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Brazilians Leaving Boston

Kara Oehler

Ann Heppermann

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Sal e Brasa Delivery Van
(Courtesy Sal e Brasa)
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The tough economy hits everyone in America in different ways. But a Pew Hispanic Center report shows that immigrant incomes are falling faster than others. For some, that's tipped the scale, and they're leaving. There is no reliable snapshot of how many immigrants are going home. But in the Boston area, Weekend America's Kara Oehler talked to one immigrant group that's shrinking fast.


Kara Oehler: The Boston area is spotted with Little Brazils. But they're getting littler every day.

Julie Gonzales: How you know that I'm going back to Brazil?

Oehler: That's 22-year old Julie Gonazales. And last week, she worked at a Brazilian-run Optical store. But this week, she's going back to Brazil. For good.

Gonzales: When I came I want to stay here for two years. But I just stay here nine months and I want to go, quick back to Brazil.

Oehler: Julie's ambitious. She graduated from college and came to the US with expectations of higher paychecks and maybe a little excitement. Julie says she would have stayed if it weren't for one thing.

Gonzales: Money is money, so if I'm making money here, why go back? The economy here is not good, the things is really expensive and in Brazil it's better now and so that's why, "Bye, United States!"

Oehler: Some estimate nearly 200,000 Brazilians live in Massachussetts. But for Julie and many others, the sacrifices made to be here aren't making as much sense these days.

Fautsto de Rocha: Hi everybody. This is Fausto de Rocha. Good morning. The theme of our show today is going back to Brazil.

Oehler: Fausto de Rocha sits in a cramped studio in the basement of a strip mall church in Quincy, Mass.

de Rocha: Are you returning to Brazil? Or are you going to stay?

Oehler: Fausto runs the Brazilian Immigrant Center, and hosts this show every week. Today's topic is tying up the phone lines.

Norton: Hey. Hi Fausto! This is Norton. Man. Many of my friends, they already left. And many of my friends they already left. One of them is Marcillo.

de Rocha: Marcillo?

Norton: Yeah. Marcillo. He already bought his ticket. He's counting the hours.

Oehler: Fausto estimates nearly 10,000 Brazilians are leaving Massachusetts this year. Brazil's economy has improved - but people are also scared to live here without a visa. Fausto says Brazilians endured oppressive military rule for 24 years, but in his opinion, what they're starting to face here is worse.

de Rocha: The immigration start arrest more and more people. And that make people start to have a nightmare. Because sometime you wake in the morning, have someone knock on your door and immigration, come and arrest everybody.

Oehler: Day to day life for undocumented immigrants involves a lot of risk. Take Louis. He's been here four years and delivers pizza. Just two weeks ago, a cop pulled him over. He got lucky, and the cop let him go. Working here, he can pay for his family to live in San Paolo in a house with a swimming pool. He says he has only has $3,000 dollars to go and he'll own the place. But last week, his wife called. They had a deal. Four years. That's it.

Louis: My wife ask, she says, "Hey Louis, I need you to be here Februario." You stay in America four years. Your children cry everyday, asking when you come back. I have no choice. I have to go.

Oehler: He doesn't want to. And he's worried.

Louis: I talk to God. I say, please help me. Because if I go to Brazil. I can't pay for everything. Because In Brazil, I older man. 44. Companies say, hey, you older man. You no have a job. The first time in America, I saw an older man working. I cry because in Brazil. Never.

Oehler: Louis is scared that without the money he makes in Boston, he'll have to move his family to a dangerous part of San Paulo. What he'd like is to bring them here. But for now, he's heading back. A deal is a deal.

Oehler: Across town, in Everett, Mass, there's a restaurant called Sal y Brasa. That's Portuguese for Salt and Charcoal. There, I meet Joe Joe. He says things used to be good here, really good.

Joe Joe: Two years ago, used to get here at seven o'clock you wait outside for at least, 50 minutes in order to get a table. That many Brazilians were here. In this place!

Oehler: It's kind of hard to believe that this place used to be so packed. It's totally empty. The buffet island in the middle of the restaurant is full of food and the same three guys have been rotating on the Karaoke machine for the last five songs. Joe Joe's been here for 24 years. He's a citizen and drives limos. But this whole economic mess has him thinking.

Joe Joe: American is never going to go down, but for the moment it's scary. For the last three months, I been seeing the end for me. I'm going to sell my little business. Because you know the American dream is really not real.

Oehler: There are still a few Brazilians left in the restaurant. And they belt out the song "Massachusetts." Joe Joe says he tries to be an optimist, but he understands why thousands of Brazilians are packing up and going home.

Joe Joe: 'Cause right now I'm just a slave for what I'm doing, just a slave, so for the moment, I'm sorry, America is not a dream for anyone.

Oehler: In Everett, Massachusetts, I'm Kara Oehler for Weekend America with co-producer, Ann Heppermann.

  • Music Bridge:
    Artist: Alejandro Franov
    CD: Khali (Staubgold)


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By John Korst

    From St. Louis, MO, 11/22/2008

    I was expecting a show covering the trials and tribulations of the challenges of building a new life in a place with a troubled economy.

    I was somewhat surprised to hear yet ANOTHER story on illegal aliens and their sub-rosa world.

    Self-deportation of the kind you describe (as opposed to some wierd government program) is the most humane way to be rid of these lawbreakers.

    It seems the only legal immigrant you featured was the restauranteur who focused his entire business plan on serving the illegals. I would expect that a creative businessman would be looking to ways to adapt his business to changing demographics.

    The most upset immigrants are always those who resist assimilation and seek to remain fully "other." That's rather sad for all of us.

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