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Growing Population of Brazilians in Cambridge, Massachusetts Essays

Growing Population of Brazilians in Cambridge, Massachusetts

The City of Cambridge (U.S.A) is part of the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts and best known for being the home of two world-class universities, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as well as to numerous high-tech and bio-tech companies. (CityTownInfo.com). With an estimated population of 100,135 people located within 6.5 square mile area, Cambridge is a unique community with a strong mix of cultural, demographic and social diversity, intellectual vitality and technological innovation. The city has developed into an international community with more than one in five residents being foreign born. (Cambridge City Council Report, pp 2).
Brazilian Immigration into the U.S.A – Historical Trends
Large-scale migration from Brazil is a relatively recent phenomenon. After the military coup of 1964, thousands of Brazilians went into exile. Although most of these exiles returned to Brazil after the amnesty of 1979, the number of economic emigrants grew in the 1980s (Menino, pp.1). According to a Brazilian demographer, José Alberto Magno de Carvalho[1], there was approximately 1 to 2.5 million Brazilians living outside Brazil by 1995 with the U.S. accounting for 42%, Paraguay (23%), Japan (12%) and the remaining 23% in other countries. In 2000, the U.S. census (U.S. Census Bureau) accounted 212, 636 Brazilians living in the U.S. representing 0.7 % of the country’s foreign-born population of 31 million. A majority of these immigrants live in metropolitan regions with Massachusetts ranking second (17%) to Florida (22%). Other large concentrations of Brazilians in the U.S.A. include California, (11%), New York (10%) and New Jersey (10%) (Menino). Gallant K and Davis in one study found that almost 70% of Brazilians living in the US are illegal immigrants most of who do not plan on returning to Brazil.

The Brazilian Population in Cambridge, Massachusetts – Recent Trends and Statistics
In the year 2000 (Menino), 36, 669 Brazilians resided in Massachusetts accounting for 4.7 % of the state’s total immigrant population. This share is increasing rapidly and fuelled by the recent inflow of Brazilian immigrants. Between 2000 and 2003, Brazilians made up 19.1 % of all new immigrants coming to Massachusetts. Menino in the same study, found that Massachusetts is now the primary U.S. destination for Brazilian immigrants (27%) followed by Florida (15%) and California (10%).
Over 7000 Brazilians live in Cambridge City out of a total Cambridge population of about 100,000 people. Most are male (53%), single (45%) and 50 % of them are between the ages of 20 and 34. (Menino).
Reasons why Brazilians are leaving Brazil to Cambridge, Massachusetts
Economic Reasons (Push and Pull Factors)
The economic climate in Brazil is not conducive so many Brazilians are escaping economic suffering for greener pastures in Cambridge city USA. This is especially true after the oil crisis of 1979. The City of Cambridge, as seen in the introduction, is host to numerous high-tech and biotech industries. This has created employment opportunities for the many Brazilians living in Cambridge. They are engaged in various occupations including services (42%), technical, sales and administrative support, (19%) construction, extraction and transportation (13%), managerial and professional (14%) and production (6%). (Menino) Compared to native and foreign-born populations, Brazilians are over represented in the following occupations service, construction, arts, design, entertainment, sports and media.
The situation in other large Brazilian concentrations in the US is very different. In New York for instance, most Brazilian females engage in jobs like maids, housekeepers, cooks or nannies while the majority of men are employed as labourers, construction workers, shoe shiners or bus boys in restaurants.
Political Reasons
The Brazilian military seized and maintained power in Brazil from April 1964 until until March 1985. Such unconstitutional regime change triggered competing political forces and caused divisions within the military . The military takeover triggered a massive exodus of Brazilians into USA and especially in Cambridge where they sought political refuge. The economy(Gallant and Davis) was mismanaged by successive military dictators and this aggravated the already precarious economic climate caused by the 1979 oil crisis.

