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Brazilian Day Festival and the cleansing of 46th street: Representing Brazilian identities in New York City.

Introduction (1)

The Brazilian Day Festival in New York is the longest running Brazilian event outside of Brazil--as much in terms of individual participation as of spatial and media presence--and is the pioneer of the "Brazilian Day" brand, which has been replicated in other major cities worldwide. The festivities began in 1985 on New York City's West 46th Street, in an area subsequently known as "Little Brazil," a central geographical symbol of the Brazilian presence in Manhattan. It was originally a civic and community celebration designed to pay tribute to Brazilian Independence Day but, since its foundation, it has been recognized as an "ethnic event" in the official cultural program of the city, organized by Brazilians who resettled in New York. (2) Since its inception the event has gone through many different phases: for example, being co-opted by the Brazilian TV network Globo and in 2008 introducing the Cleansing of 46th Street, which draws inspiration from the Cleansing of Bonfim Church in Salvador, Bahia, and serves as a community-based counterpoint to the main event. (3)

While completing my doctoral research, I became increasingly cognizant of the scarcity of published work documenting Brazilian festivities that occur outside of Brazil. Margolis (1994, 293) notes the existence of the Brazilian Day Festival as the main ethnic Brazilian event in New York City during the 1990s. And Meihy (2004, 115) points out that the event's has been important for the community since its inception, primarily because it is conducted in Midtown Manhattan, an area considered wealthy and of great commercial and touristic visibility in the city. Beserra (2005a, 2005b) and Ribeiro (1999) are among the few authors who have analyzed the relationship between US-bound Brazilian immigration and popular festivities in Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, successfully demonstrating the value of such research on festivities and Brazilian identities in international contexts. More broadly, studies regarding other Latin American festivities have demonstrated successfully the value of such events in understanding diasporic phenomena--such as the celebration of El Cinco de Mayo in the US, especially in California (Hayes-Bautista 2012)--and the use of transnational commemorations in the creation of local immigrant identities.

This article seeks to address the gap in research by presenting a detailed analysis of the historical transformations that have taken place in the Brazilian Day Festival in New York over the last few decades. By doing so, I unpack the negotiations and alliances behind these transnational commemorations between large media (represented by the Globo network and Globo Internacional), community media (represented by The Brasilians and other local agents, such as the online VejaTV channel), and the Brazilian community, paying attention to how the organizers of the celebration act as "translators" (Bhabha 1998) of Brazilian culture to wider audiences. I also discuss the significance of the Cleansing of 46th Street as a counter-event. I show how the "Cleansing" gets re-signified in New York City as a transnational cultural practice, removing its religious background while retaining some important performative elements to convey a positive multicultural message to both Brazilians and non-Brazilians. Brazilian identities are here understood in the terms elaborated by Sovik (2003, 15), as "a space that is embraced, a weaving together of position and context, and not an essence or substance to be analyzed." Moreover, these celebrations must be described and understood within their social, cultural, and economic contexts, comprising transformative processes and particular motivations (Amaral 1998).


The observations reported here are the result of fieldwork conducted in New York City (NYC) during 2009 and 2010. Throughout this period, I conducted interviews with the organizers of both the Brazilian Day Festival and the Cleansing of 46th Street (Lavagem da Rua 46). I also analyzed the information published in the monthly Brazilian community newspaper in New York City, The Brasilians, between January 1985 and December 2009. (4) This 25-year timeframe coincides with the first two and a half decades of the event's annual September realization. The pages of this publication document the history of the festival, including information on all of its transformations. Indeed, this is the oldest Brazilian newspaper in circulation outside of Brazil (Vieira 2008; Borges, Mendes, and Lima 2009), and the newspaper's staff has participated in the organization of Brazilian Day ever since its inauguration. It bears mentioning, however, that this newspaper does not represent a single perspective. Rather, it comprises the opinions and views of many of the collaborators, columnists, photographers, sponsors, and readers who interacted with and in the newspaper's pages. Part of my fieldwork also included interviews with Brazilian immigrants and, in particular, those involved in the field of cultural promotion. (5)

New York's Brazilian Day is unique each year. Yet, as revealed in my diachronic analysis of the newspaper The Brasilians during the event's first 25 years, the event has gone through important changes that I organize into four historical moments. I also show how the Brazilian community has contested the development of the commemoration into a large-scale event. The Lavagem da Rua 46 has therefore been created as a counter-event, drawing inspiration from the Cleansing of Bonfim Church in Salvador, Bahia. However, as the section on the historical origins of this religious and profane event from Bahia shows, the various elements of the Lavagem needed to be mediated and translated for a new context so it could be shared with members of New York City's Brazilian immigrant community and with wider audiences.

The First Years: Celebrating the Democracy (1985-86)

Jota Alves was the main force behind Brazilian Day. The creator and then president of The Brasilians, he had already been involved in the organization of popular and successful Brazilian Carnival festivities in Manhattan for many years. In 1985, with the end of the military dictatorship in Brazil, Alves decided to bring the community together to commemorate this landmark with a public event, which would take place on Brazilian Independence Day (7 September) in a central location of the city: West 46th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Since the 1960s, this address had been a hub for various Brazilian shops and offices, as well as for the headquarters of numerous public and private Brazilian institutions (Meihy 2004).

