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Geopolitics

Brazilians In The U.S., A Quiet Latin American Diaspora

The number of Brazilians living and working in the United States is growing fast, yet neither government has taken the steps necessary to mobilize this community.

A professional samba dancer at a New York subway stop.
A professional samba dancer at a New York subway stop.
Matias Spektor

-OpEd-


SAO PAULO — The number of Brazilians emigrating to the United States has been growing significantly in recent years. Estimates put the number of Brazilian citizens living in the U.S. at more than one million, a figure that doesn't include the children born there. But this community's size isn't all that's growing. So is its influence in American politics.

The average income of Brazilian expats in the United States tops that of whites, African-Americans and other Latinos, placing it second only to that of the Asian community. And more than a third of them are statistically rich, earning more than $100,000 per year. They also boast the lowest unemployment rate of any ethnic or racial group.

They are generally people with long years of study behind them. Among adults, 30% of men and 35% of women hold university degrees. Only 10% of them haven't finished high school, and 80% say they speak English fluently.

As it expands, the U.S. Brazilian community is becoming more organized. The list of Brazilian associations established in America, dedicated to professional, religious, sports and philanthropic activities, numbers in the dozens. Many Brazilians have recently become eligible to vote and will take part in the democratic process for the first time during the next election. This means that in the years to come, this community will find its own voice and will influence a number of important electoral districts, especially in Boston, New York and Miami, where most of these expats are established.

But unlike what other countries have been doing, neither the Brazilian nor the U.S. government has made any effort to know more about this population — for example, by updating or expanding the data mentioned in this piece. And yet, having an understanding of the Brazilian community in the U.S. is critical if the government ever wants to mobilize it.

Besides, because of their concentration, expanding this knowledge wouldn't be too costly. Almost all of the Brazilians living in the United States come from the southeastern states: Goias, Minas Gerais, Parana, Santa Catarina and Sao Paulo. And almost all of them settle in California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey or New York.

Dilma Rousseff and Barack Obama should seize the opportunity offered by the Brazilian president's June 30 visit to Washington to commission such a detailed study. This sort of initiative would allow both administrations to establish policies directly aimed at this group, improving bilateral relations between the two countries.

Other nations in different parts of the world have already adopted such a strategy regarding their citizens living in the United States. The American embassies of China, Colombia, India, Ireland, Israel, Turkey and Ukraine have demonstrated a determination to turn their own communities into the sort of political blocs that nobody in Washington can afford to ignore.

From the Brazilian government's point of view, the goal wouldn't be to solve diplomatic issues or to revolutionize the nature of the relationship with the United States. First and foremost, it would be about establishing a reserve of American goodwill towards Brazil, something that's nonexistent at the moment.

That way at least, when the next diplomatic crisis arises between Washington and Brasilia, over spying or anything else, there will be a framework to control the damage.

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