By Anne D’Urso-Rose
I heard several warnings not to drive on Salem Street on Sunday, Oct. 2, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Malden was hosting a polling site – one of only two sites in Massachusetts – for Brazil’s fiercely contested presidential election for the country’s expats in the area.
According to WBUR, many of the more than 37,000 Brazilian citizens who live in New England were preparing to cast their ballots in the presidential election at these two Massachusetts voting locations. On a whim, I rode my bike down to do a story for Neighborhood View.
The outside of the Salemwood School was abuzz with energy. Lots of bright yellow and Brazilian flags waved in the breeze. Voters were checking the polling information outdoors before heading inside to cast their ballots. A woman stood atop a safety block in front of the school, using it as a podium, holding the head of a Trump doll and shouting excitedly in support of Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro, the current rightist Brazilian president, is being challenged by former president and leftist candidate Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva.
The voters I interviewed seemed particularly concerned about the issue of corruption.
“I’m here to do the right thing for our country [Brazil],” said Caroline L, who asked that her last name not be used. “I’m voting for Jair Bolsonaro because I think he can change our national situation. Lula was convicted more than 25 times for corruption.”
Lula was sentenced to 22 years in prison on corruption charges; he was freed and opted to run again.
Paolo M. who also asked his last name not be used, said, “I actually wish we had someone better than Bolsonaro to vote for, especially since he supports Putin. But he is the better candidate because he is trying to get rid of the corruption in the government. Brazil needs to be a moral country, like the U.S. We are grateful to be here.”
Stephanie S. was sitting quietly on a concrete stoop outside the school. “This is my first time voting in the Brazilian election. I kind of feel like the candidates are not the greatest options. But I’m voting for Lula. I’m hoping that a new president will be able to get rid of the corruption.”
Renata Alcantara, who had been waving the Trump doll head, told me: “I’m here to vote for Bolsonaro and to get others to vote for him. I’m looking forward to a better life for people living in Brazil. I think he’s doing a good job. My family back in Brazil thinks he’s doing a good job. I think he makes changes for health, the economy. I’m holding this head of Trump because Trump supports Bolsonaro. I’m not here for Trump but I like that he supports Bolsonaro.” She showed me a video of the former U.S. President endorsing Bolsonaro.
Eduardo Ferreiara was hawking bright yellow T-shirts with a picture of Bolsonaro. “I came here to vote and to help out my candidate by selling these T-shirts,” he said. “What we face not only in Brazil but all over the world, especially in family matters and freedom. Slowly but surely they are trying to get rid of our freedoms.”
“In Brazil, I would not be allowed to sell these T-shirts or show my support. They will take away your cell phones at the polls. Bolsonaro is cleaning up the corruption. We need four more years.”
When asked about the other candidate, he noted that, “Lula is a convicted criminal.” He added, “There is only about 3% of the population that supports him. If [Bolsonaro] doesn’t win, it’s because it’s a corrupt election system.”
Ferreiara then tried to sell T-shirts to a group of young people but they had no interest. I spoke to them.
“We’re fighting for democracy in Brazil. We’re so excited. We need to get rid of Bolsonaro,” said Sarah Kay as her companions nodded enthusiastically. I asked why they were excited for Lula.
“For eight years, he made good things happen,” said Lucian Cargalho. “He addressed poverty in Brazil.” Another person chimed in, “I was only able to go to college because of him. He had programs for poor people, more job opportunities, more equal health care. Look at the way Bolsonaro handled Covid – he didn’t get people vaccinated.”
“There’s a lot of income inequality in Brazil,” Kay said. “The rich people mostly go for Bolsonaro because they don’t want poor people to have rights and a better life. “
As I walked away after taking a photo of the young people, Ferreiara gave me a surprising thumbs up. “I’m glad you spoke to them too. It’s important to get the other side. That’s like here in America. It’s what democracy is all about.”
Post Note: The Brazil election will go to a second round run-off on October 30 as neither Lula nor Bolsonaro won more than 50% of the ballot. According to CNN, in the latest count, Lula had 48.4% of the vote and Bolsonaro had 43.2%.