The City of Cambridge (U.S.A) is host to world-class universities like Harvard and MIT hence the high influx of Brazilians into Cambridge is also academically motivated.  Although many Brazilians living in Cambridge have not completed high school, Brazilians are more likely to hold a high school diploma (28%) than all native-born (25%) and foreign-born (22%). (Menino). He also found that 18 % of Brazilians have a Bachelor’s degree compared to 23% and 15% for native and foreign-born inhabitants respectively. And 6 % have a Master degree or higher, much lower than that of native born (17%) and foreign-born (13%) populations. The low proportion of Brazilians with a Master or higher degree in Cambridge could be attributed to the excessively high costs of education in Harvard and MIT that can mostly be afforded by the native born population.
The Green Card Lottery and Proximity
 The United States, through the Diversity Visa Immigrant program encourages immigration from many countries every year. Many Brazilians have also entered the U.S.A through this scheme. In 2005 for instance, 592 Brazilians won the lottery, most of who eventually obtained U.S. entry visas. Brazil comes third after Peru (2,514) and Peru (674) in South and Central America and the Caribbean. (www.workpermit.com/news). The already large Brazilian concentration in Cambridge means many of the Lottery winners either already have ties in Cambridge or are inclined to settle there once they get into the US because of the relatively better life styles or higher living standards already enjoyed by their fellow Brazilians. Another reason, though weak, may be the relatively short travel distance between Brazil and Cambridge City.

