Little Brazil (New York City, USA)

According to the book Travel in Latin America (see reference at the bottom of the page), the most frequent destination for Latin American business travelers is their own country (74.8%), followed by the United States of America (17.5%).  For Latin American leisure travelers, the most frequent destination is their own country (60.9%), followed by the United States of America (22.0%).  This would make the United States of America the single most frequently visited foreign country for Latin Americans.

We will cite some data from the TGI Brasil study.  This is a consumer study of 10,103 persons between the ages of 12 and 64 years old in Brazil conducted by IBOPE in 1999-2000.  According to this study, 1.8% of the respondents stated that they have traveled to the United States in the past 12 months.  They did so for various reasons such as business, work, leisure, personal vacations, education, medical treatments, immigration, and so on.  The following table shows the characteristics of these visitors from Brazil:

Geodemographic Characteristics % visited USA in the past 12 months
Socio-Economic Level

    Male 12-17
    Male 18-24
    Male 25-34
    Male 35-44
    Male 45-54
    Male 55-64

    Female 12-17
    Female 18-24
    Female 25-34
    Female 35-44
    Female 45-54
    Female 55-64


    Director/senior manager
    Middle manager/administrator

Total 1.8%

(source: TGI Brasil, IBOPE)

Since Brazil is a Portuguese-speaking country and the USA is primarily an English-speaking country, the Brazilian visitors face a language barrier.  The command of the local language will be influential in the decision to travel.  The following table shows the travel incidences among people with different degrees of knowledge of the English language.  Those who have very good command of the English language are much more likely to have visited the USA.

Knowledge of English language % visited USA in the past 12 months

Comprehension of English-language conversation
    Very good
    A little bit
    Not at all

Comprehension of English-language writing
    Very good
    A little bit
    Not at all




(source: TGI Brasil, IBOPE)

The next table shows the destination cities visited by Brazilians:

City  (State) % visited by USA visitors from Brazil
Miami (Florida)
Orlando (Florida)
Tampa-St. Petersburg (Florida)

Washington DC (District of Colombia)
New York City (New York)
Chicago (Illinois)

Dallas (Texas)
Houston (Texas)
San Antonio (Texas)

Phoenix (Arizona)
Tucson (Arizona)

San Diego (California)
Los Angeles (California)
San Francisco (California)





(source: TGI Brasil, IBOPE)

The most typical way for Brazilians to travel to USA is via airplane, and usually the first stop is Miami (Florida), which is a major airline hub.  From Miami, it is a short hop to vacation spots like Orlando (Florida) with its famous amusement and theme parks.   Indeed, 82% of Miami visitors from Brazil also went to Orlando.  Beyond Miami, New York City is just 3 hours or so away by air.  Among the visitors of New York City from Brazil, 38% had been to Miami and 31% to Orlando.  In the following, we will present a photo-essay about the Little Brazil district in New York City.


In the case of the Brazilians in New York City, there is a fascinating and accessible account from Maxine L. Margolis in Little Brazil: An Ethnography of Brazilian Immigrants in New York City (see book reference at the bottom of this page).  Here are a few paragraphs from Margolis' book:

Brazilians often talk about the absence of an esprit de corps in their community and compare themselves unfavorably in this regard to New York's other new immigrant groups.  All the Brazilians present at a gathering in Queens insisted that they alone among ethnic groups in the city lack a sense of community.  Lamented one, "We have no club, no school, no union, no support from other Brazilians."  "Everyone in New York has a community association except us," said another.  Over and over, I was told that there are no Brazilian ethnic, social, or professional groups, no Brazilian occupational specialties akin to those of Korean greengrocers and Indian newsstand dealers --- only commercial enterprises, such as those on West 46th Street.  "We are 80,000 strong," complained my research assistant, a Brazilian with a degree in anthropology, "and we can't have a single social club, not even one."

One Brazilian old-timer in New York told me of his unsuccessful attempt to get support from a Brazilian business association to start a club for Brazilian immigrants in the city.  This group, comprising long-resident entrepreneurs, many with businesses on West 46th Street, directs its charitable efforts exclusively to the needy in Brazil.  Thus, on another occasion, despite pleas for help to this group on behalf of a Brazilian immigrant who needed $1,000 to bury her husband, who had died suddenly of a heart attack, none was forthcoming; the money was eventually raised by members of the Brazilian Catholic congregation in Manhattan.

