Brazil's expats see value in going home

A taxi driver in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, shows a U.S. dollar bill and four Brazilian coins worth 1.70 reals, its exchange equivalent in mid-March 2008. Rio's taxi drivers prefer to be paid in local currency rather than dollars.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The dollar followed stocks up today. Traders bumped the greenback about a percent higher against the Euro.

Foreign exchange rates play into the economy in a whole bunch of ways: imports and exports, manufacturing and immigration -- not about people coming here; about people leaving.

Brazilian immigrants in the United States are returning home by the thousands. With the dollar falling and the economy back home booming, many of them have decided it's simply not worth it to live here anymore.

From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech has the story.


Dan Grech: Edineia Benicio just bought a one-way plane ticket: Boston to Brazil.

Edineia Benicio: I have to go home. I have a lot of stuff to do there, so I gotta go.

Benicio is a 33-year-old illegal immigrant from Belo Horizonte, Brazil. For the past five years, she worked as a hair dresser in Allston, Massachusetts. She's not being forced out; she's eager to leave.

Benicio: I'm going back and I don't think I'll be able to come again. I don't want to come again. The style of life that I want to live is in Brazil, not here.

While the US economy flounders, Brazil's is on a tear. It grew 5.4 percent in 2007. Its currency, the real, has doubled in value against the dollar in over the past five years.

In Brazil, Benicio can be close to her family, live without the threat of deportation and run her own business. She used the money she earned in the U.S. to start a motorcycle repair shop in her home town.

Benicio: I build my store, I bought all the parts of motorcycle. Do you want to know how much it cost for me? Like $25,000, something like that.

Up to 10,000 Brazilian immigrants in Boston -- many of them here illegally -- are expected to follow Benicio home this year. Brazilian strongholds in New Jersey and South Florida are seeing a similar exodus.

Many immigrants say they are leaving because they feel lonely and afraid as local sentiment has turned against illegal immigrants and, for the first time in decades, these Brazilians have a viable alternative back home: a robust economy with plenty of jobs.

Fausto da Rocha runs the Brazilian Immigration Center in Allston. He says until recently Brazilians crowded blocks like this one in the city center.

Fausto da Rocha: Now we start to have the reverse. The Brazilians not coming. We see more and more Brazilians move back.

Massachusetts has an estimated 1,000 Brazilian businesses with a quarter billion in annual sales.

da Rocha: For example, we're on Harvard Avenue. We have over here a beauty salon, we have a money transfer agency, we have a Brazilian bakery, a computer store and the other Brazilian beauty salon.

But da Rocha says the reverse migration of Brazilians could undermine the economies of towns like Marlborough and Milford.

Vera Dias-Freitas owns a popular jewelry store in Framingham.

Vera Dias-Freitas: We've been doing this for 16 years now and we have a niche market that's the Brazilian community in downtown Framingham.

Entrepreneurs like Dias-Freitas have helped revitalize the town center and Dias-Freitas, an American citizen, has been a leading voice uniting old timers with the new arrivals, but she says Framingham officials have turned hostile to the Brazilian community: local police have started demanding documentation and city officials have stopped returning calls.

Dias-Freitas: We felt at home. It has changed. I feel violated. I tried to be a voice for my community. There is no one out there listening. Their agenda is being fulfilled. We are disappearing by the minute.

Sales at the jewelry store are down 75 percent. She may have to close.

Dias-Freitas: Once shops like mine won't make it through, they will realize what they lost.

Experts say if the economy continues to slow, other immigrant groups may soon follow the Brazilian vanguard.

In Framingham, Massachusetts, I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...