A big Brazilian flag can be seen from the intersection of San Pablo and MacDonald avenues in Richmond. Smart BR Coffee, a Brazilian restaurant-coffee house at 4820 Bissell Avenue, has the flag painted covering the front of its building. During World Cup matches, the restaurant’s parking lot fills up and cheers can be heard from the street in the middle of the day.
In addition to a Brazilian flag outside, the café flies fabric flags of the U.S., Mexico, Honduras and South Africa both inside and outside the building. “Welcome,” reads one big sign hanging on the interior. There’s a wall covered with flyers, postcards and cards advertising the many Brazilian events and businesses all over the Bay Area.
“I come here to eat typical Brazilian food, find friends and community and watch the game,” said Cesar Menezes, a Richmond resident and Brazilian immigrant whose work maintaining soccer fields is flexible enough that he can come and watch the World Cup at Smart BR Coffee.
Menezes was one of about 60 people who showed up at the restaurant to watch Brazil’s national soccer team play Chile at 11:30 a.m. on Monday. Most of the spectators were Brazilian and were wearing the team’s T-shirt, caps or some item that represented their country.
Opened just eight months ago, Smart BR Coffee is a spot where Brazilians who live in or near Richmond come to have a little taste of home. Richmond has only three Brazilian restaurants, but different Brazilian communities organize events to make sure they gather together with their compatriots.
The Brazilian Consulate in San Francisco estimates that there are 40,000 Brazilians living in the Bay Area. “We don’t really know because we don’t have them registered,” said Rosana Sa, Assistant for Cultural Affairs from of the Brazilian Consulate.
The high rents in the Bay Area have led many Brazilian immigrants to choose to live in Richmond because housing is more affordable. Menezes said that’s the case for his friends and himself. “I found a cheap place in Richmond and it’s a nice place,” he said.
Two printed Brazilian newspapers — Brasil Best and Brazil Today — circulate in the Bay Area. Three of Richmond’s Christian churches — the Bay Area Brazilian Church, The First Presbyterian Church and the Church of the Living God — offer Portuguese-speaking ministries.
William Silva, or “Pastor William,” as his parishioners from the Bay Area Brazilian Church know him, said that Brazilian immigrants usually work in construction, as baby sitters, drivers, delivering newspapers and in the hauling business. “They work hard,” he said.
Olavo Dourado, owner of Smart BR Coffee, said that he was one of the first Brazilians to move to Richmond 23 years ago, and that during the past 20 years the population grew. However, “about 30 percent had left in the past two or three years,” Dourado estimated, saying that the recent economy here had pushed some immigrants to go back to their home country.
Eddy Delima immigrated from Brazil 24 years ago. He’s seen the growth and decline of the Brazilian population, too. Delima is member of Saint John the Baptist, a Catholic church in El Cerrito. On Sundays his church offers mass in Portuguese. According to Delima, about 140 Brazilians are members of this church, and half of them are Richmond residents, including himself.
Delima was one of the organizers of Festa Junina, a traditional Brazilian June Festival related to St. John the Baptist’s holy day. The festival took place June 5 at Richmond’s Veteran’s Hall, where more than 500 people showed up to enjoy the Brazilian food, live music, costumes, and a play. Delima said that events like these are important because, “We want to celebrate our culture and keep it alive.”
Acording to Delima, Brazilian immigrants work too hard and don’t have much of a social life, so his hope is that, “if they are feeling homesick, they can come to the event and have fun for one day,” he said.
“We get together to celebrate because we are lonely,” said Thais Silva, owner of Pikanha’s steak house, a Brazilian family-owned restaurant in Point Richmond. She said that Brazilians like to hear happy music and to feel at home with one another because, “We miss our country.”
Pastor William says that most Brazilian immigrants in Richmond are young people in their twenties who left their families behind. “They work so hard that they don’t have a life anymore,” said the pastor.
Like Delima’s church, Pastor William’s Bay Area Brazilian Church also organizes events, like a Brazilian celebration this past Saturday that included capoeira, food and music. “People started to came at eight in the morning until eight at night,” he said. His church has a TV screen where parishioners can watch the World Cup games — they had one last Sunday, when Brazil was played the Ivory Coast, which was followed by a barbeque.
Maria Rodman, who was born in Brazil and is now a U.S. citizen, has lived in the country for 38 years. She came from Berkeley to the Smart BR Coffee to watch the match against Chile together with other Brazilians, “We are patriots, we like soccer games and we like to cheer up together,” she said. Brazil beat Chile 3-0.