Sometimes I’ll say “let’s be Brazilian about it,” and it’s not always flattering. It means taking a short cut bordering on the illegal, so for example, cutting a line in traffic. But many times, the “jeitinho Brasileiro”, the Brazilian way, makes something that in theory is not an option, possible. For examples, squeezing in another person at a packed dinner table, or letting someone into a store one minute after closing time. “Being Brazilian about it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to World Cup Soccer.
I thought I was Brazilian for most of my life. I was born in São Paulo, and lived there until I was fifteen. I spoke Portuguese but my parents spoke Spanish, and every summer I came to New York to see my Cuban family. I was an expat, and though I went to the American school, my friends were mostly Brazilian and as far as I knew, so was I.
In 1987 I left Brazil to live in Casablanca, Morocco as my father, who worked for an American company was transferred there. I never moved back, and slowly through the years, I began to identify more with the Cuban American woman than with the Brazilian one. The relevance of Brazilian culture in my day to day is smaller each year. Yet I hear a drum, “a butcada” and my hips move, I hear someone speaking Portuguese and more often than not, I strike a conversation. The sounds and smells of Brazil remind me of my childhood. It fills me with both nostalgia and comfort. And one of the things I did growing up was to watch the Brazil team play soccer surrounded by Brazilian fans.
When I realized we would be with my husband’s family in New Jersey during the Brazil versus Colombia game, I thought it would be a great time to share with my boys something of my upbringing. Even if Brazil is a borrowed culture, it is part of mine and hence part of theirs. We hopped on the train and headed to Little Brazil in New York City to watch the game.
After some walking around we literally grabbed the last table at a small restaurant. Everyone, everywhere, was wearing a “verde e amarelo” (green and yellow) including the boys and I. Joe was secretly rooting for the underdog Colombia, but I think we converted him midway.
Being the last ones in the restaurant, we got the crappiest table. Not only were we underneath the screen, but our backs were also to it. We sat next to a mother/daughter tourist duo on vacation in the same crappy predicament. After some small talk, we came up with a solution to our terrible seats: we gave it a “jeitinho Brasileiro.” As the game was about to start, we moved the tables against the wall making space for all of us to turn our seats and face the big screen. The worst seats in the house all of a sudden became the best ones.
As the national anthem began to play, the restaurant came to life with all of us joining in. I saw my kids smiling as the sound reverberated through the walls, and our lips were in synch with the players on the field. Massive clapping, loud cheering, and a couple of horns later the ball was rolling on the field. All we were missing where the drums, who apparently didn’t make it to that particular restaurant. Oh well.
Brazil scored in the first eight minutes and the restaurant went crazy. Horns, clapping, cheering and a chorus began: “ole, ole, ole …. Brasil, Brasil.” We were boisterous and enthusiastic. People hugged each other and jumped up and down.
Thankfully, the game was not a nail bitter with a 2-1 finish for a Brazil win in regular play. Previous games had been much more indecisive, and there was collective relief the drama didn’t last past ninety minutes. Yet more than the game, I was most interested in my boys, and how they were experiencing this whole thing.
Dreamer, who has no interest in playing soccer, knows quite a lot about the players from collecting FIFA cards. He was paying attention, and became engrossed in the game with me. Fearless, who is bouncy by nature, was feeding off the restaurant crowd. Every time there was a close call that Brazil might score, Joe would lift Fearless up in his arms. Because we were in front of the screen, the entire restaurant would cheer as if Fearless was a Brazilian flag being waved. He couldn’t have enough of it.
The sheer loudness of the restaurant, the singing, the cheering all made me feel like I was home, to what I knew and grew up with. I made sure to tell the boys (probably in a very obnoxious motherly way) “this is what I used to do when I was a kid.” I rarely have a chance to tell them that.
We said goodbye to our new mother/daughter friends and hugged as if we had known each other for ages talking about meeting again next week when Brazil faces Germany. As we left the restaurant we walked around the block that is Little Brazil (46th street between 5th and 6th Avenues), I was looking for the block party I remembered from world cups passed. Back then, the street closed as people took to it to dance Samba and celebrate a victory. People were slowly arriving but with two young children, and a train to catch, we decided to leave before the heavy party started.
We walked to Penn Station (35th and 6th) all donned out in our Brazil outfits. We would see others in Brazil shirts and there was an instantaneous cheer, if we passed someone with Colombia shirts we told them good game. And I can’t tell you how many un-indentified individuals (as in, they were not wearing a team shirt) would give us high fives, or a spontaneous “whoo hoo” as we walked down the street.
We got to the train and I was still buzzing. I had wanted my kids to experience this so deeply, and to have gone all the way to into New York City and then to have not only a vibrating game but a victory, was perfect.
As soon as we got back to our small town, we were told there were fireworks at the local elementary school playground. I had completely forgotten it was the fourth of July, a holiday we celebrate as a family every year with a parade and a beachside fireworks display. The boys pleaded to go, and I obliged though I told them we had to run home and change. It felt odd to go to a fourth of July party dressed in Brazilian colors.
We made it to the playground with a few minutes to spare, and as the boys horsed around I observed the very “New Englandy” crowd, quite different from the one we had just left behind in New York. As we watched the fireworks, it dawned on me that this will be my children’s history: they will take their kids to a fireworks display on the fourth of July as they have done. This is who they are and what they know. They don’t feel as I do when they hear the beat of the drum; they don’t speak Portuguese to the waiter and feel the nostalgia of “home” as I do. But long after I am gone, if every four years they watch a Brazil soccer match and tell their kids about their grandma, then being Brazilian about it was certainly worth the effort.