Brazilian Day Festival and the Cleansing of 46th Street: Representing Brazilian Identities in New York City
De Sa, Natalia Coimbra, Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies
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).
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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). …