South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 15, 2004

Brazilian boom

By Sandra Hernandez
Staff Writer

When Angela Bretas' friend in Brazil announced she was coming to Boca Raton to visit, Bretas worried that her friend might have a tough time getting around an area where Portuguese is seldom heard.

"She didn't speak any English, but she was able to get around fine, whether it be at the shops in Pompano Beach or here in Boca," said Bretas, who moved from southern Brazil to the United States 14 years ago. "These days, you can go a whole week without speaking English."

For Bretas, her friend's recent visit highlighted how South Florida's Brazilian community is quietly growing.

While the exact number of Brazilians living in South Florida is unknown, that country's consulate in Miami estimates about 200,000 live in the tri-county area. That
figure is far greater than the 31,320 estimated in the 2000 U.S. census. Many of the more recent arrivals are thought to be undocumented immigrants.

That growth has brought with it a plethora of cafes, supermarkets and stores that serve the growing community. Here, discussions about Carnaval, which is Brazil's
version of Mardi Gras, along with conversations about politics and or life in the United States can be overheard at cafes such as Brazil Depot in Deerfield Beach.

Two men sit at adjoining tables in the café, discussing which samba school is likely to be crowned winner of this year's Carnaval in Rio De Janeiro. Rio's festivities
are among the most famous in the country and are often televised over Brazilian television stations in the United States.

"Uniao da Ilha do Governador," said Carlos Salles, invoking the name of his favorite school.

"No, the best is Baino Madurena," responded the man at a nearby table.

The two Brazilian natives fervently spar over the qualities of their favorite Carnaval teams.

"Brazilians love their samba schools like Americans love their football teams," Salles said.

Carnaval usually lasts four days. This year it will begin on Saturday and end on Feb. 24.

For Salles, who moved from his hometown of Rio de Janeiro to Fort Lauderdale nearly a decade ago, Carnaval is still a date that brings together a community often
described as dispersed.

A music promoter, Salles spends a few months a year putting together a smaller, tamer version of Carnaval in the Miami area. Various nightclubs and hotels around
South Florida present evening celebrations marking the date.

"We try and organize a dance with music and costumes and food, but it's different here than in Brazil where Carnaval is just huge. It is part of the way people live
[there] -- it takes over everything," he said.

Bretas is one of those who attend.

"I love Carnaval," she said. "I go always go because it is a place where you will see other Brazilians and you can remember home."

Eder Costa agreed, saying that while the parties aren't as grand a celebration as those back home, they invoke the same feelings.

"It makes me feel like I have a little piece of Brazil here," said Costa, who moved three years ago from Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil to Pompano Beach.

For others, however, their new life in the United States leaves little time for such celebrations.

"I don't really celebrate Carnaval here because it just feels different," said Marcelo Estebaniz, who moved from Rio to Pompano Beach in 1999. "Here, most people
I know work and you don't have the time to do it like they do in Brazil."

His words resonate for Rosemary Aramal, who runs a language school in Boca Raton.

Aramal said many of her students spend their days working and learning English.

"Most of my students are pretty new to the country. The women work as maids and the men in construction until they can earn enough to open a small store," she

Moreover, she thinks there is little contact between the community of newer immigrants, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, and those who have roots

"We are a very dispersed community," Aramal said. "We aren't as tightly knit as the Cuban community. I think many Brazilians are trying to immerse themselves in
the culture of the United States."

Most Brazilians agree there is little cohesion.

Still, some groups are emerging. Among them is Total Help, a Pompano Beach-based nonprofit organization that offers referrals and legal advice.

Another issue is maintaining the language, said Bretas, who works for Brazilian publications. She recently launched a petition drive aimed at getting a Boca Raton
library to carry books in Portuguese.

"Some people think I am crazy and say `Why do you need this?" But we need to do it just like the Hispanic community. Especially since we have a lot of Brazilians
living here. It is part of organizing,' she said.

But for some Brazilians, talk of difficulties fades into the background and the focus is on their new life in Florida.

"The truth is America is a melting pot," said Robert Welin, who was born in Brazil, lived in Sweden, and now resides in Hollywood. "That [melting pot] makes me
feel at home because while I'm Brazilian I've also lived in other places too. ... I stay in touch with family in Brazil, but this is home."

Sandra Hernandez can be reached at or 954-385-7923,

Our Community's Many Faces periodically spotlights one of the dozens of nationalities conducting South Florida celebrations of cultural and historic milestones.

Copyright © 2004