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Brazilians on Martha’s Vineyard - 2003-06-23

English Feature #7-37572 Broadcast June 23, 2003

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Hispanics are now officially the nation’s largest minority. The term “Hispanics” encompasses people of many different cultures who came to the United States from the countries of Central and South America. Among them are about half a million immigrants from Brazil. Today on New American Voices, we’ll visit an island in the northeastern state of Massachusetts where a large and growing Brazilian community has taken root.

Martha’s Vineyard is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, about 11 kilometers off the coast of Massachusetts. During the summer months —-starting about now -- this quiet island, with its sandy beaches, clapboard houses, seagulls and New England ambience, becomes a booming tourist mecca. Many Brazilian immigrants, who originally went to Martha’s Vineyard to work in its many tourist hotels, restaurants and shops, have now made the island their year-round home.

“I love it. It’s quiet, safe, I make good money, everything is better here. I can leave my house and I don’t have to worry about people coming around my house or not. I can just do my job, relax, go back home and know everything will be okay. I love this place.”

Marcos Jacierto is the owner of the Island Star, a store selling Brazilian foods and goods on Martha’s Vineyard. A Brazilian flag hangs in one of the store windows. Mr. Jacierto speaks Portuguese to many of the customers who visit his shop to purchase the Brazilian pastries he sells fresh daily. Now forty-four years old, he has lived on the island for ten years. Before he left Brazil he’d been a physical education teacher, and he says he had difficulty at first adjusting to his new life.

“It was hard. Very hard, because my life changes 100%. I never expect to do that kind of job, a businessman here, to have a store. The first problem was the language, no English. Hard communication. Everything is different, live alone… Now I’m married, but I came single. I miss family, parents, the country, you know, Brazil. It was very hard. But now it’s okay.”

Mr. Jacierto is one of about two thousand Braziliam immigrants who were attracted to Martha’s Vineyard by the availability of summer jobs and liked the island enough to brave the cold winters and stay year-round. Now he owns a house, and he and his wife are planning to start a family soon. In fact, Mr. Jacierto says that he is “almost there.”

“If you have a dream, it just depends if you want to work, your dream can be realized. In the United States you can decide what you want to do for your future. You just go to school and decide what you want. That’s it. In Brazil, no, the chance is so little. In the United States you can decide by yourself, just do it by yourself.”

Another year-round resident of Martha’s Vineyard, Veani Pinto, came to the United States from Brazil four years ago. She lives with friends and works two jobs, one as a hostess in a restaurant and the other as a cook in a hotel. She plans to stay and work until she can afford to travel and see more of America.

“I want to have life here, too. I’ve been working so hard, you know. It’s my choice. But I really want to have fun here. I want to go to other states, I want to know, like, California, I want to know Hawaii, the best things you have here. But I have to make money first.”

Ms. Pinto, who is in her late twenties, says that she like Martha’s Vineyard because it’s quiet and pretty and the Brazilian community makes her feel at home. She has American friends, too, but she says not all Americans are welcoming.

“I love the American people, you know, but sometimes I feel, like, rejected. Because I know the United States has a lot of immigrants from different countries. I know they think we are taking their jobs. But we just want to work, that’s it. I don’t know, sometimes I feel like they don’t like us. But I like them.”

As to her Brazilian countrymen on the island, Ms Pinto believes that many of them are successful because they have adopted the American work ethic.

“They work so much here. We have Brazilians here for ten years, for twenty years on the Island, they like it so much. We have some Brazilians, they bought houses here, you know. It’s very expensive, one house here, and they bought a house here, and they have a good life here.”

Ms Pinto says that because they work so hard, Brazilians on Martha’s Vineyard have little time for socializing. But there are now four churches on the island that serve the Brazilian population, and these became focal points for family-oriented barbecues and singalongs.

Brazilians singing

We are grateful to intern Mark Cabana for the material on which this feature is based. Photos are courtesy of Thomas Driemeyer