By Kyla Denisevich
A restaurant owner, insurance company founder, and two pastors each came here with a different mission, but all demonstrate Brazilians values, culture, and work ethic.
Malden is home to a population of 61,000 people, and as of 2019, 81.5% of those residents were born outside of the country. In Malden, the Latinx and Hispanic population is 8.5 percent. Most Brazilians don’t identify as Hispanic because they are not a Spanish-speaking country, therefore, it can be hard to categorize Brazilians in demographic calculations. However, their contributions to the community are difficult to miss.
Massachusetts has the second largest Brazilian population behind Florida because Brazilians were initially attracted to existing Portuguese-speaking communities in Massachusetts. Large-scale migration from Brazil first began after Brazil’s military coup in 1964, then again during the late 1980s when an economic crisis hit Brazil. The United States remains one of the main destinations for Brazilian emigration.
Brazilian immigrants are the most likely ethnic group in Boston to be self-employed, with over a quarter starting their own businesses. Also, Brazilians have the highest rates of labor force participation and one of the lowest rates of unemployment.
About 11 percent of Brazilians live below the poverty line in Boston, and 43 percent have achieved the middle-class standard of living. A middle-class income is $61,564, the median household income for Brazilians is $61,000.
Middle and lower-class Brazilians are the primary groups that have emigrated to the United States. The more impoverished Brazilians typically do not have the access or financial ability to obtain a visa and purchase a plane ticket. Therefore, the majority of Brazilians in the United States have lighter complexions, which reveals how skin color and economic status are intertwined.
A study by Brown University found that although there are differences in personal experiences for migrating Brazilians, some consistent patterns emerge, including that Brazilians rarely live alone and rather live with big families or with friends, a cultural pattern that is also seen in the Malden community.
Malden is now home to many Brazilians who have come to build businesses, work, and uplift others in the Brazilian Community. Below are three Malden Brazilian stories here that show the best parts of the American dream yet reveal the struggles within it.
Brasil On Ferry: Paulo Tedesco:
In Brasil on Ferry (448 Ferry St. in Malden), Brazilian customers during lunch breaks enjoy their various dishes of rice, beans, beets, chicken, or beef, with farofa. With no freezer in the kitchen, the cooks prepare fresh food daily. Paulo Tedesco, the owner, greets his regulars and they chat for a few minutes on a typical day. The Portuguese language warms the atmosphere, while a fútbol game plays in the back.
In 1987, Tedesco migrated to the United States to join his brother. Since 1990, Tedesco worked in the restaurant industry at different locations in the greater Boston area, until 2001 when he opened Brasil on Ferry. The restaurant business means dedicating a lot of your time, Tedesco said, so he feels there’s no life outside of work.
“There’s no family time. It’s just me and my family here. We are locked in and working six days. We take Sundays off, [because] otherwise, you work seven days and there’s no stop,” Tedesco said. “So the only bad part about this business is that there is no life in this business, except for work.”
During the noon hour, the restaurant fills with other Brazilians from the area grabbing lunch or getting take-out. Tedesco and his wife, Rita, take all the orders and greet all their customers. His two kids also work with him in the restaurant. Tedesco enjoys being the boss of his own business but recommends for others to not go into the industry if they are not prepared to make a lot of sacrifices.
“Now the good part is that you work for yourself. So you own your restaurant, [and] I like what I do,” Tedesco said. “If you don’t like the restaurant business, don’t get used to it, because it’s a lot of sacrifices and there’s no family time.”
Tedesco grew up in Rio de Janeiro. Hanging on the wall of the dining area are pictures of Brazilian cities. Tedesco said he joined his brother in the United States because things were “very hard” for him in Brazil. Typically, Tedesco visits Brazil at least once a year in short time frames to spend time with his mother. Tedesco said he misses friends, but now his life is here.
“I have my friends over there, but everybody has their own life. I have my own life. I have my house, I have my business, and I miss people, but my life is here,” Tedesco said.
After making some deliveries early Wednesday morning, Tedesco sits in his restaurant, with open doors. Tedesco said he feels safe in the United States and that the only bad thing about Brazil is the security. “Over there you are not safe, no way.”
Brazil ranks third in South America in terms of homicides rates and has one of the highest income inequalities in the region. Tedesco appreciates the United States’ usage of tax returns, and the Fourth of July holiday because he gets two days off.
