Wearing his kimono and black belt, Cláudio França leads more than ten fighters in a breath taking series of push-ups and abs exercises. Then, he gets on the ground to show his students a few sequences of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Finally, it’s time to fight.
Cláudio’s accent reveals he wasn’t born in the United States, but it’s hard to define where he is from. As with many other Brazilians around the Bay Area, he blended in after a while. Now an American citizen, he runs three gyms, and teaches and travels the country organizing events.
“I took me a while to be respected around here. When I arrived, people associated Brazil only with samba and pretty girls. Nobody knew about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so they would show up and fight me, to see if the technique was actually good”, he said. Wonder what is like to fight with him? Click here
Cláudio is part of a rising movement: Brazilian people moving to Northern California, especially around the Bay Area. They are everywhere, but they blend in so well that it may be hard to spot them in the crowd. In Brazil, more than 40% of the population considers itself of a “mixed-race” origin, so there’s no specific “Brazilian look” people can look for.
Through the years, immigration from Brazil focused on the East Coast, but the South American country has been fascinated by the West. The biggest Brazilian TV network just launched a soap opera that tells the tale of a Brazilian entrepreneur that moved to the Silicon Valley.
Why should Americans care? Brazil is the seventh-largest economy in the world and has a history of cooperative relations with the United States, even though the countries often disagree in some issues. There is also money circulating between the two countries, with the American Congress authorizing huge amounts to be spent in the preservation of the Amazon forest.
Besides that, Brazilian immigrants can be found in different sectors of the economy. They are part of America’s new diverse face. They are entrepreneurs, teachers, students, drivers, cleaning staff, professional dancers, business owners. They are men and women from diverse backgrounds and they position themselves in different parts of the sexuality spectrum.
Around the Bay, they are mainly in the counties of Marin, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Cruz. You can see how many people around the Bay were born in Brazil in the next graph. It shows the number of foreign-born population in each region, as well as how many of them were born in Brazil:
Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau
In the Bay Area, we can see a movement to strengthen the relationship between Brazil and United States. The Brazilian government opened a local agency in San Francisco called Apex, which is meant to further develop the economic connection between the countries. In the non-profit sector, BayBrazil works towards connecting and mentoring Brazilian people living in the Silicon Valley.
“We are very good at getting together and being social, now we are learning to be organized and help each other professionally”, said Margarise Correa, creator of BayBrazil. “We have to follow the examples of immigrants from India and China, since they are really good at helping each other professionally.”
Who are these people? There is a wide arrange of Brazilians around the Bay. Go through the next six videos to get to know some of them:
Maísa Duke is known around the Bay as the “Samba Queen”. She gives samba classes and has her own dance group.
Cláudio França was one of the pioneers involved in bringing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to the United States. Today, he owns three gyms and organizes nationwide tournaments.
Adelice Miller owns a beauty salon in San Francisco. She moved to the U.S. after being disappointed with the way things were in Brazil. Today, she is married to an American man, with whom she started her business.
Amit Garg is a Brazilian entrepreneur with Indian parents. He moved to the United States to get his undergraduate degree at Stanford. Now, he leads a health startup.
Wides Vital da Silva worked his way up to being a small business owner in the United States. Today, he owns Pastel Brazzuca, selling Brazilian food in San Francisco.
The relationship between Brazil and United States is reinforced by the flow of tourists between the two countries. The United States International Trade Commission says that there has been a tourism boom of Brazilians coming to the U.S. “Between 2004 and 2011, the number of annual U.S. arrivals from Brazil increased by 292%”, says the report. By 2011, the amount of money spent by Brazilians visiting America reached US$ 8.5 billion.
The number of nonimmigrant visas authorized by the American Consulate has also spiked in the past ten years:
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Part of this growth is attributed to the rise of the middle class in Brazil. “Likewise, the significant appreciation of the Brazilian Real has likely contributed to the tourism boom by making international travel relatively less expensive and more attractive to Brazilians”, says the report.
The American federal government has also initiated a series of programs targeted at facilitating international travel from Brazil to the United States. Actions taken included streamlining the visa process, expanding existing facilities and increasing consulate staffing. In Brazil, the U.S. has an Embassy in Brasilia as well as consulates in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Recife.
While Brazil is part of the top five countries of origin of travelers to the U.S., the country is also part of another list. According to Ruth Ellen Wasem, specialist in immigration policy at the Congressional Research Service, Brazil is in the top 10 source countries of unauthorized resident aliens in the U.S. (estimates from 2000 to 2010).
The growing interest in the Bay Area has also created a mini-industry of local services created for this specific type of immigrant. Those who have crossed Valencia St with 24th, in San Francisco, may have seen Mercado Brasil, a store specializing in Brazilian groceries. “I’ve been trying to teach American chefs how to use some of our ingredients”, said Alberto Pereira, owner of the store.
Latin America is also represented in San Francisco at the Carnaval. The 2014 edition of the event happened in the end of May and was sponsored by companies like Nestlé, Facebook, Telemundo and ESPN. Parts of three major streets around the Mission were closed for the parade.
There is also a movement of tours targeted at the Brazilian public. Hotel California organizes personalized tours around the area with a Portuguese speaking guide, who tries to explain parts of the American culture.
PIECES OF BRAZIL AROUND THE BAY