It’s a bittersweet time for Solange Francisco, whose 31-year-old son, Gustavo, recently moved to Brazil to pursue his dreams.
Francisco, 63, said it reminds her of how her mother must have felt when she left Brazil with her husband to move to Chevy Chase, Md., in 1970. Francisco was 20. Six years later, she returned home only to leave again in 10 years for the U.S.
Franciso’s husband got a job offer in the U.S. in 1985, and so they (and their two children) came back to the Washington metro area for what they thought would be a couple of years.
“Gustavo was 3 when we came back,” Francisco says. “He had never been to Brazil until 2010.” When Gustavo went for a vacation to Brazil, he fell in love with every city he visited, his mother said.
“When he came back, he tried looking for a job and couldn’t find anything he liked in D.C. area,” Francisco recounts. “He wasn’t happy here anymore.”
Brazil has the fifth largest population in the world and recently became the sixth largest economy. A recent study commissioned by the United Nations found that Brazil has improved living standards for its population and ranks now 85th out of 185 countries, it’s on a fast track to transform itself from a “developing” to a “developed” country.
It’s not surprising to learn that only 3 percent of Brazil’s total population would be interested in migrating to the U.S., according to a recent Gallup poll.
Although the concentration of Brazilian-born is four-and-a-half times greater in the Washington metro area than the national average, according to the U.S Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, that equates to only 12,500 people.
“It’s easy to feel homesick here,” Francisco says. “I don’t miss just one thing about Brazil, I miss everything.”
“I treasure all my connections with Brazilian establishments and people in the area,” Francisco says. But she has noticed a steady decline of Brazilians who stay in the area after they’ve come for school or work.
Only one family-owned Brazilian restaurant remains in the district, says Franciso —The Grill from Ipanema— the rest are barbeque style or more Latin America fusion rather than pure Brazilian, she laments.
Alcy De Souza, 57, owns and operates The Grill from Ipanema. The restaurant has been a destination for the region’s displaced and visiting Brazilians and other patrons who love its menu for the past 20 years. De Souza has catered to many VIPs such as Al Gore and family, Carlos Santana along with his band, and recently CNN’s John King.
De Souza moved to the U.S. in 1991 after, he says, the Brazilian political policies sent the economy into a nosedive.
“I didn’t have a dream to come to U.S., I always liked to travel, but never thought I would live anywhere outside of Brazil,” De Souza says. Unlike Francisco, he is not homesick, although he does miss the beaches, fishing, good weather and his brothers, sisters and 85-year-old mother. De Souza has gone back to Brazil almost every year since he moved to the U.S.
De Souza says the U.S. and Brazil are very similar.
The economic crash of 2007-2008 was a huge blow to many who weren’t able to make it, says De Souza. And independent restaurants were hit much harder than chains, according to a study published by NPD Group
De Souza says he heard through his customers that many Brazilians in D.C. lost their jobs, homes, and small businesses and they either went back to Brazil or moved to other countries such as Canada, Australia or Japan. De Souza sees himself as a survivor and is working hard to continue to make it.
“I’m still alive,” De Souza says. “My goal is to do my job well and survive.”
De Souza expects that by 2016 — after the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — Brazil will be well on its way to first-world status, making things even better.
A CNN article looked at how Brazil is handling the influx of immigrants, and how the tide has shifted. According to Celso Amorim, Brazil’s defense minister, people are no longer leaving Brazil to chase their dreams; rather they are see Brazil as a place to make their dreams for a better life come true.
“Gustavo is probably not alone; many other skilled Brazilian-born immigrants living in the U.S. will likely go back to pursue their dreams and build a happier life down there,” says Francisco.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT:
The seed for the story came from a recent Gallup survey that found that 630 million adults in the world aspire to emigrate from their country to another. The survey further deduced that the migrants to the U.S. would likely come from countries with highest population. Brazil was on the list since it has the fifth-largest world population
Interested to get the perspective of Brazilians living in Washington metro area, I interviewed two established immigrants from that country. I also looked at the American Community Survey to get a baseline for how many Brazilian foreign-born individuals reside in U.S. and specifically in the Washington region. The numbers then bolstered a look at the accounts of Brazilian immigrants.
Interestingly, the trend is pointing toward Brazilians preferring to stay in Brazil as their economy continues to soar offering more opportunity and higher standard of living. Furthermore, many U.S. naturalized Brazilians are finding their American Dream may be more achievable back in Brazil prompting them to give their homeland a second chance.