This first celebration, a "block party" held in 1985 in commemoration of 7 September, was considered the first "Brazilian Independence Day Street Festival" in NYC. In February 1986, Jota Alves organized his last Brazilian Carnival in the city, Baile da Democracia (Democracy Dance). In July of the same year, the calls for the Brazilian Day Festival, published in The Brasilians, stated that the festivities would be dedicated to the "centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty." Published in the same edition was a proclamation from Ed Koch, mayor of New York City, declaring that 7 September was officially "Brazilian Day." In 1986, the mayor made an appearance at the event and took the stage to thank Brazilians for the celebration: "Thank you, Brazil, for such a beautiful celebration, in my city" (The Brasilians September 1986). The newspaper covered the party, underscoring the community's involvement, publishing many photos, and calling attention to the participation of local musicians and bands.

At this time, the celebration was characterized primarily as a tribute to Independence Day. The discourses and practices celebrated were those that linked the festivities to the return of democracy, to patriotism, and to a sentiment of community integration, an opportunity to bring friends together and experience a nostalgic sense of "Brazilianness." The primary motivation of the party was to create a space for the community to celebrate publicly. Of particular value were spontaneity, improvisation, and the meeting of the Brazilian residents of the city, as well as foods, drinks, popular dances, and crafts, among other things that were regarded as typical aspects of Brazilian culture.

Ethnic Street Fair: The Transition Years (1987-91)

In 1987, Brazilian Day's new president, Joao de Matos, began to organize the event together with the staff of The Brasilians, which was run by Edilberto Mendes, editor of the newspaper and general coordinator of the Brazilian Day Festival. This change was motivated by Jota Alves' return to Brazil, after which he sold the newspaper and entrusted Matos, an established NYC-based Brazilian entrepreneur, with organizing the annual street party. The newspaper published the official attendance numbers released by the New York police department, indicating an estimated 100,000 attendees in 1987 and 250,000 in 1988. During these years, the celebration demonstrated the same characteristics as its first two years: it continued without the participation of big name artists or media personalities. However, as noted in The Brasilians, there was a stage on which local musicians played for the Brazilian expatriates who lived in the city and in nearby areas.

Some important factors contributed to the significant increase in the number of participants. The presence of the mayor in 1986 received widespread community press coverage and was recalled repeatedly in the pages of The Brasilians throughout the year. This worked as an important factor in legitimizing the celebration. Furthermore, the event's date changed; rather than always occurring on 7 September, the celebration was transferred to the weekend that precedes Labor Day in the US, which continues to be the case today. The chief Brazilian Day activities always occur on the Sunday of the holiday weekend, which marks the end of summer in the United States. This change was an important strategic decision for the event's growth, as it gave Brazilian expatriates living in other parts of the country (even those in relatively distant places) the chance to come to New York City and participate in the party. At the same time, NYC receives a dense flow of tourists on this holiday weekend. The years 1987 and 1988 also mark the first spatial expansion of the celebration, when it extended its presence to Madison Avenue, thus becoming one of the largest street festivals in the city.

At this transitional moment, while Brazilian Day was already under the direction of Joao de Matos and the staff of The Brasilians, its structure, organization, and objectives reflected a small- to mediumsized community party, just as it had originally been conceived. All of the event's promotion and advertising were guided by a focus on the maintenance and value of community spirit. Indeed, a large part of its goal was to encourage the recognition of the city's Brazilian presence--as is revealed in an analysis of the discourse in local media--and the event acted as a symbol of the search for a collective Brazilian social and political agency. The street party, with its vendors' stands and, later, artistic presentations, aimed to call attention to the immigrants, local artists, community leaders, and Brazilian commercial establishments.

During this period, a problem occurred vis-a-vis city deadlines and permits, and the event had to be cancelled. The situation was later resolved and The Brasilians spearheaded a campaign, together with the city's Brazilian community, to officially promote West 46th Street as the Brazilian street in Manhattan, a locale where anyone could find a piece of Brazil in New York City. An intensive effort was made during the following years to mobilize the community around this objective. The cover of the newspaper's April 1990 edition stated: "Our street, our people, our activities. In New York, West 46th Street is the place to find Brazilians and all things Brazil" (The Brasilians April 1990). (6)

The Renewal: Bringing Big Name Stars (1992-2002)

In its May 1992 edition, The Brasilians announced that the Independence celebration would return that year bigger and better than ever, and Joao de Matos explained why there was indeed cause for excitement. For the first time, the celebration would bring in people from outside the local Brazilian community. Whilst locally based and itinerant Brazilian artists had always been well represented at the celebration, this marked the first year the stage would welcome a big name Brazilian act: Lulu Santos, a major Brazilian pop star.

From that moment on, the celebration grew significantly. Not only did the number of participants and sponsors increase, but also it drew much more attention from Brazilians and the media. In 1993, the event's main attraction was Elba Ramalho. In attendance were other stars, such as actors Maite Proenca and Sonia Braga, as well as singer Gal Costa. Many of the invited performers were popular stars from Bahia, and particularly those who were integral to Bahia's Carnival. This predilection for Bahian artists was not a coincidence, as was stressed in interviews with Joao de Matos and Edilberto Mendes. The organizers of the event explained that, according to the attendee feedback they received annually, the Bahian attractions, as well as the country music (musica sertaneja) singers, were crowd favourites. These artists were very popular attractions for similar events held in Brazil, especially Carnival and summer festivals.

Between 1992 and 2002, the period in which Joao de Matos and The Brasilians organized Brazilian Day, the party attained great popularity in Brazilian communities outside New York City, particularly those along the East Coast. During this period the festivities attracted hundreds of thousands of participants to NYC, who enthusiastically dressed in the symbolically Brazilian colors of green and yellow. The event, which Brazilian expatriates began to view as a tradition, had by this time acquired a significant number of sponsors--both Brazilian and American companies--and had also become a regular performance venue for well-known Brazilian stars, with an increasing celebrity presence. Additionally, caravans came from all over the United States for the event.

