The Unbreakable Bond of Brazilian Community

Not all that long ago, we welcomed our readers to Brazilville, joining the thousands of Brazilian expats that once called Dongguan home. Today, things are changing as factories slowly close throughout the city. Despite this, any rumors of a quiet exodus don’t seem to be hurting the community. It’s actually seems stronger than ever.

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Ari Filipini

A few weekends ago, I hailed a taxi to carry me into the modest jungle oasis, just east of Qifeng Park at Tangla Hotel. The night promised a much-anticipated performance starring Edson Dutra, a famed accordionist and his band Os Serranos, and Ita Cunha, one of the most popular Gaúcho singers in Brazil.

The whole occasion was immediately enthusiastic: from the decorations to the spectators’ elaborate costumes, and extending to a buffet, which I can only assume captured the distant heart of South Brazilian cuisine. Taking in the Portuguese commentary coming from the stage, I felt all at once like I might be sitting at some hall in Brazil.

Barely more than a week later, wrapped around the meandering outdoor pool at the same hotel, was the city’s first Brazilian Carnival—Rio-style. Much like the PTG party the weekend before, hugely famous performers were invited to swoon local fans that were caught thousands of miles away from home. This time it was Rossia Corp. who brought Neguinho, of the Samba school Beija-Flor, much to the delight of Brazilians and many other expats present.

A fresh start
Many years ago, Brazilians watched as their localized economy struggled, due to currency modifications from the United States and great amounts of industrial production were shifted outward to countries with cheaper labor alternatives.

Alane Marder

Alane Marder

Meanwhile, skilled laborers—mostly from the southern part of the country—that had historically been working with leather and footwear products were suddenly out of work. At the time, China made up a huge percentage of the world’s footwear production, with Dongguan contributing a large part of that merchandise.

As more and more companies moved their footwear businesses over to China, they brought their staff with them, and word quickly spread back home of a faraway land that offered improved conditions and higher wages. A collective migration followed. This same pattern continues much the same today, only to a lesser extent.

Still, despite the fewer numbers, the community seems more focused than ever. Could the recent pull of impressive artists be a sign of new growth or a simple proof of how dedicated and united this community is to their culture and former home?

“I came to China in February of 2015, arriving during the Chinese New Year. I had 2 bags in my hands and one dream in my mind. Dongguan was [fresh] to me. I knew just one guy, who promised me an apartment, but he was in Brazil,” said Jorge Moro, CEO of Rossia Corp.

These days, the bulging community has waned from what is once was, but it is still full of life. “I think there were probably around 6,000 Brazilians here at the peak. Today, there are maybe 2,000,” said Alane Marder, founder of AMBD (Brazilian Women’s Association) in Dongguan. She’s been in here for almost 14 years.

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For non-Brazilians, you know you’ve been in Dongguan a long time if you’ve heard someone say ‘oi’ to you while out around town. Today, it doesn’t happen much anymore.

“When the first Brazilians came here, there was nothing, so the people had to stick together and help each other. But by 7-8 years ago, we had actually built up a town: our own little Brazil. We had our own bakery, schools and more. Still in the market today, the people selling fruits and vegetables can even speak Portuguese,” Alane mentioned.

For non-Brazilians, you know you’ve been in Dongguan a long time if you’ve heard someone say ‘oi’ to you while out around town. Today, it doesn’t happen much anymore.

For the newer Brazilians in Dongguan, coming here and shifting into an already established community, without a doubt, should make the transition easier.

“When I came here back in 2008, almost everything was set already. The [earlier] Brazilians found the best places to buy vegetables, meat, charcoal for the BBQ, thick salt and all the basic things that are very important to us. The community was already there. We had our places to eat, shop and have fun. Brazilians are very open to other cultures and are also, really proud of ours,” said Junior Amaral, leader of Dongguan’s PTG organization.

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Much of this comfort is still available for newcomers, but how long can it last in the face of a shrinking community population? Despite the fewer numbers, the community seems more focused than ever. Could the recent pull of impressive artists be a sign of new growth or a simple proof of how dedicated and united this community is to their culture and former home?

“I would not relate the musical shows we saw recently with a kind of rebirth of the Brazilian community. This is just a phenomenon of the world becoming flat and China is getting more attractive to the world. Besides musicians, we saw more football players and coaches coming to China, due to China’s development and influence. The culture exchange and business interactions between China and Brazil have become and will be more intense in quantity and variety,” said Ari Filipini, a 19-year resident of Dongguan and semi-retired executive of the now-inactive Paramont.

