Tag Archive | "Brazilians"

Brazilian Church Embraces Dual Language Community

by Nia Phillips, Brazilian Beat Reporter —

Walk through the doors of the First Brazilian Baptist Church in Astoria, Queens any Sunday afternoon and everything said, heard, and read in its sanctuary will be in Portuguese.

On Friday nights, however, it feels like a different place. Most of the words spoken are in English.

The Brazilian church, housed in a large white building on 18th Street, began offering English language services late in the summer as part of an effort to attract young second-generation Portuguese as well as other English speakers in the area. The English language program is known as JAMP, Jovenes e Adolescentes Ministrando com Propositos—Young Adults and Adolescents Ministering with a Purpose.

On Sundays, English speakers can hear a translation of the Portuguese service and sermon using headphones.

But Friday services are typically conducted in English. About once a month, they are dual language with simultaneous translation. On this particular evening, the music and announcements are in English and the main discussion is in Portuguese.

Twenty-nine year old Marianna de Souza leads the talk. She speaks in Portuguese about many things most teenagers and 20-somethings care about: college, work, making friends, Facebook, texting, boyfriends, and the Internet. She mentions all of these topics to lead an interactive discussion about fitting God into your schedule.

For every phrase she says, Bruno Borges, 26, repeats it in English.

Borges is a certified translator and often interprets services for English speakers at the church. Sometimes the youth have to help him with some of de Souza’s Brazilian slang. They call out the English word he’s looking for, causing him to smile and shrug his shoulders. The youth respond to de Souza’s questions in a combination of English and Portuguese.

This is normal because the people attending the service live this reality: living between their own American culture and the Brazilian culture of their parents.

Embracing a dual language congregation is becoming part of the church’s identity. Diogo Izidoro, 22, is one of JAMP’s leaders as well as very active in many of the church’s other ministries. Even though he’s the pastor’s son, he says he represents the audience the Friday night services were created for. He moved to the United States from Brazil with his family at the age of five, and appears and sounds to be American in every sense.

He says that incorporating English is not just convenient, but a necessity for Brazilian congregations. “Brazilian churches are changing the way they are based in their reality. English speaking services are crucial because they retain the youth.”

Without adding an English-centered service, Izidoro said many youth like him are likely to attend American churches or not go to church at all.

Borges said another aspect of this move was because many young people were becoming lost in the Portuguese-only service. “Although their parents are Portuguese speakers, their reality is completely different. Their language is different.”

The reality has helped create the mostly English Friday service that has elements of both American and Brazilian culture. For instance, the service’s music reflects that heard in non-language specific youth services including those of the very popular Hillsong United and Jesus Culture by a couple of the church’s youth bands.

One of the guitarists in the band is Eric Maciel, 18. Maciel, a Columbia College freshman, said one factor that influenced his college decision was its proximity to the church. Maciel’s parents are Brazilian, and he grew up in Long Island.

Maciel doesn’t think incorporating English within the church is causing it to lose its Brazilian identity. “Even though the majority of us are all Brazilian we were born here,” He said. “I know that I am more comfortable speaking English than Portuguese, and I am not the only one so this change happened a couple of month ago and we have all embraced it.”

In a sense, this serves as a space for Brazilian-Americans to feel more comfortable within the language and culture they experience most of the time.

On Sunday afternoons, more than the sounds of Portuguese can make churchgoers feel at home. After service they can enjoy a large plate of Brazilian food, choosing from an assortment of meats, rice, and black beans. They can even finish it off with a can of guaraná, a popular Brazilian soda, if they please.

A delicious meal can appeal to everyone regardless of language skills. Adding more English is now seen as an important means to help keep the church open. First Brazilian is completing its 30th year in the community. It’s been on its 18th street location since 2002 and has a congregation of about 200 people. Friday service is part of the church’s transitional phase with adapting to the reality of its congregation—more English dominant members.

Borges said that becoming more of a dual language church is logistically difficult. It’s not just about Friday and Sunday services, but adding English within the church’s other ministries too. “We are not fully prepared to have only English speaking members,” he said. “Although we are in America, our whole church structure was designed for Portuguese speakers and English guests, but that reality is changing and we are in the phase of adjusting.”

Adjusting does not have to mean Americanization and eliminating the Portuguese language mission of the church. “Since the youth are mostly second generation Brazilians the church is becoming more and more Americanized, but that is something to be accepted and not feared,” Maciel said. “Then again, I don’t think that our church will ever get rid of the Brazilian roots in it; that is what makes us different and something that I personally will hold on to.”

The church’s preservation of its Brazilian roots is evident on Sunday afternoon. Preschoolers stand in front of the congregation reciting and singing bible verses during service. They go one by one, speaking into the microphone and receiving a bag of candy from their teacher when they finish.