During this 10-year period, although the event had yet to receive attention from large Brazilian media outlets such as the Globo network, the Brazilian Day Festival grew to be much more than a makeshift immigrant community street fair. It had become a celebration with a strong presence and an impressive logistical and structural organization. It was indeed these aspects that captured the attention of Globo, the television network that had gone international in 1999 (Globo Internacional), prompting the network to initiate talks with the event's local organizers.

The Internationalization Years: Globo's Involvement (2003-present)

In 2003 Globo Internacional began to participate in the organization of the event. That year's shows included well-known singers Daniel, David Moraes, and Ivete Sangalo. For 2004 it was the bands Skank and Timbalada, and in 2005 the musical attractions were Chitaozinho & Xororo and Araketu. The following year marked the first broadcast of the event, for which Banda Calypso, Babado Novo, Leonardo, and Sandy and Junior performed. With a continued tendency to include Bahian artists, the 2007 event included Asa de Aguia, Jota Quest, and Bruno and Marrone. Jorge Benjor, Lulu Santos, and Banda Eva performed in 2008. And finally, in 2009, Brazilian Day featured Victor and Leo, Elba Ramalho, Marcelo D2, Arlindo Cruz, and Alcione, with a guest appearance by Carlinhos Brown.

That these are currently among Brazil's most popular performers demonstrates the interest of the Globo network in defining lineups for the musical show that appeal to broad audiences. Indeed, the focus is placed on elements of spectacle rather than on local artists (as was the case during the event's initial years) who primarily appeal to the NYC-based Brazilians. Furthermore, the local promoters, associated with The Brasilians, contend that these are the artists whom immigrants want to see, and, given that most expatriates cannot afford to go to Brazil annually for Carnival or other similar events, the Brazilian Day Festival may be their only chance to see these big name Brazilian stars.

It is important to note that until 2002, the name "Brazilian Day," so well recognized by the public today, did not appear as the event's official title. Indeed, this expression was primarily used by the event's organizers in English-language editions of The Brasilians. In the Portuguese-language editions, the name of the celebration was commonly written as Dia do Brasil (Day of Brazil) or Festa da Independencia (Independence Day Festival). Moreover, the event's press coverage appeared less interested in the number of attendees each year than with the attention the event garnered in the city's streets and the impact the event was having in the community.

Joao de Matos made clear that the partnership he formed with the Globo network was decidedly pragmatic: "I gave Globo the rights to broadcast worldwide. In exchange, they send me performers. In other words, our partnership is nothing more [than] that. The event is mine and Globo is my partner" (interview, 1 December 2009). Presently, Globo participates not only in NYC's Brazilian Day, but also in "Brazilian Days" held in many other places around the world, and it holds the broadcast rights both in Brazil and worldwide. (7) This coverage includes reports and headlines about the event in news sources such as the Jornal Nacional (National News), Jornal Hoje (Today's News), and Fantastico. But special segments are also produced for popular entertainment programs such as Caldeirao do Huck (Huck's Melting Pot), Video Show, and Altas Horas (Late Night). The network's presenters are often invited to host the festivities, including, most recently, Andre Marques, Luciano Huck, Serginho Groisman, Xuxa, and Regina Case. Furthermore, some of Globo Internacional's programs, such as Planeta Brasil (Planet Brazil), produce specials on Brazilian Day, in which they focus on Brazilian communities in the United States.

While expatriates commemorate Brazilian independence in any number of ways, The Brasilians has always publicized Brazilian Day in New York City as the grandest of these events, as is clear in the publication's pages since the late 1980s. However, since the Globo network's involvement in the promotion of the party starting in 2003 and, later, when it began broadcasting the event in 2006, the name "Brazilian Day" has become internationally recognized. The way in which the television network publicizes the event gives the larger audience the impression that all of the world's "Brazilian Days" are part of the same grand project. This direction is defined by the network's marketing, which, using Globo Internacional's advertising machine, publicizes the events taking place around the world as though they were in fact associated with each other. Indeed, this development is shown in the abundance of news, reports, press releases, TV commercials, interviews, and special shows promoting any given overseas Brazilian Day.

In recent years, the Globo network began to expand its internationalization model not only through its international channel but also in part by creating similar Brazilian Day-like events in other cities around the world, with an eye toward locations in which large numbers of Brazilian immigrants reside. This decision has successfully expanded the network's foreign markets. By associating its brand with popular street festivals--cultural events that are considered key elements of Brazilianness (Amaral 1998)--Globo aims to connect with Brazilian immigrants around the world in order to promote its cable television channel. After all, providing information about Brazil to Brazilians as well as to foreigners interested in Brazil (by way of a paid subscription TV channel) is an efficient means of opening new consumer markets for Brazilian culture in countries with a Globo presence.

The strategic and commercial vision for the event was not a Globo innovation. Still, Joao de Matos worries about the expansion of the "Brazilian Day model" that the network is employing. Indeed, his preoccupations are fomented by the commercial aspects of a celebration that has, for over two decades, exclusively represented New York City's Brazilian community, in a one-of-a-kind event to both the US and the world. Matos believes that from the moment the Globo network began to work with businessmen and cultural producers in other cities, any problems that develop in relation to these other events could have positive or negative repercussions for the pioneering New York City event, which was initially created through the innovative entrepreneurial efforts developed by his team together with the NYC-based Brazilian community.

