What Americans Should Know About Brazilians

The biggest misunderstanding is that Brazilians are Hispanics, and, therefore, speak Spanish. But Brazil was started in 1500 by the Portuguese, who speak Portuguese.  

Another possible misunderstanding is that even if Brazilians are not Hispanics, at least they are Latinos.  The fact is that around 80 percent of Brazilian-Americans respond (when given adequate options) that they are "Brazilian."  I think there is a tendency for many Hispanics to want to expand their numbers (on the basis of which monetary funds and other support are given) by claiming the Brazilians are one of theirs.  (And American professors like it because they can have a convenient place to put the Brazilians -- in Latin American Studies.) But this really isn't fair to the Brazilians. To me, it would be somewhat akin to Americans insisting that Irish-Americans are part of the British Isles (after all Ireland is right next to Great Britain in the North Atlantic and they even speak the same language).

Also, there is a great deal of difference between Brazilian and Hispanic history.  Brazil imported from 6 to 10 times the number of African slaves than the United States.  Slavery has had a great impact on Brazil (just as slavery has had a great impact on the United States). Brazil, for instance, has a really colorful and lively popular culture which is less constrained than that of the Hispanic countries or of the United States.  It is part of their uniqueness.

Part of the need to call Brazilians by their right name is that if Brazilians do not insist on this, the misunderstandings on the part of other Americans are going to continue.

Speaking of the colorful popular culture of Brazil, it is great to think of Brazilians as a sensual people, but there is resentment among some Brazilian-Americans that many Americans just assume that Brazilian women are going to be sexually open and available. Americans should be aware of this and treat all people with the appropriate respect.

Because Brazilian culture is more "open" than the American culture, Brazilians find themselves in somewhat of a precarious position vis-a-vis American culture.  And, actually, this may be due more to American ambiguity about sex than to any Brazilian ambiguity. But, anyway, on the one hand, Brazilians can build a unique image on a reputation for openness and sensuality.  On the other hand, however, Brazilians cannot go too far with this and get tarred with the epithet of being too "sexual."  So they will have to walk the tightrope of American ambiguity about sex.  



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