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Portuguese and Brazilian Communities in California

The Portuguese Communities in California project seeks to bring the narratives of Portuguese and Brazilian residents in California to life. This project will preserve and explore the history of Portuguese and Brazilian communities using oral history and qualitative interviewing methodologies. We will explore why people chose to come to the United States, how they came here, and their experiences after they arrived. We will compare contrasting attitudes on politics, economics, race, family and gender relations, as well as issues involved in cultural maintenance. Some of the interviews will focus on music, song, and food ways.

Student Bios
Tammy Elwell was a senior, majoring in Political Economy of Industrial Societies. She spent the 2002-03 academic year studying at the Pontífica Universidad Católica in Santiago Chile and traveled through Brazil on her return.

Kate Pielemeier was a junior with a major in Development Studies. She attended two years of elementary school in Brazil and returned there in the summer of 2000 as a volunteer with the Amigos de las Américas volunteer program.

Natalie Vail was a junior, majoring in Music with an interest in cultural anthropology. During the fall semester Natalie conducted a very interesting interview with a young immigrant from São Paulo, Brazil.

Lisa Hsia was a senior, majoring in History with a specialization in Chinese American history. She had taken several courses in Portuguese language and Latin American music. Lisa interviewed a young woman from southern Brazil who was trying to adjust to a very different type of life here in the East Bay.

Fabiana Yu was a sophomore, planning to major in Political Science. She was born in Brazil of Korean immigrant parents and came with them to the Bay Area as a young girl.

During the semester all five students had an opportunity to learn about the Portuguese and Brazilian immigration experience. Each was able to locate an individual whom they interviewed about their personal experiences as immigrants to the Bay Area. Additionally, Tammy accompanied Don Warrin and Deolinda Adão to the Napa Valley for an interview with the musician Hélio Beirão and his wife, the poet Maria das Dores Beirão.

Paulo Lins interview

Paulo LinsIn March, 2004, Brazilian author Paulo Lins spoke at UC's Center for Latin American Studies. Afterwards he was approached by three of the URAP students then working on the Portuguese-Brazil project, Tammy Elwell, Kate Pielemeier, and Fabiana Yu. Prof. Lins agreed to meet with them the next day for a video-recorded interview.

Paulo Lins is the author of the acclaimed novel Cidade de Deus, which takes place in the violence-wracked Rio slum (favela) of the same name. Made into a film, Cidade de Deus (City of God) garnered several nominations for this year's Oscar awards.

Kate wrote later about the experience: “Mr. Lins was in Berkeley for about a week, doing events, interviews, and talks with the Spanish/Portuguese Department and traveling around the Bay Area. We decided to take advantage of this opportunity by setting up an interview with him as quickly as possible before he left. We miraculously were able to get in touch with him and actually conduct an interview the day before his departure. Because he does not speak English (intentionally, we learned!), Fabiana was the main interviewer and I also helped to ask questions in my rusty Portuguese. Tammy helped to film the interview and assist us in the whole process of interviewing and thinking of questions. It was amazing for us to conduct our first interview with someone ‘famous'and someone so inspiring.”

All three considered this the highlight of their internship, to be able to sit down with such an important writer and ask about his life experiences, his art, and his concerns for society. Ultimately we hope to translate the entire interview and make it available to the public.

2002 - 2003 School Year

Student Bios

Karthik Murthy was a fourth year EECS major. Karthik mainly handled the filming of the interviews. He worked with the digital video camera and minidisc recorder providing valuable assurance that our interviews would be documented and available for posterity.

Andreia Lee was a first year student at the time undeclared, however, contemplating the history major. She was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil and moved to the United States when she was 5 years old. She is fluent in Portuguese. Andreia mainly interviewed for the project.

Janice Hwang was a second year English major. She primarily interviewed for the project, coming to the project out of an interest in oral history. Janice now works with ROHO as a transcriber, as well as continuing with additional interviews for the project.

Student Take on the Experience

Janice describes this first student group's experience below:

When we began our URAP experience, we never imagined that a month and a half later we'd be in a dimly lit, cool purple draped back corner of the PR room of the San Francisco International Film Festival with an actual film director sitting across from us, only a Jellybelly filled candleholder between us. Who knew? But it happened. The possibilities of oral history interviewing! Professor Candida Smith and Kathy Zvanovec were truly encouraging and without fail, open to any ideas. Instead of assigning us certain interviews, they left the choice to us. We explored the different areas of Brazilian culture in which we were interested and found our own interviewees. Profesor Candida Smith and Project Coordinator Kathy Zvanovec-Higbee meet with students Sam Schramski and Andreia LeeThere was so much we freely did that were our own ideas and interests, while still being steered and guided by Professor Candida Smith and Kathy Z's advice and help. So needless to say, we learned much about oral history interviewing while at the same time learningmore about our own interests in the culture. One interest all three of us shared was film. What was at first a whimsical “could-be” idea of interviewing one of the Brazilian film directors at the festival, was soon realized into a real interview sitting with the director herself. And it was all in a matter of two weeks.

One thing led to another and finally one Saturday I got a call from the PR representative telling me that Suzana Amaral had agreed to do an interview with us. Now in complete disbelief, but utter excitement, we began preparing for the interview. We had to do our research on Suzana Amaral. We rented Macabea, her first film and called Karthik to pick us up —chauffer/cameraman/interviewer— because my VCR wasn't working. It was about 10 o'clock. All three of us sank into the couch and watched. Our interview preparation. The day of the interview came. It was one of the most enjoyable moments of that semester. The three of us got into Karthik's car with camera, tripod, minidisc recorder, and questions in hand. Karthik Murthy, Janice Hwang, and Andreia Lee prepare for their interview with filmmaker Suzana AmaralHowever unprofessional we might have actually been, we felt professional. Fledging interviewers on the quest for a top interview. Still, there was definitely no shortage of laughing on the way—not so serious. The interview was definitely unique. The director probably had never experienced such an unconventional interview with even Karthik, who Andreia and I thought would just be filming, suddenly posing questions from behind the camera, “So what do you think about fatalism?” All three of us interviewing, eagerly and intently listening.

I f ever there was a group effort, this was it. With the end of the interview, we packed up and left the theater happy and feeling rather triumphant. Before going back to Berkeley, we did one last thing. To seal into memory this, our magical experience, that a month ago we didn't even imagine happening, we went to Café do Brasil for dinner. Andreia had made reservations for us in the car on the way to the interview. She introduced Karthik and I to fejoada. Three orders of fejoada. So delicious! We were so full and so happy. What an introduction to oral history and Brazilian culture. What a memorable and precious experience for all of us. We learned how to listen, and received a privileged glimpse into another's life.

Qualifications: Students working on this project will have the opportunity to work with Portuguese and Brazilian community organizations and Don Warrin, the leading historian of Portuguese-language communities in the Western United States. The main tasks students will undertake while working on this project are conducting interviews and transcribing interviews. Some of the interviews will be with retired cannery workers, family farmers/ranchers, teachers, religious leaders, journalists in Portuguese-language newspapers and radio, as well as the founding director of the Portuguese museum and artists. We are also interviewing owners of restaurants and teachers of capoeira (Brazilian martial arts). Other tasks may include: indexing interviews, working with digital video and/or audio, preparing materials for publication, or making materials accessible via the World Wide Web.

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