The days Tedesco’s is not working he prioritizes down-time. He said, with a chuckle, “Honestly, because of the time that I have because of my business I just want to relax because if I don’t relax, I can’t get through the next week.”
Saulo Campos is a loyal customer of Brasil on Ferry. Campos has eaten at Brasil on Ferry for the past 18 years, three to four times a week. Campos said Tedesco’s big heart and fresh food make him feel like he’s in his mom’s kitchen.
“I always come here to this restaurant, because the food is so good and handmade. Paulo is [an] amazing person. He has a big heart,” Campos said. “I’m so happy every time I come here. I feel like it’s back 20 years ago and in my mom’s kitchen.”
During COVID-19 Tedesco had to close the shop for 45 days, upon reopening his regulars slowly began to come back. Tedesco said they’re not all back yet, but is hopeful they will be. The Brazilian customers supporting his food through take-out during and after the Pandemic, he said, kept the restaurant in business.
The driving force behind Tedesco’s restaurant is providing the food from his home. He enjoys giving high-quality, extremely fresh food to his many regular customers.
“I like to make them happy when they eat. I like what I do, and I’m proud of what I do,” Tedesco said. “Because I buy everything fresh every day. I go over there. I have no freezer here. Nothing’s frozen. Everything’s fresh. My food is like I’m cooking in my house, I’m serving you my [home food].”
Best Rate Zone Insurance, Tiago Prado:
Best Rate Zone Insurance aims to secure the American dream for Latinx communities, who are new to the concept of American insurance, through financial education and reliable, protective insurance.
On Salem Street, Tiago Prado, one of BRZ Insurance founders, built a former garage into his dream office space. Prado explains that buying insurance is not a part of South American culture; therefore, he’s committed to educating the Latinx community on insurance to help them maintain the American dream.
“There’s a big, big cultural barrier between how we buy insurance in Latin America versus the U.S.,” Prado said. “Our mission is to help the Latinx achieve the American dream and keep it, one family, at a time. How do we do that? Through education, make sure that [they] understand how America works.”
Prado, a Brazilian-American, noted the racial and male-dominated demographics of insurances; 63% of insurance sales agents are white (Non-Hispanic). Representation in the insurance field matters to Prado, because he feels other corporations don’t support people of color in big corporations.
“They treat Latinos and minorities like they’re doing us a favor, and they’re not. We’re paying for it,” Prado said. “So we’re a Latinx-focused company that is out to make an impact to change the paradigm of the industry and to get more agents who look like us to own the business.”
When Prado was 13 years old, his mother said they were coming to the United States to see Disney World. Prado jokes he instead went to Massachusetts during New England winters.
During Prado’s youth, he longed to go back to Brazil. In high school, Prado said he “did not feel safe,” as peers in school constantly threatened him, so he temporarily left school. Afterward, Prado worked many jobs ranging from bartending to roof construction, experiences that taught him resilience.
“I worked in many back-breaking jobs, blue-collar jobs that I’m very fortunate I had the opportunity to do,” Prado said. “It built my character and built resilience and taught me how to deal with people. [I worked] at Dunkin Donuts, waited tables, bussed tables, bartended, learned how to become a mechanic, and do roofing foundation, you name it, I tried it.”
After Prado graduated from Tufts University, he worked at Morgan Stanley, on Wall Street, and other investment banking companies, and returned to Brazil for a brief time. Prado worked at a series of corporation jobs until he realized he wanted to do something with an impact. Making a difference in people’s lives became a part of Prado’s mission.
“I realized I didn’t want to be in the investment world. I wanted to make a difference,” Prado said. “I couldn’t do that (investment banking) at a very high level, and not see the results of my work. I wanted to do something meaningful, impactful, profitable, but with a social aspect to it.”
Before the success of BRZ Insurance Prado said he failed three times on different business ventures. Prado wants young entrepreneurs to know failures are important on the pathway to success.
“What helps a venture succeed are the failures,” Prado said. “When you talk to entrepreneurs, they all talk up a big game, but it’s the failures that build you up. The mistakes, the challenges that you face, and the punches that you take help you to prepare for success.”
Currently, 25 percent of new U.S. businesses are founded by immigrants. Through BRZ Insurance and more financial knowledge, Prado hopes to leave a legacy of improvement for the Latinx community and other minority communities.
