August 1, 2006

Brazilians in Framingham: Community Opportunities

In a lengthy editorial titled Boa Vinda (welcome) Framingham, the Boston Globe discusses immigration issues in town and the transformation of downtown Framingham from what it claimed was once a "ghost town" (well, um, not exactly. Although I agree that Brazilians have moved into some empty storefronts and generally helped spiff up and vitalize downtown) into "Little Brazil." While much of the piece focuses on immigration policies, this part of editorial particularly caught my eye:
We have to break the wall between the Brazilian community and the rest of the community," says Ilma Paixao, president of the Brazilian American Association, which is located downtown. Paixao would like to see longtime Brazilian residents help newcomers engage in civic affairs.

"Learn English!" is a phrase that gets tossed at immigrants like a slur. Ironically, many immigrants concur. They want to learn English. They want more American-born English speakers to patronize their businesses.

I've long felt that making an effort to get more U.S.-born residents to patronize Brazilian-owned businesses downtown would be great for the community all around. It wouldn't only help the businesses by expanding their customer base; it would help longer time town residents feel like newcomers aren't purposely excluding them.

Here are my ideas:

Get some kind of common window logo designed that Framingham businesses could put up indicating that information is available in Portuguese, another one for English, another one for Spanish, one for Russian, and so on. This would be an immediate signal to people not fluent in multiple languages, so they would know where they could feel comfortable when patronizing a shop for the first time. It can feel intimidating and unwelcoming to people if, for example, they walk into a food store and don't know what any of the foods are, and the staff behind the counter doesn't speak their language.

I know that a Brazilian bakery or cafe may not hire counter staff who speak four languages (or even two). But it's certainly possible to print up flyers in each language explaining what the popular pastries are, with pictures and a guide to pronouncing them, so people who don't speak Portuguese and aren't familiar with the products can feel welcome and comfortable walking in for the first time. Same for restaurants and other businesses that logically could expand their customer base beyond a single ethnic group. How hard would that be?

We could even design a walking-tour map of ethnic downtown, giving people a guide to experiencing various restaurants and other shops they'd be likely to enjoy. Maybe there could be a guided walking tour of Brazilian Framingham sometime (perhaps when Carnival in Rio is in the news?). The special Italian flavor brings people to Boston's North End; the Asian flavor attracts outsiders to visit Chinatown. Why not capitalize on something downtown Framingham has that you can't find in every strip mall in America?


  1. I totally agree. I would love to becomfortable trying something new in downtown but I do get intimidated that the eployees of a store/bakery don't speak english and a Brazillian flag in the window to me means "Brazillians only" Even though, I'm guessing it doesn't really. It's just too bad to live downtown and feel like such an outsider, I really just go to CVS if I go there at all.

  2. I do feel like there is a certain amount of reverse discrimination by Brazilians in Framingham. I know a lot of Brazillians that exclude long term residents of Framingham, do not want to learn English, discriminate against non-Portuguese speaking people about business, and like to have this core geographic area so they do not have to put any effort into assimilating with other people. Then there are all those Brazilian Flags all over the place on buildings, clothes, cars, etc. When a conquering army invades a country one of the first things they do is put there flags up, it seems pretty hostile. Maybe Framingham will secede to Brazil and the United States will lose that area. I moved to Framingham in 1984 and have left and been back again several times. The transformation has been fast and dramatic.