Thursday, August 25, 2005

Soap Opera Lures Brazilians To United States

No virus found in this outgoing message. Checked by AVG Anti-Virus. Version: 7.0.344 / Virus Database: 267.10.15/81 - Release Date: 8/24/2005

Soap Opera Lures Brazilians To United States
Aug 25 8:08 AM US/Eastern

By Andrew Hay

BRASILIA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazilians are illegally entering the United States in record numbers in hopes of finding jobs and better lives -- just like characters in a wildly popular Brazilian soap opera "America."

The number of undocumented Brazilians caught on U.S. soil is set to rise over four fold this year from 2004 -- a much bigger increase than for illegal immigrants from other Latin American countries, according to U.S. officials.

As authorities search for factors spurring the exodus, they have begun to look at the passion of Brazil's poor for "America," a soap opera that debuted in early March and shows illegal immigrants risking their lives to enter the United States to find jobs and romance amid the hardship.

"Any publicity raises the idea in people's minds they can make it," said one U.S. diplomat who did not want to be identified.

Like half of all Brazilian TV viewers, Tarcila Madureira Silva tuned in each night to the Globo network soap opera. She watched heroine Sol make it as a dancer in Miami and send money home to help her family, in between passionate scenes with her American lover.

Silva, 20, had already watched her neighbors build homes with money they earned from illegal work in the United States.

"I decided to seek a better life for my family," says Silva, who in July left behind her mother and two young brothers in the farming town of Gonzaga, Minas Gerais to make the 5,000 mile journey to the U.S.-Mexican border.

Like one in four illegal immigrants, she was picked up by U.S. authorities shortly after crossing. Though many get out on bail and get away, Silva was deported.

"The soap opera is true; here in Brazil poor people have no chance," said Silva, as her mother fretted over how they will buy food and pay the $65 monthly rent for their crumbling, mud-brick home.


Brazilians in the past few months have become the second-largest group of illegal immigrants detained in the United States after Mexicans -- overtaking Hondurans -- as up to a third of residents in some poor Brazilian towns seek work abroad. Teen-agers as young as 15 are making the trip.

Driving poor Brazilians are dreams they can find hope, money and glamour they lack at home.

Brazil's economy is growing but unemployment is still near 10 percent. Nearly half the population lives in poverty and fights for a limited number of jobs that pay a minimum monthly wage of $128 that is difficult to live on.

As U.S. officials tried to explain this year's surge in numbers they first noticed a three-year-high in Brazil's local currency made it cheaper to pay the $9,000 fee traffickers charge to smuggle migrants across the Mexican border.

Also, talk that Mexico will impose tighter immigration controls may have prompted more Brazilians to make the trip, a U.S. Embassy official said.

Since 2001, the United States has tightened immigration controls, raising the number of Brazilians crossing illegally.

But when the number of Brazilians caught on the border between April and May rose to over 7,000 -- nearly the same as during the whole of 2004 -- U.S. officials began to look for other factors and came across the soap.

U.S. Embassy officials in Brazil have been glued to "America" ever since.

The show has tripled the number of Brazilians heading for the border, said Leonardo Monteiro, a lower house deputy and member of a Congressional inquiry into emigration.

Migrant rights group say it has had a huge influence.

"It shows most people in great difficulties, but the fact one or two do well creates the image people can make it," said Luis Bassegio, head of the Brazilian Catholic Church's migrant relief service.


Critics like Monteiro say "America" glorifies illegal immigration by showing Brazilians living in a cozy fantasy world rather than the country's gritty, illegal underbelly.

The soap's producers say it shows reality, albeit in the glossy, lavishly produced form of a melodrama.

"The soap shows Brazilians that go in search of dreams of a better life and end up as excluded and segregated immigrants in a foreign land," said Gloria Perez, the author of "America."

"America" portrays Brazilians suffering discrimination, exploitation and racial segregation -- everything they face at home in big cities.

The difference is that in the soap, as in real life, they get jobs as maids and construction workers that pay in a couple of days what they get during a month in Brazil.

The 1.3 million Brazilians in the United States -- half of them illegal -- send around $2 billion back home each year. Those that return home with money inspire thousands more to follow in their footsteps.

Stories of Brazilians found drowned in the Rio Grande or dead in the desert don't even make it to newspapers.

Wearing a thick gold chain and a T-shirt reading "Massachusetts Home Sweet Home," Fabiano da Silva sits outside the restaurant he opened in the farming town of Guanhaes, Minas Gerais, with his U.S. nest egg.

He worked illegally in the United States for four years as a gardener and in restaurants. "I'd do it all again," da Silva tells his friends, as they listen to his American tales.

(c) Reuters 2005. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.


Post a Comment

<< Home