If there’s one town in Brazil that sparks my fascination with this country, it’s Santa Bárbara d’Oeste.
As I’ve said in a previous post, one of the main reasons that Brazil interests me is that it is deeply so very similar to the USA while at first glance appearing so different. I think that I can understand my own country better by learning about its close cousin.
Santa Bárbara d’Oeste and surrounding towns such as Americana in central São Paulo state provide not just an insight into these similarities but also a chance to see what happens when a large number of a specific subset of North Americans settle in Brazil, bringing all of their symbols and culture with them.
I’m talking about the Confederates who fled to Brazil after losing the Civil War.
From the first moment that I saw pictures of Brazilians dancing amid numerous Confederate battle flags, I knew that I had to visit this place. As someone born and raised on the border between North and South and as someone who worked for years for a white supremacist, I have a lot of interest in issues of race, slavery, and the terrible conflicts around them. The images from Santa Bárbara d’Oeste promised that this region could provide novel insight into these areas.
OK, so why didn’t I go there as my first stop on this trip?
Because I wanted to do it right.
If I would have visited this area during the first few days of this trip, I would have been in a hurry to continue on to the head of the trail that is the focus of this trip. Also, I would not have had as much language skill or cultural context with which to understand what I was experiencing, compared to what I hope to have four weeks later, at the end of the trip.
In the meantime, I’m practicing. Thursday night over dinner, I talked about the history of slavery in Brazil and North America with the owners of the inn in which I spent the night. Much to my surprise—and thanks largely to my interlocutors’ patience with my stumbling Portuguese—I was able to understand and be understood on such a delicate topic.
I’m on the trail now and making adequate progress, given a few unexpected detours already and my occasional need to pause to photograph an abandoned house…
… or shrine…
I think that I’m still on track to reach the trail end at Aparecida in time to be able to fit in a few days in Santa Bárbara d’Oeste before I fly home.