The face of Brazil in Pittsburgh
Five years ago, Brazilian conductor and composer Flavio Chamis set out to create an album with musicians from five nations at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. Chamis and producer Jay Ashby decided to take things slowly, something unusual in the commercial music world. Three years later, in 2006, Especiaria was released. The album was picked up by Biscoito Fino, Brazil’s top record label, and was nominated for a 2007 Latin Grammy.
The sophisticated sound was 100 percent Brazilian. “It crossed so many borders,” said Chamis. “It became a real Brazilian product although it was completely made in Pittsburgh.”
The story of Chamis and Especiaria is one example of the Brazilian community in Pittsburgh, which is small—estimated at 300 families and 1,000 people—yet brings an exuberant, talented flair to the city.“We enjoy being here, and we feel embraced by the community in Pittsburgh,” said Pedro Bretz, a native Brazilian and executive director of The Hispanic Center, Inc. “Brazilians represent at least 10 percent of the Latin American population in Pittsburgh.”
Trade between Brazil and Pennsylvania has been rising, with state exports to Brazil increasing to $598 million in 2007, a 48.7 percent jump over 2006. Several major Pittsburgh companies are part of the trend, with 13 having a presence in Brazil, including Alcoa, Kennametal, PPG, Respironics and Wabtec. In addition, numerous Brazilian firms call Pittsburgh home including Inmetco, Reference Metals Company and US Electrofused Minerals.
In the coming months, Pittsburghers will be able to learn about the Brazilian culture and experience Brazilian traditions. From September 26–28, a Brazilian Arts Festival at The Waterfront in Homestead will feature the work of local Brazilian artists and musicians, and cultural experts will be on hand to interact with visitorsof all ages. The festival also will showcase Brazilian traditions, including costumes from Carnival, samba lessons and Capoeira, a movement best described as a combination of martial arts and dance that stems from the slaves of Brazil in the 16th century.
The centerpiece will be world-renowned pop artist Romero Britto, who will display his brightly colored, oversized, vivid sculptures at an exhibition throughout the weekend. Twelve sculptures, each 12 feet tall, will exemplify Britto’s work, including “Dancing Boy,” “Butterfly,” “Azul (Blue Dog),” “Good Girl” and “Squeaki (Cat).” Sunday’s activities will also offer an opportunity for children to make art “Britto-style” alongside the artist.
Proceeds will benefit ProYouth Brazil, a local nonprofit that aims to build abetter future for troubled youth living in Brazil. Spearheading ProYouth Brazil is Shadyside’s Rachel Stephaich, a Brazilian-born U.S. citizen educated and trained in public health administration and international administration of nonprofits. Through prevention programs, ProYouth Brazil strives to reduce juvenile crime and increase school attendance and employment for at-risk children andadolescents in Juiz de Fora, Brazil.
Also highlighting Brazilian traditions and culture in Pittsburgh this year is Chatham University, which will host“Year of the Americas: Brazil” throughout the academic year, continuing its focus on global understanding. The university will host the Nego Gato Afro Brazilian Drum & Dance Ensemble at the Athletic & Fitness Center at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25.Brazilian soprano Lilly Abreu will perform at 4 p.m. Oct. 24 in the James Laughlin Music Hall. And a celebration of the works of Martin Luther King Jr. and Brazilian theologian Leonard Boff will be held Jan. 19. For a listing of “Year of the Americas: Brazil” events, go to https://library.chatham.edu/globalfocus.
Down the road, the University of Pittsburgh is in the final stages of launching the new Latin American and Caribbean heritage room at The Cathedral of Learning. Also at Pitt, the globalexecutive MBA program continues to send students to its São Paulo School of Business, founded in 1999. As part of the program, 20–25 Brazilian students study for aportion of the year on the Oakland campus. Pitt also supports the Brazil Nut Club (email@example.com).
Aside from institutional efforts, Brazilian Pittsburghers are bringing their culture into the spotlight as well. Carla Leininger, of Rosslyn Farms, is thefounder of Global Beats, which celebrates international music and cultures in a social environment. With the group, she hopes to attract Pittsburghers to experience new types of world music and cultural diversity on Global Beats night on the last Saturday of the month at Ava Lounge in East Liberty. Leininger also hosts Cantinho Brasileiro no Radio, a Brazilian radio hour from 6–7 p.m. Fridays on WRCT, 88.3 FM.As she said, “Being around people from Brazil is like an instant injection of energy and life.”
In 1990, Lana Neumeyer came to Pittsburgh from Brazil with her two sons and late husband, who needed a liver and kidney transplant. Despite the efforts of Dr. Thomas Starzl, her husband survived only a few months. She later remarried and became a partner and vice president of finance of Neumeyer Environmental Services, which does environmental clean-up and remediation.
“People come to Pittsburgh from everywhere in the world, including Brazil, for medical treatments,” she said. “They often cannot go back to Brazil becauseof the treatment, so we try to help them. We’re having a dinner for two families who just came for treatments. I knowhow difficult it is to come and not speak English.” Neumeyer, who lives in Fox Chapel, said she wants “to show them something different than just staying in Oakland.”
Others come for jobs at, for example, Carnegie Mellon University, Alcoa, Westinghouse or Bayer, she said. “The Brazilians in Pittsburgh are very educated people with higher level jobs. We are not a community, but we try very hard to put Brazilians together.”
For a taste of Brazilian food, several people interviewed mentioned the Green Forest Brazilian Restaurant and Churrascaria at 655 Rodi Rd. in Penn Hills (412-371-5560). For Pittsburghers in Brazil or Brazilians in Pittsburgh who want to connect with each other, visit www.pittsburghquarterly.com, click on Into Pittsburgh and then ‘Brazil’ for a Brazilian forum.