story by Julia Steele
photos by Sergio Goes
Leonardo "Japa" Naito is
one of several capoeira
experts in the Islands.
Maybe it was Brazil Night at this year’s Fiftieth State Fair. Maybe it was the guy walking down King Street in a capoeira T-shirt, chatting on his cell phone in Portuguese. Maybe it was the downtown screening of the Rio documentary Favela Rising, packed with Rio expats. Or, maybe it was the new Brazilian restaurant in McCully, or the just-opened Brazilian boutique in Kaimuki. Somewhere along the way, the truth became inescapable: Brazilians are turning up everywhere in the Islands. "Yeah," laughs Waimea Bay lifeguard and Brasileiro Vitor Marcal, "we’re invading." Small wonder the beach he guards has been nicknamed Ipanema West.
It wasn’t always this way. Twenty years ago, when I arrived on Oahu, the only steady reminder that Brazil even existed was Sergio Mielniczenko’s "verrrry, verrrry nice" samba show on KIPO’s world music afternoon—and even that, nationally syndicated as it was, came from elsewhere. But now: You want to hear Brazilian music, eat Brazilian food, dance Brazilian dance, study Brazilian martial arts, wear Brazilian fashions, have your very own non-stop carnaval—não tem problema. On the beaches, in the parks, in the ocean, in the city, there are Brazilians to be found. How many no one really knows, but one friend summed it up poetically when he estimated "a bazillion."
All of which begs the question: Why here, why now? Why have so many left the land of sun and samba for the land of sun and slack key? To understand the Brazilian mindset, I thought, why not ask a Brazilian psychologist? So I called Dr. Evelyne Raposo, who hails from Rio and came to the Islands sixteen years ago. We met at a fundraiser at Tudo du Bom, the aforementioned restaurant in McCully. The place is festooned with Brazilian flags and framed Brazilian soccer jerseys, and the night I was there, the women were clad in scant, sequined clothing, and there was much shaking of hips and kissing of cheeks. When I asked Evelyne why all the Brazilians, she took a deep breath and, rapid fire, rattled off ten succinct reasons:
"The mana, the aloha, the people, the spirit—that’s the first thing that calls us. Then, the nature is very similar: It’s tropical, with the same plants. The ohana sense of family is very similar to Brazil. The North Shore brings all of the surfers. Other Brazilians come because of our Portuguese roots, because there are Portuguese roots here, too. And there are many colors here—black, white, mulatto; we’re very used to hapa people because Brazil has many cultures. The weather is almost identical. Hawaiians are very respectful of spirituality, and we also have that. Brazilians are big meat eaters and this is a meat-eating state. And the local people are very forgiving and tolerant, and Brazilians are that way." She leaned back in her chair and beamed. "Most of us feel very much at home here."