“What is most important to me and what I want to leave as a legacy is to preserve the Hispanics, the Latinx, [so] 10 years from now, [the Latinx community] is better than what they are today,” Prado said. “We need to provide them with financial knowledge, access to capital, and the right education for us to have more Latinx entrepreneurs succeed in America.”
Immigrant Learning Center: Luiz Souza, and Carlos Periera
At the Immigrant Learning Center, pastors Luiz Souza and Carlos Periera take citizenship classes and English classes to better support the Brazilian communities at their churches.
Periera and Souza both agree that as pastors their role to the Brazilian and immigrant population is not only to support people emotionally and spiritually but to assist immigrants in the cultural and economic integration into a new country. Periera has assisted people with rent, finding a place to stay, and job opportunities.
“They need a lot of help, especially emotional health because when you change your country the culture is totally different. Jobs are different, how the rent works here is very different from Brazil. So sometimes we need to help,” Periera said. “Sometimes we need to sign for them to rent a home, then we need to risk our name to help people.”
Periera and Souza mention that the community works together to help one another. During the pandemic, it was especially hard for the community. Periera said they were providing medicines for people sick with COVID-19. Souza mentioned that when he had first moved here he didn’t know “anything,” but the community helped him apply for a driver’s license.
“I want to say that our community works together to help,” Souza said. “I arrived here in Connecticut and I didn’t know anything here. Then the people of the church helped me to understand how to take my driver’s license.”
Periera and Souza both came to the United States on missionary trips. However, they both had different mindsets about their journeys. The church ministry and Periera’s friends asked him to preach in the US, so Periera trusted it was God’s wish. Meanwhile, Souza mainly came to the US so his children could learn English.
“I want my children to speak two languages because English is the universal idiom today,” Souza said. “Then one day I received the invitation to come here via church to preach and speak Portuguese, and then I left everything there, and came here.”
Periera said he never came here for the money but supports all who come for better opportunities. While smiling Periera mentions how his son won a scholarship to Colby College in Maine for American football.
“This is a great [gift] of God for us because we don’t have money to pay 70,000 per year, $72,000 per year,” Souza said.
Occasionally, Periera experiences racism but he doesn’t let the poor treatment of others affect him.
“Sometimes [I notice] a little bit [of racism] but normally everything is okay,” Periera said. “No, I don’t care. I don’t care if they treat me badly… you feel [it] sometimes, you’ll feel the rejection in the air.”
Periera plans to someday be a volunteer at the ILC. Currently, Periera has enrolled in the business classes at the ILC, which assist him to understand the necessary city hall papers he needs for his Church. Periera and Souza said they’re thankful to the ILC. The knowledge Periera and Souza gain from the ILC ultimately helps further the whole Brazilian-Latinx community.
“I think if I help the people that arrive here from Brazil, I am helping all of Brazil,” Souza said.
Importance of Community
Each Brazilian identified ways in which they struggled, yet overcame. Overcoming obstacles as an immigrant often requires help from family, friends, and the community. Now, each in their own ways has committed to giving back to the Latinx community.
Paulo Tedesco’s restaurant requires sacrifice and time but provides Brazilian food for the community in an atmosphere filled with Portuguese and fútbol.
Meanwhile, Tiago Prado immigrated here at 13, and through many trials of different jobs and his own personal conflicts, he persevered to created BRZ Insurance.
Pastors Periera and Souza continually give back to the community, through housing security and assisting with finding the right resources to integrate into Malden, because that’s what the community did for them when they first arrived.
Community shines through as an important part of these Brazilians stories because major parts of their careers are dedicated to assisting each other. Prado believes the Latinx community is on its way to thrive in the United States, like past groups of immigrants in the United States. His one hope for the future is seeing more diversity in political leaders to represent the people here in Massachusetts.
“First and foremost, we need more political leaders that represent our society at the State House. We need more Asian Americans. We need more African Americans,” Prado said. “When you look at the State House, it doesn’t really represent the state. So what I would like to see is our faces represented, are voices represented. I would love to see more of us.”
This article is part of a Community Spotlight series exploring the contributions of cultural communities in Malden. See previous article on Asian-American businesses and organizations in Malden.
Kyla Denisevich is a journalism major at Boston University and an intern at UMA (Urban Media Arts) reporting for Neighborhood View. She can be reached at email@example.com. Keren He (photos) is a graduate of Emerson College in Visual Media Arts and intern/freelancer at UMA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.