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A bazillion Brazilians

September 5, 2007

I’m excited to report that Massachusetts has one of the largest
Brazilian immigrant populations in the United States, second only to
Florida.  According to a recent study, approximately 300,000
Brazilians live in Massachusetts, my new home base.

I had the excellent fortune of meeting some of these Brazilians last
weekend with Leo, who has many friends and relatives in the
state.  We visited Lee, Pittsfield, and Framingham, all small,
rural towns with significant Brazilian immigrant populations.  In
Lee and Pittsfield, Brazilians are more or less hidden, with few
visible signs of their presence (e.g., Brazilian stores, restaurants,
etc.).  In Framingham, however, Brazilians actually dominate
the landscape.  In this quaint, New England town, nearly all of
the storefronts are in Portuguese and a majority of the passersby speak
it.  It’s fascinating!

I also had the good fortune of attending New York City’s annual
Brazilian Day on September 2nd.  I drove a fifteen-passenger van
full of Philadelphia-based Brazilians to the event, which was attended
by innumberable Brazilians from across the country.  Several
blocks of Sixth Avenue were closed to traffic for the event, which was
so packed by 4pm that police officers were no longer letting people
onto the blocked-off streets.  My Philly entourage and I were
stationed a block and a half from the main stage, where a number of
hugely popular Brazilian groups played music from noon until 7pm. 
We had a blast dancing, jumping, singing, and shouting amidst the
lively (and somewhat drunk) crowd. 

Interestingly, one of my regional planning professors assigned a
reading on the conflicts emerging across the country between native
Americans and the increasing immigrant populations in their towns and
cities.  I could see how people might feel threatened in a town
like Framingham, where the downtown is nearly completely
Brazilian.  I happen to love Brazilian language and culture, but
how would I feel if German or Chinese businesses suddenly occupied 70%
of State College, PA?  Knowing me, I would embrace the opportunity
to learn about another language and culture, but I could also fathom
being a little put off by my home town suddenly being a lot different
than I remember it as a kid.  Of course, if the alternative were a
bunch of abandoned, blighted buildings, I might rethink my
disappointment.

The United States is, and has always been, a changing place.  In
order to direct that change positively, we as Americans must embrace
new elements instead of rejecting them.  After all, if we want
immigrants, for example, to assimilate, the worst thing we can do is
isolate them.

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