

"They're migrating to find work," he explains. "Instead of migrating to S�o Paulo and making reais, why don't you go to the U.S. and make dollars?"

While many of the immigrants in the Northeast arrived here poor and without a high school diploma, others, like Santos, were middle class in their home states, and educated too.

However, the disparities between the two countries' definitions of "middle class" can fuel a desire to immigrate.

Simone Salgado, 28, came here in 1999, initially because she had a friend here. Her sister and her parents soon followed.

She says her life in the state of Minas Gerais was comfortable, but she didn't have the freedom she has here.

"We were middle class. We had good things," she explains, "but we couldn't, like, go to a restaurant every week. We were considered middle class, but we couldn't compare to the middle class here."

Salgado started out as a waitress at a Portuguese restaurant, but is now one of the most recognizable figures in the Northeast. In addition to being the publisher of 100% Brazil, she helps run the Philadelphia and Riverside sections of AldeiaDigital.net, a website dedicated to Brazilians in the U.S. She also owns a Castor Avenue store called Made in Brazil, and six months ago she bought a Korean club a few blocks from Made in Brazil called "Ch" and transformed it into a Brazilian club called Copacabana, after the famous beach in Rio de Janeiro.

"It doesn't matter if I worked 12 hours a day in Brazil like I work here," she says, alluding to the difficulty of subverting the rigid class structure in Brazil.

Most of the Brazilian immigrants in the Northeast work in either construction or carpentry, or clean homes. The carpenters and construction workers make about $500 to $700 a week, while the housekeepers earn up to $1,000 a week.

"Even if you're a professional in Brazil, you don't make one-third of what you make here cleaning houses," says Menegati, who's from the town of Belo Horizonte, which translates as "beautiful horizon."


Most Brazilian immigrants can't achieve the kind of professional success in Philadelphia Santos, Salgado and Menegati have because they don't speak English.

"Even the college-educated ones don't speak English," says Ryan Impink, who recently moved Uncle Sam English School, which has been open for a year and serves mainly the Brazilian community, to a new second space on Castor Avenue just a few blocks north of Cottman.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon four students sit in a small room with the blinds closed while two whirring fans do little to combat the sweltering heat. Two Brazilian students sit on one side of the room, several desks away from the other two students, both Colombians.

The students seem self-conscious about speaking English, although they slug through the three-hour class in good cheer.

Impink is animated as he teaches. He mimes words and gestures energetically while speaking in slow, exaggerated English, emphasizing difficult vocabulary as he speaks. But he sometimes slips into Portuguese or Spanish when he sees the students are confused.

They're learning about superlative and comparative adjectives, when to use "more," "-er" and "most."

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 10 of 10
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1. james said... on Jun 8, 2008 at 03:32PM

“thats a very talented report! Wow, I lived here for 20 years and knew nothing!!”

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2. José said... on Nov 29, 2009 at 06:43PM

“The Brazilian population here in Philadelphia has been a positive. Whether it's their restaurants with their delicious food, or their beautiful women, they are one immigrant group that has many positive things to offer the region. Riverside's loss is our gain...”

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3. kiro said... on Dec 10, 2009 at 09:30AM

kiro2

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4. kiro said... on Dec 10, 2009 at 09:31AM

“This is cool”

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5. Pamlea said... on Aug 6, 2010 at 11:19AM

“Hi im an Au pair leaving in Wilmington delaware and im new to the area so i would like to learn a bit more about it....i've been looking for brazilian stores around here and i can't find any!
I whould like to know the address of at leat one brazilian store in philly where i could buy some brazilian suplies!!!
thanks pam”

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6. juliano said... on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:12AM

“hey pam, i don't have any address but i can teach you how to get there, i live in new castle delaware. and work in wilmington area. I don't know any stores in delaware but i know some in northeast philly. jcarvalho1983@yahoo.com if you wanna get in touch”

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7. LOOKING TWO GOOD LOOKING GIRLS FOR RESTAURANT said... on Nov 14, 2010 at 12:05AM

“-WE ARE LOOKING TWO NICE LOOKING GIRLS FOR BAR AND RESTAURANTS, PLEASE CALL 917-731-0897”

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8. Christine said... on Dec 15, 2010 at 02:35PM

“I am looking for hair sallon where have Brazilian people working. And also, I love to drink chimarrao, where I can find erva mate, please help me......If someone knows please inform....”

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9. Dom911jc said... on Mar 21, 2011 at 09:42AM

“Americano, engenheiro, com vínculos no brasil, procura mulher ajudante
para tomar conta da casa num povoado perto de Philaelphia.
e-mail detalhes”

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10. Dom911jc said... on Mar 21, 2011 at 09:48AM

“American, engineer, speaks Portuguese, with family in Brazil, seeks Brazilian woman to take ove household in suburban Philaelphia town.. Call 267-992-4818 for details or write Dom911jc@Yahoo.Com”

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