What began as an entirely free event is now cordoned off into reserved areas for paying audience members. By buying and wearing special shirts, people receive access to the boxed seats (camarotes) and the VIP section; space is also reserved for those who participate in the caravans. This model of commercialization is no doubt observable in public street parties in Brazil, particularly during Carnival and Carnival-like festivities. In addition, the renting of space and the obtaining of permits for vendors of food, drink, and crafts are negotiated by a festival productions company that specializes in street fairs and is not reserved solely for Brazilian merchants and products, but are instead open for people and merchandize of any national origin.

With Globo's participation, the promotion and publicity of the event has been decentralized--no longer being handled exclusively by members of the Brazilian immigrant community--and the event's direction follows the network's model for the representation of Brazilian culture during the festival. The musical attractions that make up the show are now the primary focus of Brazilian Day's publicity, and are widely recognized around the world, not just within the expatriate community. The show's duration increases in accordance with the duration of the festival, and although the event still has its street fair, merchants now must compete with the numerous performances that take place all day on the main stage.

Currently, two distinct moments of the celebration occur simultaneously in adjacent spaces. On one side is the "ethnic" aspect, characterized by the street fair--with its usual merchant stands--that continues to take place on 46th Street (Little Brazil), and which was predominant during the event's initial years. On the other side is the "media" aspect, which has gradually gained a stronger presence in recent years, and which presently is characterized by the musical show that takes place on the enormous stage erected on 43rd Street and that is broadcast on television by the Globo network.

In addition to the Globo network's broadcast, US networks have begun covering Brazilian Day as part of their local programming, including it among their cultural news stories. (8) With this rise in interest on the part of North American media outlets, chiefly among those serving a Latino audience--which also represents a significant presence at the celebration--the event was (re)discovered from the "ethnic" viewpoint, given its association with a broader cultural context of the city, that of multiculturalism. Brazilian Day is no longer seen from the viewpoint of the media and potential sponsors as a solely Brazilian celebration, but rather as a multi-ethnic show, and thus creating new commercialization and contextualization perspectives, from the social and cultural to the economic and political. The focus for both the media and business owners is the Latino population that is targeted in the United States as a burgeoning consumer market (Davila 2001).


There are also other preoccupations that extend beyond these economic or commercial concerns. For Edilberto Mendes, as well as for other members of the local organizing staff, Brazilian Day has one essential purpose: to be a community party. Besides acting as a commercial model, the event has the symbolic function of calling attention--by way of the festivities, arts, and shows--to the issue of immigration and the representations of Brazilian cultural identities outside of Brazil.

While these goals are no doubt complementary, they do not always work harmoniously. That is, despite the critiques levelled against it, no one seemed indifferent to the event. Indeed, the contradictory discourses of my interviewees regarding Brazilian Day only reinforce the significance of the festival. After analyzing the opinions collected through interviews, and also the material published in The Brasilians, I perceived remarkable changes in the sentiments immigrants expressed regarding Brazilian Day since it became a mega event. Below I present some of the comments given to me during interviews conducted in New York City between November 2009 and March 2010. These comments encapsulate the issues concerning Brazilian identity in connection to the festival, its history, and the way it is currently practiced:

The festival started small. It was growing gradually. Nowadays it's business. It's not a party. It's an event. People come from all of the United States. It's on Globo. (H.S., musician)

It's much bigger now with Globo [involved]. It was big. But it's much bigger now. I remember when it started it was only one street. They had some balloons and some food. That was it. Just like all the other [street parties]. And I think that was cool. They had no partnership, not this whole thing. Nowadays, they have these shows and they close from 6th Avenue up to 57th Street. Between 5th Avenue and Broadway. I mean, it's a big deal. Huge. But is it good? Well, I don't know if this is good. I don't know if it's good for Brazil's image. (S.S., designer)

I have never been to Brazilian Day. I think that is totally focused on Globo. I think that it's a TV Globo event, and not a Brazilian event. (T.M., journalist)

I'm aware of Brazilian Day, and it's important it exists because it promotes Brazil somehow. And it is, if I am not mistaken, the greatest street festival in NYC. But I get worried when you establish [cultural] patterns for the country and bring these standards here as if they were the only representation of the country. Our country is very diverse. (D.T., journalist)

Brazilian Day used to be [held] only on 46th Street, between 5th and 6th [Avenues]. That was it. Few people attended, you know? Then it started expanding, it became bigger. Nowadays you have about one and a half million people [on the streets]. I don't think we have any other event in New York City like that. I believe its importance is huge. It brings the community together. It raises our self-esteem. It promotes Brazil internationally. It makes Brazil become part of the world culture. (M.E., actress and singer)

I argue that the Globo network's involvement in the event may be the main reason behind such conflicting opinions. Johnson (2006) also observed strong contradictory opinions about Globo Internacional among Brazilian immigrants living in Miami and Toronto, further noting that the same is true for Brazil: people love to hate Globo. There is a cultural reason for this: despite its position as the main television channel in the country, Globo has also been involved with polemical historical and political issues, such as being linked to the military dictatorship (1964-85), among other more recent episodes.

Introducing New Cultural Elements: From Bahia to New York

In 2008, concerned with representing Brazilian identities in a more diverse way than that of the festival and interested in introducing new cultural aspects, Silvana Magda, Brazilian Day coordinator, suggested to local Brazilian Day organizers the idea of the Cleansing of 46th Street (Lavagem da Rua 46). Entrepreneur Joao de Matos, Brazilian Day executive director, together with the newspaper The Brasilians, supported the idea, and thus the event "became part of the official calendar of the largest Brazilian party outside of Brazil. The purpose of the Cleansing is to create a unique cultural celebration experience in the Big Apple" (Lavagem da Rua 46 2008).

