Brazil on the Boulevard

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

By Joanna Zuckerman Bernstein
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Aug. 30, 2006

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To test their understanding, Impink asks one of the Brazilian students, a young, attractive woman who says she came to Philadelphia to be with her husband, "What's the most exciting city in your country?"

The word "exciting" perplexes her, and he's forced to elaborate. "Northeast Philadelphia is not 'exciting,'" he explains. "It is bo-ring."

Later, Impink is showing his students how to "make an adjective opposite" by adding a prefix. They learn "impolite," "unsafe," "inexpensive."

"What's the rule?" someone asks.

"No rule," Impink replies firmly. "You have to mem-or-ize."


Of the 60 mostly Brazilian students enrolled at Uncle Sam English School, Impink says he doesn't know how many are legal. He doesn't ask.

"One of the most common questions I'm asked is, 'Do you need my papers?'" he says.

Though he's fluent in Portuguese, Impink says students are still suspicious of him because he's American. When a prospective student calls the school and he asks for their phone number for record-keeping purposes, he's often met with a dial tone.

"They hear my American accent and say, 'You don't need to know that,' and hang up."

Even before the recent immigration events in Riverside, Brazilian immigrants in the Northeast were still recovering from the sting of crackdowns last fall when a number of illegal immigrants living in the town were deported.

"Six or seven months ago, oh my God, forget it. Everybody was in their house," Salgado recalls. "We lost a lot of business. Everybody was scared."

"For the last year I don't see a lot of people coming in [from Brazil] anymore," he adds.

John Vandenberg, an immigration lawyer who's worked with a number of Brazilian clients in the last five years, describes the typical dilemma for Brazilian immigrants who can't get a visa and decide to cross the Mexican border illegally.

"A particular problem they're facing is the smugglers that brought them," he says. To avoid long trips across the desert (which usually involve paying coyotes), he explains, smugglers tell them to cross the Rio Grande river, often to the town of Harlingen, Texas, where they receive a date for a court hearing.

Then it gets tricky. "They think, 'Okay, I'm free,' and they don't understand that from that point on, it's extremely difficult to adjust immigration status," Vandenberg says. "They're walking wounded from the very beginning."

They then get a court date for a hearing, which they generally ignore. "Many of them therefore already have orders of removal. So if they get caught here [in Philadelphia], they don't even go to a judge. They get sent to prison, and then back to Brazil as soon as possible."

Though a large percentage of the population is illegal, Santos and others say many are trying to get legal. "If you talk to 10 Brazilian people in Philadelphia," he says, "I can guarantee you six are in the process [of obtaining green cards]."

"The vast majority are really good, hardworking people who pay taxes and make a difference in Philadelphia," Vandenberg says, noting he's seen Brazilian immigrants come into his office with dried concrete on their hands.


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Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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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 09:31AM

“This is cool”

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4. 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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5. 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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