Brazilians in New York also lacked a physical community, a distinctly Brazilian neighborhood or shopping district with which they can identify.  Even the single block of Little Brazil in Manhattan is not entirely their own --- there are Japanese, Argentine, Korean and Italian restaurants along it, as well as businesses of no distinct nationality.  And in Astoria, Queens, the primary Brazilian residential area in the city, almost no outward signs of Brazilians' presence exist.  A few scattered stores selling Brazilian products, a bar, and a handful of their Brazilian-owned businesses are overwhelmed by the strong Greek flavor of the neighborhood.

Moreover, because the Brazilian business sector is so circumscribed, newly arrived immigrants from Brazil, in contrast to their Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Korean and Greek counterparts, have no ready source of jobs within their own community.  They have no economic basis for ethnic solidarity.  Quite the contrary, said one informant, the few Brazilians who do own businesses "not only don't help new immigrants, they exploit t hem by paying them less and working them longer hours."

... Brazilians themselves offer various explanations about their lack of community spirit and organization.  One woman who has lived in New York since the mid-1970s blamed it on the growing size of the Brazilian population in the city; when she first arrived, few Brazilians were living in New York, and everyone knew everyone else.  "We had more of a sense of community then," she said with nostalgia.  Another Brazilian cited the feelings of distrust that permeated a community with so many undocumented immigrants.  Because of fear of informers, he said, people are uneasy about getting together in clubs or elsewhere with compatriots they do not know very well.  A Brazilian journalist, a longtime resident of the city, agreed, saying that the lack of community was due to Brazilian "paranoia" about the INS.  Although denunciations to the authorities are probably rare, when they do occur, people become "paranoid that whenever they have a disagreement with another Brazilian they will be reported to Tia Mimi."  

... Still, a majority of Brazilians were realists about the lack of community spirit.  They said that they and most other Brazilians were in New York for one reason only: to make as much money as quickly as possible for the return to Brazil.  They do not get involved in clubs or other activities because that would take time away from this one overriding goal.  Or as one Brazilian emphatically put it, "We don't have an immigrant spirit because we are not immigrants." (p.197-199)

NATIONAL COLORS (click on thumbnail to see enlarged pictures)

Little Brazil sits in the heart of midtown Manhattan in New York City.  Usually, its boundary is taken to be the West 46th Street block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  There is no large physical structure to denote its presence.  Except for the proliferation of the yellow and green colors and a small street sign, it is indistinguishable from the other streets in the area.

Little Brazil is marked by a
street sign at the intersection of
5 Avenue & 46th Street

Right on Fifth Avenue is 
Banco do Brasil, next to
Safra National Bank

Even the pushcarts
 advertise their food in green/yellow colors on the side

The sunshades
for the pushcarts
are in green/yellow colors


Little Brazil is located in the heart of midtown Manhattan.  There are many restaurants in the area to serve business people and tourists.

The All-Star Cafe
theme restaurant on Time Square

Can McDonald's be faraway
anywhere in the world?

When there's a MacDonald's,
there's a Burger King right by.

World Wrestling Federation
theme restaurant on Time Square

This being Little Brazil, there are obviously a number of Brazilian restaurants.  These restaurants cater to different kinds of clients.  Some offer low-cost Brazilian-Portuguese cuisine for Brazilians.  For example, the Cabana Carioca offers an all-you-can-eat buffet featuring typical Brazilian dishes (rice, beans, ox tail stew, beef stew, fried fish, grilled pork, grilled chicken, etc), with the odd feature that their ground floor outlet offers the deluxe buffet at US$10.95 per person while the second floor walk-up offers the budget buffet at US$5.45 for essentially the same food.  Other restaurants offer high-price Brazilian-Portuguese cuisine.  At the Via Brasil restaurant, for US$25 not including appetizer, wine, caipirinhas or dessert, a couple can enjoy a feijoada, the national dish of a stew made of pig ears, tails, snout, tongue and hoofs combined with dried meats, sausages, slab bacon and salted pork, accompanied by kale, fried manioc flour, oranges and black beans on rice with a liberal sprinkling of malagueta sauce.