This event comprises a parade, followed by smaller shows, all occurring the day preceding the main Globo-partnered event. This activity has a distinct backstory and aims to reclaim the spirit of the celebration's initial years. Silvana Magda explained in an interview (20 November 2009) that when she first conceived of the Cleansing, she had in mind something that would serve as a community-based counterpoint to the main event. The Cleansing of 46th Street, in addition to other cultural activities promoted by local cultural artists and producers (film showings, photography and art exhibits, lectures and debates, among other things) occurring during the week prior to the Brazilian Day Festival, operates as an important strategy by which the local Brazilian Day in New York organizers maintain their active and dynamic roles in supporting Brazilian culture in New York City.

The Cleansing of 46th Street is inspired by and refers explicitly to the ritual cleansing of the Bonfim Church (Lavagem do Bonfim), which is held annually in Salvador, Bahia, and, characterized by its blending of profane and sacred Catholic and Candomble elements, is one of the most traditional and popular religious events in Brazil. (9) This cleansing was subsequently re-signified in New York as a transcultural practice, removing its religious background while retaining some important performative elements.

The organizers strove to maintain the positive multicultural message of bringing the community together by way of

diverse voices and rhythms to genuinely represent the enchantment, the tradition of not only Bahia but of all the people. This glorious event will celebrate the purification, the energy, the nature, the unification of the people and the perpetuation of peace. The traditional Baianas [women in colonial garb], dressed in white, bejeweled with cordons and rosaries in honor of every saint, will bring their vessels of perfumed water, energizing the whole route of the parade in Little Brazil. (Lavagem da Rua 46 2008)

To understand the origins of the New York-based celebration, it is important to review some historical aspects of the Cleansing of Bonfim and recount briefly its own transformational developments.

The Origins: The Cleansing of the Bonfim Church in Salvador

The devotion to Senhor Bom Jesus (Good Lord Jesus) derives from the Middle Ages. The cult dedicated to Senhor do Bonfim (the Lord of the Good End)--a colonial designation assigned to the Crucified Christ that represented the death of Jesus on Calvary--is one of the best known and widespread in Bahia. In Brazil, the largest and best-known locus of devotion to this saint is located in the city of Salvador, where the iconic representation, or imagem (image), arrived in the mid-18th century, brought from Portugal by Captain Theodozio Rodrigues de Faria (Santana 2009). This image was said to be miraculous and was very well received by the local community. Consequently, by 1754 a church had been constructed on the apex of the hill situated on the Itapagipe peninsula in order to house the image (Serra 1995).

Initially, the celebrations in honor of Senhor do Bonfim were carried out on moveable dates. Documentation shows, however, that beginning in 1773, the celebration occurred periodically in January, on the second Sunday after Epiphany. (10) The festivities included nine days of Mass and prayers, but did not yet have its eventual procession. Some scholars suggest that the act of washing churches on the Thursday prior to religious festivities is a Portuguese tradition and was a practice typically carried out by people who lived in the church vicinity or by brotherhood members who completed this task while also having fun (Santana 2009; Sansi 2003; Serra 1995). Basing their information on data from Verger (1999) and Bastide (1978), these three authors emphasize that the practice has its roots in the payment for divine graces received by devotees, which would become a tradition by the mid-nineteenth century. As Sansi (2003) notes, historical documents from the period demonstrate that as early as 1881, nearly 500,000 people were already participating in the celebration of the Cleansing of Bonfim, which also included food and drink stands as well as music and dance in the church square.

During this period, the Catholic Church in Brazil, in an effort to separate "folklore" and "superstition" from "religion," sought to replace popular religious practices with more orthodox ones. In 1888, the year slavery was officially abolished in Brazil, a bishop pushed for the elimination of the Cleansing of Bonfim. In 1889, the Bahian government banned it and other popular festivities. However, due to pressure from the populace, the Cleansing returned in later years, taking the form of a "profane" celebration in the church square, thus quite distinct from the "sacred" activities that took place inside the church (Sansi 2003).

Serra (1999) notes that one can observe contradictions in these two celebratory spaces in many Bahian popular religious celebrations: on one side, what happens in the church--order, solemnity, circumspection, self-communion, decorum, discretion, a peaceful and reverent public attitude, contemplation of the eternal--and on the other, what happens in the square--informal and spontaneous conduct, sensuality, irreverence, promiscuous and permissive dispositions, provocative attitudes with erotic or aggressive intentions, drunkenness, conflicts and tumults, with interest only in the ephemeral. The author explains that this ritual opposition between the spaces of the church and those of the square has, in Bahian culture, effectively become stigmatized by way of expressive symbolic procedures that specifically involve the interplay between the sacred and the profane. Some are still operative, while others have fallen--or are falling--into disuse. Serra attributes a historical significance to the progressive abandonment of these procedures, noting that they either lose their impact or their vestiges weaken and in this way the religious sentiment wanes for the celebrations in the square.

This background is particularly important when considering the significant roles the new protagonists played at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Cleansing of Bonfim itself became more popular in the city than the explicitly religious aspects of the celebration. Recognizing that eliminating the profane practices would be impossible, the Catholic Church decided to encourage middle class participation in the festivities by organizing a procession in which people could participate with their decorated carrocas (carriages; Guimaraes 1994).

