The Brazilian Rainbow Group (BRG) an organization that advocates for Brazilian and Portugese-speaking lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, hosted a forum at Hunter College on December 16 entitled “Brasphobia.” Forum organizers coined the term to address the syndrome of what some Brazilians call internalized hate within the Brazilian community that exacerbates immigrants’ abilities to integrate into American society and obtain deeply needed social services.
In his opening remarks, Eryck Duran, the president of BRG, said that the result of internalized isolation within the Brazilian community leads many immigrants to suffer from feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem. Duran sought to debunk the common misperceptions voiced by Brazilians as well as others who say such things as “Brazilians take advantage of one another, get people to pay for them and that Brazilians, unlike some other Latino immigrant communities, are not united.” Duran said, “Brazilians do help each other,” citing the large number of Brazilians who have settled in the New York area and the fact that many of them are dependent upon other Brazilians for their survival upon arrival.
Dr. Maxine Margolis of Florida State University, who is a member of the Latin American Studies Association, reinforced Duran’s assertion of the strength of the social support that exists for recent immigrants. Brasphobia does exist, said Margolis and “Brazilians do bad mouth each other.” The professor also stipulated, however, that many Brazilians who emigrate to the United States consider themselves as “sojourners,” not immigrants with an intent to settle permanently in a new nation. As such, according to Margolis, there is often a dearth of community-based organizations and support networks in the Brazilian community unlike other immigrant communities.
Members of the academic community spoke for most of the forum with the final hour or so dedicated to an open discussion.
James Green, a professor from California who is moving over to Brown University, said that unlike the Mexican and Puerto Rican communities in the United States, the Brazilian immigrant community is relatively young—about 15 years old. Therefore, the stability offered by church and labor-based long term organizing is absent.
During the audience participation portion, one male speaker, who identified as being of Brazilian descent, said that self deprecation is a Brazilian trait. “But here in America we would have clinics to cure people of this,” he said. In an apparent reference to some of the more academic jargon that sought to contextualize the newly-coined Brasphobia, this man added, “Ethno-psychiatry does not mean anything at all. You can not cure a cultural trait.”
Atonieta Gimeno, a lesbian who is a community organizer for Seniors in a Gay Environment, a city organization that advocates for LGBT senior citizens, rose to say that “only Brazilians could name what they need to name to solve it.” Her remark was also apparently aimed at several of the professors who spoke, including an anthropologist, Prof. Sydney Greenberg, who questioned Brasphobia’s etymological legitimacy.
Greenberg also offered to spearhead a group that would petition the Brazilian embassy and city officials to obtain funding to establish counseling services for Brazilian immigrants.
Gimeno identified herself as a Mexican Salvadorena and said, “There are many negative stereotypes in our Latino communities and we internalize them.” She blamed racism and poverty for perpetuating many of these negative models and invited Brazilians to an event in February to celebrate their “blackness.” Typically, organizations host African American heritage events in February in honor of the birth date of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although Brazil is the largest nation in South America, Brazilians do not consider themselves Hispanics, or Spanish speakers, due to the nation’s ancestry as a former colony of Portugal.
The forum did not specifically address the issues faced by queer Brazilians. However, one of the evening’s speakers, Dr. Fernanda Bianchi, a professor at George Washington University, has done research in which she interviewed men of Brazilian descent who have sex with men. In Boston and New York, HIV-positive Brazilian gay men were asked a series of questions and participated in a medical study group that sought to uncover the factors that lead men to have unprotected sex with other men.
Part of the challenge faced by social service providers who serve gay Brazilian men is the lack of centeredness in the Brazilian gay community, including the ambiguity in the numbers of Brazilians who actually live in the metropolitan area.
In a follow up interview Duran addressed some of the challenges he faced in providing services and undertaking outreach efforts in the Brazilian community from his office housed in the Gay Men’s Health Crisis center in Manhattan. He said that not only do gay and lesbian Brazilian come to GMHC for help, but straight immigrants as well.
In terms of AIDS awareness, Duran said that Brazilian men need to be targeted by the gay community and health officials because most safe-sex messages are provided in English and Spanish, not Portuguese.
He also mentioned that Brazilian men put themselves at risk for unsafe sex for the same reasons others do—drug and alcohol use weakening a person’s awareness and an attitude of denial. “Some men tell me they have been doing it for so long they are not worried about it anymore.”
According to Duran, the HIV infection rate among Brazilian men is increasing. He attributes that increase to the more stringent immigration rules in effect following September 11, in which many undocumented Brazilians may not leave the United States fearing they may never be allowed to return. “Since they don’t go back, they stay and engage in behavior that puts them at risk,” he said.
Duran also mentioned the damaging impact of racist stereotypes that allow some younger Brazilian men to fall prey to what he referred to as a “fetishistic” syndrome among some older gay white men to “import Brazilian boyfriends.” “Some American and Brazilian couples are very loving together. Some Brazilians see Americans as someone who can get them something—status, security, and stability. But the stereotype of the Latin lover, the sex machine” is very damaging when an illegal Brazilian immigrant finds himself in a failed relationship with an American, said Duran. He cited one example of a 26-year old undocumented Brazilian immigrant man who came looking for shelter after he broke up with an American man 30 years his senior who was addicted to drugs and verbally abusing him.