Socio-Cultural and Racial Similarities
Brazil and the U.S can be considered the two largest melting pots of races and nationalities in the world and naturally with the highest degree of inter-racial and inter-ethnic reproduction. They have both gone through a long history of immigration from different parts of the world. Brazilian immigrants probably find in the US a strong social and cultural tolerance toward inter-racial marriage that have resulted to the large numbers of mulattoes (white/black), mestizos (Indian/White), mixed European/African/Indian in both countries,etc (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History).
Change of Lifestyle
 Despite all the above reasons, it can also be argued that some Brazilians simply want a change of life style and environment reason why they migrate to the US and Cambridge in particular. Menino, was able to show in his study that more than 13 % of Brazilians in Cambridge are self employed: a rate more than three times that of foreign-born population and almost 4 times the self-employment rate of the native population. This high self-employment rate is probably due to the high rates of financial capital among Brazilians as well as the fact that they emigrated from a country that also has a high a rate of self-employment.
Cultural Differences that Brazilians have brought to Cambridge
Talking about culture, Mahadkar’s (pp.5) approach has been adopted in this study. Mahadkar argues that Latinos and Brazilians in particular are not a homogenous entity. Brazilians in Cambridge vary according to age, gender, city or region of origin; country of origin, religion, race, class, occupation and extra curricular activities hence there is no clear-cut Brazilian culture. Mahadkar however, focusses on six forms of artistic expressions in Cambridge music, cultural festivals, food, muralism, film and youth art programs. It will be necessary to add language as the seventh  form of artistic expression in Cambridge.
Cultural festivals are an important medium through which Brazilians; both individually and collectively express their culture, their ideas and opinions and in doing so simultaneously enrich and influence the larger Cambridge community in general (Mahadkar). It follows naturally that the larger Cambridge community in turn also influences the Brazilians as well as the diverse ethnicities found in Cambridge. Mahadkar assert that It is these types of exchange and artistic expression that bridge the gaps and bring the Brazilian and the larger Cambridge communities together.
 Food according to Mahadkar, is a vital part of a people’s identity and culture. For the Brazilian people and the Latino community at large, this is especially true. The sheer diversity within the Latino community yields cuisines that are distinct and delicious. The American community has realized how truly delectable Latino cuisine is and for this reason there has been a surge in the number of Latin American Restaurants, Latin American fast food chains and Latin American dishes in restaurants in general in and around Cambridge.
Concerning music,Billy Joel (quoted by Mahadkar) once said
“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s
something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music”
Rafael Periera, a cooking teacher and long time resident of Cambridge in 2003 said (quoted by Mahadkar) “Music is the most accessible of all the arts,”. It is because of this accessibility that music has played a major role in the artisitic expression of the Cambridge Brazilian community from its beginnings in the 1960s till today. (Mahadkar).
Film is not like any other art form in that it is fairly modern, innovative and new. It is also expensive and generally considered elistist. (Mahadkar). It is not until recently that film started making an impact on the Cambridge arts scene, due in part to the large influx of Brazilian professionals and intellectuals immigrating to Cambridge. Jose Barriga, the organiser of the Cambridge Latino Festival (interviewed by Chinar Mahadkar, 3/28/03) states that in Cambridge/Boston and in the U.S. in general, Latinos tend to reside in particular areas where they only associate with each other and do not mix with other communities. The media then forms stereotypes based on their isolation. It is therefore through events like the Cambridge Latino Film Festival that reaches out to the greater Cambridge and Boston area in an effort to break these stereotypes and bridge communities.
Brazilians are predominantly Catholics so it is evident that the large population concentration in Cambridge implies a meeting of religions and different forms of worship each having an impact on the other. Inter-racial marriages between Brazilians and native borns or other races are also evidence of the peaceful coexistence of different cultures and bridging of communities.
Major Problems or Conflicts the Majority of the Population has gone through while in Cambridge.
Employment Barriers
 Despite the economic motives for the large Brazilian concentration in Cambridge, there still exist some barriers to finding jobs. Like elsewhere in Europe, for instance, foreign skills and qualifications are not recognised. Skilled Brazilian immigrants often fail in a bid to secure jobs in their core competences. So many end up doing menial low paid jobs to make ends meet. This probably accounts for the generally low living standards of Brazilians in Cambridge compared to native-born population.
Language and Education Barrier
Besides the above entry barriers to acquiring jobs, another form of barrier exsists. Menino’s findings revealed that educational levels and English proficiency among Brazilians living in Cambridge are generally low. For example, about 57.8 % of the Brazilian adults living in Cambridge either lack a high school diploma or has limited English-Speaking skills. As earlier mentioned, among those with a Master degree or higher, Brazilians have a much lower return on education than both the native-born and foreign-born populations. Given that English is the official working language in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it becomes extremely difficult for the immigrant Brazilian population to acquire skilled jobs, even if they had them.
An important barrier facing immigrants in general and Brazilians in particular is
the lack of general knowledge about how local labor markets work (Menino). They are not familiar with the labor laws, working conditions especially with regards to wages, job centers for the unemployment and so on.
It can also be argued that the high presence of illegal Brazilian immigrants
in the USA, and in Cambridge in particular, means that even in the absence of all the above barriers, skilled immigrants would still find it difficult to find career jobs. They will prefer to do the menial jobs that are have little or nothing to do with their immigration status for fear of being exposed and deported.
This paper began with a brief overview of Cambridge city, Massachusetts. Historical trends and motives of Brazilians immigrating into the USA was then discussed and the economic reasons of immigration were dominating. Current Brazilian Population trends and statistics were then examined for Cambridge City and a discussion of the cultural differences brought by this immigrant population subset in the larger Cambridge community presented. We saw that Brazilians in Cambridge are very dynamic and innovative as they have engaged in various socio-economic and cultural activities that have brought many positive contributions to the city at large. That notwithstanding, they still encountered some problems the most important being unemployment and low living standards compared to other populations.
It is necessary therefore to conclude this paper by stressing on the fact that the cultural influences have been a two way exchange, a fusion of cultures in which both the Brazilian immigrants and the native-born populations have gained from each other and learnt to coexist peacefully. We think any community in the world today, not just Cambridge, stands to gain much more than loose when people from different social, cultural and racial backgrounds come together. The U.S.A can bear witness to this truth.

CityTownInfo<http://www.citytowninfo.com/places/massachusetts/Cambridge> Copyright © 2004-2006 (cited 14 April 2007)
Cambridge City Council Report, <http://www.cambridgema.gov_Content/documents/2005 (cited 14 April 2007)

Gallant K. and Davis.Brazilian Immigration www. Vernon Johns Society. <http://www.vernonjohns.org>  (cited 14 April 2007)

Menino T.M. Imagine all the people: Brazilian Immigrants in Boston. New Bostonian Series, September 2006.

Mahadkar C. Self-Representation and Community Building: Latino Artistic Expression in Cambridge. Tufts University. Spring 2003

U.S. Census Bureau. American Community Survey. http://www.factfinder.census.gov  (2000 and 2005)


[1] Director of the Center of Development and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Minas Gerais

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