The present-day route of the Bonfim procession, which goes from the Conceicao da Praia Church to the Bonfim Church, has been in place since 1940. During the mid-20th century, Baianas (usually black and mixed-race women), dressed in traditional and sumptuous white garb and carrying vessels of perfumed water and flowers for washing the steps in front of the church, commanded a strong pres ence at the celebration. Political authorities and the local media eventually recognized these women as an indispensable part of the celebration. Participants began to integrate visual, musical, and performative symbols of both Catholicism and Candomble into the procession, thus making these identifiers of the cleansing. This fact became part of a large process of political transformation in Bahia, during which the elite population began to show interest in local popular culture and encouraged the arrival in Bahia of intellectuals and artists who expressed curiosity about Afro-Brazilian culture (Sansi 2003).

Still fearful it would lose control over the Bonfim celebration, the Catholic Church once more attempted to ban the Cleansing in the 1950s. This time, however, the authorities did not support the decision, for they had already recognized the political and symbolic importance of the celebration for the city, particularly in light of its popularity both locally and as a tourist attraction. The year 1953 marks the establishment of a commission that, rather than being involved in the religious celebration, would coordinate only the Cleansing of Bonfim. And from the 1970s onward, Emtursa (the Municipal Company of Salvador Tourism), together with Febacab (the Bahian Federation of Afro-Brazilian Religions), became responsible for the organization of the procession, which had by then been recognized as an important cultural activity for Bahia's official calendar of events.

Beginning in the 1980s, the Cleansing of Bonfim entered a phase of "carnivalization," marked by the growing presence of blocos carnavalescos (carnival groups) and trios eletricos (live music floats). This time, the conflict did not involve the Church. Rather the discord was between the organizers of the procession of Baianas and the trio eletrico groups. By this time, the local population no doubt already considered the Baianas to be the chief traditional and "sacred" aspect of the celebration, while the blocos carnavalescos represented the "profane" part. By the late 1990s, the trios eletricos had been prohibited from participating in the celebration and the impresarios linked to Salvador's carnival mounted new strategies, creating, for example, the "Bonfim Light" party--marketed to middle- and upperclass youth and including big name musical attractions as well as the sale of shirts/tickets--in another part of the city, where private events were often held.

The transformations that took place in the Cleansing of Bonfim in Salvador demonstrate that celebrations cannot be understood in isolation from their sociocultural, religious, economic, territorial, and political contexts. This is because they are executed, interpreted, and lived according to different perspectives, and follow beliefs, values, doctrines, and symbols of diverse provenance that, to the general population, all work together.

For Serra (1999, 80), the popular celebration presupposes the "existence of significant consensuses, but it also involves multiple meanings and diverse interests, creating the conditions by which participants can interpret it according to differing and varying modes." No doubt the Cleansing of Bonfim attracts devout people as well as those who, interested only in revelry, have no religious motivations. Moreover, there are people who feel the festivities pertain solely to the domain of Catholicism, while others use the celebration to worship their Candomble orixas (deities). Of course there are also those who have no connection to either religious tradition, but are nonetheless acquainted with and respect them both. Leaders of both religions even question the legitimacy of the popular Catholic or Candomble aspects of the procession and cleansing. Because Salvador's celebration is a locale of social, economic, cultural, ethnic, and political disputes, it is in constant transformation, becoming, for the community, a multicultural celebratory space that nevertheless incorporates all of these complexities.

A New Tradition on the Streets of Manhattan

By way of Silvana Magda, a Bahian artist and cultural producer, these experiences were subsequently mediated and translated for a new context so they could be shared with members of New York's Brazilian immigrant community and with wider audiences. An idea was conceived to conduct a "cleansing" or a "public square party" like a lavagem, with elements considered traditional--the procession of Baianas dressed in white, with beaded necklaces and vessels of perfumed water; the food and handcrafts stands; the music and dance shows--and adaptations to accommodate the specificities of Little Brazil in Manhattan. As such, the organizers of the Cleansing of 46th Street began working on constructing a middle ground, where cultural references to Baianidade ("Bahianness ") from Salvador could converse with New York's cosmopolitanism (Santiago 1978, 2004).

As mentioned above, a great number of the performers who have been invited to participate in Brazilian Day over the years have been popular artists from Bahia, primarily carnival stars. This is no coincidence. Joao de Matos (interview, 1 December 2009) explained: "We have to have Bahia [at Brazilian Day]. So we began to bring Bahian groups. I think it's Bahia that gives the end its energy." Edilberto Mendes (interview, 1 December 2009) commented that "over the past 25 years, we've learned that Brazilian Day looks like Bahia. Bahia is the grandfinale of Brazilian Day. It has to be Bahia ... There is already an aspect of Brazilian Day, the Cleansing of 46th Street, which opens this Brazilian festival ... Bahia--Bahia's presence--is the hallmark of Brazilian Day."

Silvana Magda (interview, 20 November 2009) recalls that she presented the idea of the Cleansing of 46th Street to the staff of The Brasilians after having collaborated with them for a few years in organizing Brazilian Day. Her involvement in the celebration began when Edilberto Mendes invited her to help publicize Brazilian Day by representing the event during a live appearance on an American television show. Following her appearance, Mendes invited Magda to help with the event's organization. She remembers that she was initially reluctant, for she felt the event had changed since its involvement with the Globo network, which had begun to direct some of the artistic decisions. But with help from the staff of The Brasilians, she began to brainstorm innovative alternatives

for ways in which the Brazilian Day festival could incorporate new aspects of Brazilian identity:

