Latin America
4:44 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

In Brazil, The Home Team's Not The Only Team To Root For

Originally published on Thu June 26, 2014 7:10 pm

One might think Brazilians are rooting only for Brazil. But South America's largest country is much the U.S., in that it is a nation composed of many immigrant groups. All Things Considered watches World Cup games with Brazilians of both Japanese and Italian descent, to see who Brazilians root for when they don't root for Brazil.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At the World Cup in Brazil today, the U.S. lost to Germany, one to nothing. But no matter - the big news is that even with the loss, the U.S. team has advanced to the next round. We'll hear more about that elsewhere in the program.

Right now, we're going to head into two Brazilian neighborhoods. Since the Portuguese landed in the 1500, successive waves of people from all over the world have landed on Brazil's shores. The Italian and Japanese communities are two of the strongest. And as luck would have it, both Japan and Italy were playing in the World Cup on the same day this week. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro set out in Sao Paulo to check out how fans from very different backgrounds were celebrating.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So all around me right now, the Italy versus Uruguay game is showing on a number of screens. I'm in the Bixiga area in Sao Paulo at the Cantina Gran Roma. Like many cities made up of immigrants, every group has its neighborhood. And this is where some of the over 30 million Brazilians of Italian descent hang out.

MARK ANTHONY PERES: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's right. His first name is actually Mark Anthony. Peres tells me his Italian roots, and those of his whole community, are very strong in Brazil.

PERES: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the cultural part, in the food - here the Italian heritage is everywhere, he says. Look at pizza - it was improved here in Brazil with our people, he boasts. That's what I think he says to scoffs from the table.

Italy is my second team, and Italy is my second nationality. I'm the grandchild of Italians and that heritage is important to me, he says. Italians started coming to Brazil during the late 1800s when the home country was riven with the wars of unification. Many went into agriculture, and the Brazilian government gave some land grants. Successive waves joined them, and now they're one of the biggest European ethnic groups here. But that didn't help Italy.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the second half, Uruguay scored a goal to the despair of the patrons. It was a very different scene later in the day in a different part of the city.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm now walking through the streets of Liberdade. The streets are decorated with Japanese lanterns, and the stores have Japanese products in them. And of course, right now, Japan is playing Columbia. And many Japanese descendent people are watching the game and rooting for Japan, of course.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is celebration with sake and Sapporo beer at this small izakaya, or traditional Japanese bar, after Japan scores a goal. Here patrons are digging into pickled vegetables and fried tofu. Brazil has the biggest Japanese community outside of Japan. They're a tight-knit community where, until recently, it was looked at down on to inter-marry with other ethnic groups.

JOEL QUADROS HARAS: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fifty five-year-old Joel Quadros Hara tells us he is a third generation Japanese. He's married to a Japanese woman, and his two children are actually living in Japan right now. The community has always been very united he says. It's been a source of their strength, and it's a trait of the Japanese.

The first ship of Japanese came to Brazil in 1908. The Japanese government was facing overpopulation and encouraged people to move overseas. They were used as cheap labor here in agriculture. Later, during World War II, it was forbidden to even speak Japanese, as Brazil was on the side of the Allies.

More Japanese immigrants moved here at the end of the war. These days, Japanese culture in Brazil is widely celebrated, adding one more facet to this complicated country. And the fact is that almost everyone everywhere here told me the same thing. It didn't matter where their fore-bearers had come from, the team they really want to win the World Cup is Brazil. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.