A little girl sings what she’s learned in Sunday School. “Deus é bom pra mim,” she sang. “God is good to me”—in Portuguese.

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Capoeira connects New Yorkers with Brazilian culture

by Nia Phillips, Brazilian Beat Reporter —

A group of people dance in a circle in a studio in Manhattan singing Portuguese songs as their teacher plays a traditional one-stringed Brazilian instrument with a gourd attached to it. Others play a drum and tambourine to help create the beat to the music.

In the middle, two students practice their moves, kicking, ducking, and swaying side to side.

After a little time, two more students entered the circle repeating the same movements. This scene continued recently in a weekly class in the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

While the sport purely Brazilian in every sense, most of the students in the classroom are American.

Capoeira Instructor Paula Verdino participates in Omulu Capoeira Guanabara’s Batizado ceremony.

Capoeira, Brazil’s national sport, is now practiced all around the world. In New York City, classes are offered to children as young as two across the city.

One popular Capoeira teacher is Tiba Vieira. He moved to the United States 15 years ago and has been teaching for New York Capoeira Luanda, held at the Alvin Ailey Extension School, since 2001. He began teaching children Capoeira when he came to the United States which is appropriate because he began his training at the age of 12.

“I think Capoeira is a little bit of everything,” says Vieira, who has studied the sport for more than 18 years. “It’s a sport, it’s an art, it’s a martial art. I see Capoeira as a blend of dance, music, and martial art and acrobatic movement. This is an art form.”

Vieira’s class is one of many throughout New York City. Once a year, classes hold a ceremony called a Batizado where students test their skills against their instructors. On a recent Saturday, a group called Omulu Capoeira Guanabara held its annual ceremony in the gymnasium of the Beacon School on the Upper West Side.

About 25 students of varying ages and levels gathered for the event. While Omulu Capoeira Guanabara teaches children as young as four, this event was for its adult students in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

One of the school’s founders is Jorge Luis de Lima, better known as Mestre DiMola, helped lead the Batizado. The Master instructor described the sport saying, “For me, Capoeira is beyond my life, it’s much more than that.”

As a Master, it makes sense that Luis de Lima said this. It takes about 30 years to become a full Capoeira Master; the number of years he has practiced the game. He sees Capoeira as more than just an activity, but a way to connect with the sport’s rich cultural history. He said candidly in Portuguese after the Batizado, “Many Masters already left us. They aren’t alive anymore, but through this they’re still present.”

Connecting with the past is a fundamental part of Capoeira. The sport started in 16th century Brazil with the introduction of African slaves to the country to work in sugar cane fields. Capoeira emerged as a means for slaves to preserve the fighting techniques they brought from their home countries. Disguised as a dance through adding music to the movements, the sport was born as both a means of self-defense and cultural preservation. Even though the Brazilian government abolished slavery in 1888, Capoeira remained banned in the country until the 1930s.

Today, Brazilian attitudes towards Capoeira are very different. Not only is it very popular in the nation, but also those who learned the sport at home have now brought it with them to other countries. Brazil experienced mass emigration in the 1990s following an economic crisis. Many Brazilians moved to the United States, bringing Capoeira with them.

While Capoeira is Brazilian in every sense, the people filling the classrooms in New York City are not. “It’s very rare to have Brazilians doing Capoeira,” said Vieira, “In my class you’ll have 3 or 4 at the most.”

Regardless, Americans too are making Capoeira an important part of their lives. Anna Prouty is a Barnard student and member of Columbia University’s Capoeira Club. She says she is one of 15 students who regularly attend classes led by a Brazilian instructor. Prouty started Capoeira two years ago. She says she discovered the sport, as suggested by a friend. Even though she is not Brazilian, she too feels a connection to the sport. “It’s an expression in something kind of different,” says Prouty, “Like we’re all tying into this history and this tradition.”

Even though she has not been practicing the sport since childhood, Prouty has a similar enthusiasm about Capoeira seen by Brazilian instructors throughout the city. Her words were not too different from Capoeira Instructor Paula Verdino. One of a few women teaching at a high level, the Bahia, Brazil native is the winner of prestigious awards in the sport such as “Best Female Overall” at the World Capoeira games. When speaking about her love for the sport she said, “I think that it’s amazing. It’s self confidence, strength, direction, it’s entertaining, it’s good for mind, body, and it’s great exercise.”

This is what helps make Capoeira more than just a mysterious Brazilian game. It’s a combination of sport, art, music, dance, tradition, and discipline. It helps keep Brazilian traditions alive, and is becoming part of the fabric of Capoeristas around the world. Through Capoeira students in New York City can connect to the culture of the African slaves who arrived to Brazil 400 years ago.

As Verdino said, in Capoeira, “You really feel what you do. You really have the love inside for it.”

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