It is an event that, right after the inclusion of the Globo network, [became] more directed. So the community itself is not active in the event ... I really wanted to bring ... to Brazilian Day an element that ... would let people understand a little about what the community is, what the culture is. So I said: "Let's do this: I want to bring an idea from the 18th century. It's not the event that's done in Bahia. The idea is from the 18th century. And make it over with New York's character ... I want to do a cleansing ... but what I want to do is change it a little ... I don't want any religious connotations, I want it to be a communion of people. (Interview, 20 November 2009)

The debut of the Cleansing of 46th Street in 2008 received local press coverage, including attention from The New York Times. The media presence legitimized the initiative, and the local community's interest in participating encouraged the organizers to make it an annual celebration. The procession through the streets of Manhattan that culminates with an arrival in Little Brazil was directly inspired by the procession of the Baianas in Salvador. The procession is followed by a show put on by Brazilian performers, which take place on the 46th Street stage. The show includes not only invited guests who come directly from Brazil to participate, but also local Brazilian expatriate performers and groups that reside in New York and/ or other US cities. One also finds stands--operated exclusively by Brazilian vendors from the community--that sell traditional Brazilian foodstuffs and handcrafts. The Cleansing occurs on the Saturday before the main Globo-partnered event, and goes from the morning until the afternoon.

I have no intention to discuss here the notion of "Bahianness" (Baianidade, the idea of a typical Bahian identity) (Mariano 2009; Coimbra de Sa 2007; Pinho 1998; Zanlorenzi 1998) or its relationship to "Brazilianness" (Brasilidade, the idea of a typical Brazilian identity), for this would extend beyond the scope of this article. Still, this issue is present in the collective imaginary of many Brazilians. Indeed, this identity appears in the words of Ives Goulart, a filmmaker responsible for a documentary about the Cleansing of 46th Street in New York: (11)

I was looking to express something that had to do with both Brazil and New York. With the United States and with Brazil. I was looking for this identity. Common and universal. And the Cleansing also came to me as an opportunity for me to express myself ... The Baianas' presence in the life of every Brazilian is very powerful ... During Carnival [parades] you see the row of Baianas [in Samba Schools], which is an obligatory row, this is really powerful. So this Bahia thing is to us Southern Brazilians really powerful. For us the things from Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo are really strong. So all of this is part of my unconscious. The desire to express it; because this is also all inside me. It's part of my culture. It's part of my childhood. It's part of everything of that makes you Brazilian. And this is all inside you. A kid from Acre is going to have a Baiana inside him. And a person from Rio Grande do Sul is going to have Bahia inside him. It's inside each and every person. (Interview, 24 November 2009)

In 2010, Ives Goulart went to Salvador to document the Cleansing of Bonfim. He later went to Benin in hope of capturing on film the African roots present in Afro-Bahian culture, as he intends to contemplate both the Catholic and Candomble aspects in a full-length documentary. It is important to emphasize that this documentary is a new project and will look at the origins of the Bahian celebration, thus offering discussions about religion and syncretism that are not necessarily pertinent to the conception of the Cleansing of 46th Street.

The celebration that occurs in Manhattan does not attempt to reproduce, in US territory, that which happens in Bahia. Instead it is a cultural practice that has been transnationalized, a process in which international migrants maintain ties to their home country while living in the country of settlement (Margolis 1995) and creating new forms of belonging to two or more different cultures. In this context, the practice was (re)invented as a tradition (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1997) in a new place and in a specific new context, both of which are shaped by the cultural dynamics of the New York-based Brazilian immigrants. A similar process was analyzed by Hayes-Bautista (2012) vis-a-vis El Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that is scarcely observed in Mexico while enthusiastically celebrated in the United States. The author argues that Mexican immigrants in fact (re)created this tradition in California during the American Civil War as a form of combining elements of nostalgia, patriotism, and empowerment within the community.

In the Brazilian expatriate case, we can relate this process to what Ramos-Zayas (2008) notes as a tactic of cultural commodification, linked to an idea of multiculturalism, which is conducted by way of a negotiation between "cultural excess" and "racial invisibility." Only some aspects were selected to cross the national boundaries, chiefly those concerning spectacle--images, rhythms, and performances--which can be more easily resignified in a context that is detached from Salvador and its surrounding region of the Reconcavo Baiano, where these aspects are strongly linked to issues of race, ethnicity, and religion.

This decision was made to represent a Bahian identity, which can be understood in the context of the representation of transnational Brazilianness in New York, a city viewed as a global and cosmopolitan symbol. As such, people from all over the world, including those who are not necessarily familiar with the celebration in Salvador, are afforded the opportunity to be interested and feel a connection. In this way, the Cleansing can be shared among people with life experiences that may differ from those of Bahians. Over the course of this process, adaptations, innovations, mixtures, or "translations" are necessary so that affective ties and empathy can be fostered in the place of shared experiences. And, at the same time, the choice of key elements coming from the Cleansing of Bonfim confer a level of "authenticity" that is capable of pleasing those in search of a connection with their roots and origins.

Consequently, the Cleansing of 46th Street as well as the other associated activities, such as Bahia Week--which includes photographic expositions of art and fashion, focusing on Bahia as a theme; lectures and workshops on issues related to religion, dance, and music; and artistic and cultural shows--function as an important strategy by which local agents/producers can maintain an active and reinvigorated role as organizers of the celebration and "translators" (Bhabha 1998) of Brazilian and Bahian cultural references, negotiating between the immigrant community and local society.

