World Cup stirs mixed feelings for Chicago’s Brazilian community

Brazilians in Chicago celebrate World Cup with caution

June 9, 2014

(WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)
Chicago Samba entertains a crowd at Lakeview’s Mayfest.

In the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, a small crowd gathers under a white street festival tent to watch Chicago Samba. The eight piece group features musicians and two women dancing in large fruit covered Carmen Miranda inspired headdresses.

Mo Marchini is the group’s founder. He says he’d love to be in his hometown of Sao Paulo to watch the World Cup. But says he’ll settle playing Brazilian music in Chicago. Marchini started the samba group 20 years ago because he wanted to showcase Brazilian culture.

“We came from 30 years of a military (dictatorship) over there. We had a coup d'etat in 1964 and it devastated the country culturally,” says Marchini.

“We were prohibited to think, pretty much. To vote. To do anything. We started voting 20 years ago. The country’s really back. It has to catch up with the whole world.”

That’s why Marchini thinks Brazil hosting the month-long soccer tournament is going to be an amazing thing for his country. He says it’ll show to the rest of the world that they’ve arrived.  

Sergio Barreto agrees. He  runs Chicagoano, a bilingual blog and website for Chicago’s Brazilian community. He started the website because he wanted to get past the stereotypical images people may have.

“Every Brazilian event that you go, even if it’s a professional event, will end the mulatas dancing,” says Barreto. “They’re scantily clad and it perpetuates this image that we’re shallow people.”

Barreto thinks the mixed race women who dance the samba can’t be the only image people have of Brazilians. Like Mo, he says there’s been unrest accompanying the progress Brazilians have enjoyed.

Over the last year, police departments, teachers, homeless workers and indigenous tribes, among others, have rallied against the government for spending billions on the games. Barreto is upset the daily protests may skew opinion on his country.

“If the whole world is watching and you’re going to basically tell the world ‘you don’t want to come here. You don’t want to invest here. This place is a mess. Take it from us, we live here.’ I mean how is that going to benefit the country in the long run?”

This is the first time Brazil has hosted the World Cup since 1950. With five championships, Brazil has the most World Cup wins in the history of the games. As a country that’s favored to win the tournament, Barreto’s eyes well up as he explains what soccer means to him.

“It’s an emotional topic for all of us. Not to sound like a cliche but soccer is in the blood,” says Barreto. “Every four years when the World Cup arrives and you’re watching the games, it stirs you up inside.”

College student Carolina Mendes says despite some mixed feelings, she’ll watch the games. She’s eating at the Brazilian Bowl restaurant in Lakeview. There, you’ll find traditional items like feijoada, coxinha and maracuja juice. Brazilian groceries are on shelves stacked floor to ceiling. The game’s armadillo mascot, a little Fuleco doll, sits on a cash register.  

“The World Cup is for all the world. Not for Brazilian people,” says Mendes. “They cannot afford these tickets. People think it’s a good thing for Brazil. It’s not. We need to spend money on other things.”

How Brazil will do in the World Cup is a huge test for the country as it prepares to host another international event: the Olympic games in 2016.

Follow WBEZ Host/Producer Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter @yolandanews & Google+