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Brazilians On Martha's Vineyard, Part 2 - 2002-03-25

English Feature #7-35910 Broadcast February 11, 2002

Close to a half-million Brazilians have immigrated to the United States in recent years. Most choose to settle in the Northeastern states, where there are established Brazilian communities. This week on New American Voices, in the second of two features on Brazilians on Martha’s Vineyard, we travel to the small island off the coast of Massachusetts, and talk with two Brazilian pastors about the role their churches play in the growing Brazilian community there.

The small Assembly of God church in the town of Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard has whitewashed walls and stained glass windows. Worshippers fill the 15 pews and sit on folding chairs that have been placed along the sides and back of the church to accommodate the overflow. The congregation is composed almost entirely of Brazilian immigrants. The pastor, Jose de Santos, came to Martha’s Vineyard four years ago, but still speaks little English and talks about his impressions of America through an interpreter—his sixteen-year-old son.

“It’s a very blessed country, and the thing I like the most is that it’s a land of opportunities. So it’s a land of work, it’s a land of, like, everything you can imagine, it’s a really blessed country. It’s great.”

The church was established seven years ago, with a congregation of about 30. Pastor de Santos says that today his church numbers over 200 members and organizes many activities, including some intended to bring Brazilians and Americans together.

“We do all kinds of things like youth congresses, sister congresses… Every year we have this big Praising and Rehearsal 2001 or 2002. This really involves the whole, entire community, because it’s music. It’s, like, Christian music. So people like it. The Americans, too. And the Americans are going to help the Brazilians, and we’re going to blend and praise God together.”

Four churches now serve the Brazilian residents of the island. Daniel Hos, originally from Rio de Janeiro, has been pastor of the Christian Church Assembly of God for two years. Speaking through an interpreter - a member of his congregation - pastor Hos says most Brazilians on the island work from 10 to 15 hours a day, cooking in restaurant kitchens, cleaning hotel rooms or doing landscape work. Pastor Hos says that except on Sundays, they have little time for socializing.

“There isn’t really a sense of Brazilian community because they’re all working so much they don’t have time to get together. The only time they really get together is at church.”

This being the case, Pastor Hos’s goal is to raise enough money to build a community center alongside his church to serve as a social center for his congregation. He also hopes to initiate programs to assist newcomers in finding housing and employment, and to supply needy people with food. Pastor Hos says like many immigrant communities, Brazilians come to Martha’s Vineyard because they know people who have already settled there.

“Maybe one of them came, and they passed on the news that it’s really a great place, and easy money. And from word of mouth everyone just starts coming, one by one, from this little town in Brazil. Ninety-nine percent of the Brazilian community on the Vineyard are from this town, Mentanopolis in the state of Spiritos Santos.”

Assembly of God Church Pastor de Santos believes that the good pay during the tourist season is another important factor in drawing Brazilian immigrants to the island.

“I think it’s basically work. Because at a place in Boston where you get five dollars an hour, here you get a job where you get nine dollars for the same thing. Most of them just come here for the summer and then go back to Boston or Brazil. And some stay here because they are residents of Martha’s Vineyard.”

Pastor Hos estimates that the Brazilian community of Martha’s Vineyard numbers about fifteen thousand year-round, but swells to close to five thousand in the summer. He says he thinks the Brazilian population of the island will continue to grow.

“When they come to the Vineyard they are treated very well. Jobs are always available for the Brazilians. They’re treated well, they are paid well. And there is a good response among Brazilians and Americans.”

Our reports on the Brazilians of Martha’s Vineyard were prepared and written by intern Mark Cabana. Join us next week when we travel to the state of South Carolina to visit another community of immigrants from Latin America--this time, from Colombia.

Today's feature was prepared and written by intern Mark Cabana. Pictures courtesy of Thomas Driemeyer