Final Thoughts

In contemporary society, the making of festivals and international cultural performances is inserted in a model of production that includes large media corporations, marketing, and sponsorship. Moreover, as Ludes (2007) notes, symbolic worlds are often professionally produced. As well as being important moments for social and political participation, mega-events also play a key role in constructing powerful images and symbols that are associated with national identities. This is the case not only with Brazilian Day, but also with large cultural and sporting events worldwide. The Olympics serve as one such example:

Olympic ceremonies are mega-media productions that reach television audiences around the world. The messages communicated combine the local and global, the culturally specific and universal, spectacle and festival, in a complex production that aims to challenge, educate, and entertain audiences. (Qing, Boccia, Chunmiao, Xing, Fu, and Kennett 2010, 1591)

The aggregation of protocol, national representation, and communication of local identity is further mixed with elements of entertainment. These events are broadcast around the world by various media outlets, using exclusive footage generated by the host country. They rely on a type of media coverage that includes specialized journalists who "translate" (Bhabha 1998) what is happening during the event as well as the historical, cultural, social, and political meanings of each image, song, and speech.

In the case of Brazilian Day, the event is intended to reach different audiences and serve different purposes simultaneously. First, both the street fair and the musical performances aim to entertain nostalgic Brazilians living in the United States who want to celebrate their country's Independence Day. But they also reach New Yorkers and tourists in general, particularly given that the festival happens during the Labor Day weekend. These are the main objectives for the local organizers of the event, The Brasilians newspaper. Additionally, the concert, with its extensive media coverage and promotion of Brazilian celebrities, is produced for marketing purposes and the Globo network's television broadcast.

Brazilian Day has grown larger than The Brasilians, and it is therefore important that the newspaper continues to exercise its voice in organizing the event. This is no doubt a complex relationship, for it serves as a dialogic space for large media (represented by the Globo network and Globo Internacional), community media (represented by The Brasilians and other local agents, such as the online VejaTV channel), and the Brazilian community. This is indeed a fundamental part of legitimizing the event. And, aware of the mechanism responsible for the negotiation of representational power, local agents seek, by way of their work in local media, to return the focus to the value of community participation, and not merely to echo the publicity given by Globo to the celebrities and spectacularization. Moreover, they continue to act, creating alternative spaces of representation by organizing new cultural events associated with the already consolidated Brazilian Day image, as we have seen in the case of the Cleansing of 46th Street, which has increasingly become a new tradition, "invented" for the local community.

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Department of Human Sciences, Universidade do Estado da Bahia


(1) A preliminary version of this farticle was presented in Portuguese during the panel session "Economies of Performance: Brazilian Subjectivity and Cultural Production in the United States" at the 2012 Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in San Francisco, California (23-26 May 2012). It has been translated by Michael Iyanaga.

(2) During fieldwork, most of the interviewees and publications referred to events that would celebrate minorities' national identities in the US and immigrants' festivities in general as "ethnic events." Although I discuss the complexity of defining the term "ethnic" in my dissertation (Coimbra de Sa 2011), that is not the focus of this article.

(3) Some authors (notably Cid Teixeira and Thales de Azevedo), especially the ones dealing with historical documents, note that there are different spellings for "Bonfim." When referring to the church, the sanctuary, or the saint it should be written "Bomfim" and when referring to the neighbourhood it should be "Bonfim" (Jose Claudio de Oliveira, personal communication, 10 December 2012). I use the spelling "Bonfim" throughout the article, as it is currently the most popular form used in publications and the media.

(4) The newspaper, whose first edition was published in December 1972, was initially called The Brazilians. The change in spelling to The Brasilians (using the letter "s," as the country's name is written in Portuguese) took place in 1975.

(5) It is important to note that there are relatively few studies on Brazilians living in New York City. However, this was the first city where Brazilian immigrants in the US have been studied systematically for the past two decades by Margolis (1994, 2003, 2009). In addition, another relevant work is an ethnography published by Meihy (2004). According to these scholars, there is no specific profile of Brazilian immigrants in NYC, and even statistical data from both Brazilian and American governments are not precise. I discuss the similarities and differences of Brazilian immigrants in NYC and other US cities in my doctoral dissertation (Coimbra de Sa 2011).

(6) New York City later officially named the street "Little Brazil," as reported in the July 1995 edition of The Brasilians. In the Rio de Janeiro Carnival parade of 1999, the Imperio Serrano Samba School dedicated its sambaenredo to "Uma Rua Chamada Brasil" (A Street Called Brazil).

(7) For example, Brazilian Day Tokyo, Brazilian Day London, Brazilian Day Canada, Brazilian Day Miami, Brazilian Day Portugal, and the Friendship Day Angola/Brasil.

(8) The staff of The Brasilians note, among other stations, American Latino TV, LatiNation, My9 TV, and Fox 5.

(9) Candomble is an African-Brazilian religion whose followers worship orixas, deities related to elements of nature.

(10) A religious celebration that commemorates the recognition of Jesus by the Magi, and occurs, according to the Christian calendar, on 6 January (Santana 2009).

(11) The short film by filmmaker Ives Goulart (formerly Ivy Goulart), titled Lavagem do Bonfim da Bahia a Nova York (The Cleansing of Bonfim: From Bahia to New York, 2009), recounts the history of the celebration's genesis in 2008. It won in a number of categories at the Focus Brazil Video Fest (2009), including Best Video, Best Script, and Best Photography, and was the Official Selection of the 7th Cine Fest Petrobras New York, realized in August 2009. Credits--Direction and script: Ives Goulart. Production: Marcelo Nigri and Ives Goulart. Distribution: Goulart Filmes. Place of Production: New York. Date: 2009. Available at < watch?v=cshW3ZanlV8>. Accessed on 14 October 2009.
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Author:De Sa, Natalia Coimbra
Publication:Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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