The ever-evolving world
A few months ago, we reported on the wave of anxiety spreading across Dongguan as a result of fewer and fewer jobs and what the government is doing to improve the situation. Brazilians living here also probably feel and express similar concerns, but it doesn’t seem quite as obvious.

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Jorge Moro

“Today, the people coming here are different. Before, the people wanted to make money and later, go back. When I left Brazil, I knew I was never going to move back and I think the people coming today also think this way. They think, ‘okay, we are here, let’s live here and make the best of it,’” Alane explained.

Perhaps, this explains the difference between Brazilians and other expats. Much of the labor force—both expat and Chinese—in Dongguan are transient residents. They came, they prospered and they moved on. Those that remained stayed because they built up a life here. But if there’s no more work in the factories, they must move on or risk living in destitution.

Now, facing off against another economic downturn, Brazilians are finding new ways to turn profit.

“[My friend’s] husband had a contact in Shanghai and his friend was an importer of Guaraná. He called one day and offered me 5,000 cans, which I brought to Dongguan and started to sell door to door. As the Brazilian community is huge, I sold everything in 30 days. The company then offered me a new agreement for beer, cachaça and flour,” Jorge told me.

Junior Amaral (left, center) & Banda Nativa

Junior Amaral (left, center) & Banda Nativa

It’s often said that working isn’t the only reason for living and this community proves that to be true. The hopefully new trend of bringing in bands for all night dancing, hosting parties and getting together to eat mountains of barbequed meat should be inspiration for all of us to regularly take time to have some fun.

“I truly believe that the “Brazilian movement” of bringing famous singers and musicians from different backgrounds (gaúcho, popular, samba culture, etc.) to Dongguan will impact the entire expat community and perhaps, will encourage other nationalities and their leaders to do the same. I also believe that bringing joy to the Brazilian families by doing such events is a way to keep them stronger and united,” Junior explained proudly.

Of course, earning a nice salary is beneficial, but if we hang too long on the topic, we lose a certain value in living. Remember, we exist during a period in history where wandering is more accessible and cheaper than ever before. If we can’t often visit home, we can still easily keep in touch, thanks to the many advantages of the Internet. Home—wherever a person defines it—is no longer so far away.

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“Even if I enjoy spending some time with my family in Brazil, looking at the blue sky, breathing better air and admiring the majestic nature, I do appreciate the dynamism of China. After, 19 years in China, I’ve gotten used to China’s efficiency, well-built & maintained infrastructure and all kinds of possibilities in business and life. It is very convenient to live here and handy to get everything needed for daily life. Because of this, I can say that I feel more at home in China than in Brazil,” Ari clarified.

There’s something reassuring about always knowing that your origins are waiting for you whenever you need it. Until then, focus on your new home. Welcome back to Brazilville.

Behind the Scenes With the Artists
Traveling for almost two days to get anywhere is quite a commitment. You really have to hand it to all the last month’s performers for making such a considerable trip in order to come entertain some of their biggest fans living away from Brazil. In spite of the headache, it all seemed worth it.

Neguinho da  Beija-Flor

Neguinho da Beija-Flor

“The feeling was simply amazing. It was something that can’t be explained in words. When we perform at our home in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil or even in some other Brazilian States where our culture is not well known, we have the feeling that we are spreading our culture and we sing and play even louder,” said Edson Dutra, renowned accordionist. “Now, the emotions from singing about our culture, our land and our roots, plus seeing that gaúchos and Brazilians are united in another country, and this country is China? It’s unbelievable what happened and for us, it’s definitely a huge achievement. We never thought that we could find all this passion in China.”

Vocalist Ita Cunha echoed similar sentiments: “We never travelled so far away from Brazil. Edson Dutra and Os Serranos visited the USA a couple of years ago, but we never thought or dreamed to come to China. This is definitely a dream that came true.”

8smallAfter the Carnival party, Neguinho da Beija-Flor, complete with his scratchy voice and youthful exuberance, offered his thoughts on coming and playing in China.

“When I was invited to play in China, I was talking with my family about traveling across the world. I wondered if there would be people there who would know my songs and know me. Playing in China was really special because I came all the way here and there were people that were singing my songs and happy to listen to me,” he said.

“I’m praying that you’ll bring me back next year to do something even bigger,” Neguinho added. Believe us when we say that we hope so, too.

Between all the Brazilian events, it really has never been a better time to pick up those dancing shoes you’ve been eyeing on Taobao and start learning how to use them.

Category Feature Stories