Via Brasil restaurant,
with a sidewalk cafe
featuring tables in the street

A Brazilian style-buffet, with the deluxe
buffet at ground level and budget
buffet on a second-floor walkup

Brasilian-Portuguese cuisine
at the Ipanema restaurant,
next to money changer 

It would make no sense to have an entire street lined with restaurants serving the same national cuisine, even if the district is known as Little Brazil, especially considering that the business people form the majority of the clientele and no one wants to eat the same food everyday.  Here are some other styles of cuisine found on the same street.

Brasilia restaurant stands
next to Mom's Bagels & Tables

Mexican food at the Viva Tequila,
Italian food at the Via Italia ristorante

Café Cello
American Spanish cuisine


At one point in time, Little Brazil may have been a place for Brazilian tourists to come and shop, especially for consumer electronics and gifts.  There are even sacoleiros who travel to New York City on a regular basis solely for shopping purposes, then selling the articles back in their country.  While it is true that such items are available in just about everywhere for about the same prices, the Brazilian stores may additional services such as direct shipping to Brazil (and not always legally) as well as Portuguese-speaking sales people.  However, the size of this type of business depends largely on the purchasing power of Brazilians, import tariffs, currency exchange rates as well as other competitive locations (such as Miami (Florida) and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay)).

Other businesses in Little Brazil aim to serve the Brazilian community, offering services such as imported magazines, newspapers, CDs and videotapes, travel bookings, money exchange, wire transfers of money and orders for flowers delivered in Brazil.

Portuguese-language outdoor ad
 for the Brazilian services
of Continental Airlines

The Buzios boutique for swimwear,
"365 days a year"

Brasil Way, pharmacy and
department store

46 Computers for electronics, 
video equipment and gift items

Rio, a store with clearance sale
and available for rent

The other Rio store advertises for 
close-out sales of travel luggage and needs


Three blocks up from 46th Street along Fifth Avenue is the Rockefeller Center complex of buildings.  On the other side of Fifth Avenue is the majestic St. Patrick's Cathedral, standing out in a row of glass and concrete skyscrapers.  Inside Rockefeller Center, the tourists will not be able to view the famous Diego Rivera mural of Lenin leading the workers of the world.  Nelson Rockefeller sent Rivera a letter that said: "While I was in the No. 1 building at Rockefeller Center yesterday viewing the progress of your thrilling mural, I noticed that in the most recent portion of the painting you had included a portrait of Lenin.  The piece is beautifully painted, but it seemed to me that this portrait, appearing in this mural, might very easily seriously offend a great many people.  If it were in a private house it would be one thing, but this mural is in a public building and the situation is therefore quite different.  As much as I dislike to do so, I am afraid we must ask you to substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin's face now appear."  Rivera refused and was fired, and the Rockefellers had the mural hammered off the walls on the night of February 9, 1934.  So instead we will have to settle today for the symbol of the tireless worker Atlas carrying the load of the world on his back while the rich and famous wine and dine ...

St. Patrick's Cathedral, 
residence of the Archbishop of New York

A statue of Atlas 
holding the earth on his back

The ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center is
a dining area during the summer


Little Brazil is just a short block away from Time Square, the world-famous tourist center.  In recent years, Time Square has undergone major changes.  Whereas previously it had a reputation of being seedy due to the large number of adult entertainment outlets (such as peep shows, video/magazine stores, live strip shows, pornographic movie houses), Time Square today is squarely aimed at attracting middle-class tourists with the traditional Broadway theater shows, modern hotels, multiplex cinemas, and theme restaurants.

This is building from which
the ball drops on New Year's Eve

Electronic NASDAQ
stock quotations

Television entertainment and
news on the ABC network

The star of an ABC
daily serial drama

For a tourist area with dense pedestrian and vehicular traffic all the time, one would have expected to see a lot of outdoor advertising.  Although Time Square has the most amount of neon-lit boards in the city, the lights are not as impressive and overwhelming as in places like the major streets of  Hong Kong or the Ginza district of Tokyo.  

Kodak's motion video
billboard over the Marriott Hotel

MTV studio overlooking Time Squares
for celebrity interviews

Topless female model advertises
Jockey underwear 



(posted by Roland Soong on 8/18/00)

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