Opening Of Consulate In Hartford A Sign Of Community’s Growth, Stability
BY MARK SPENCER | COURANT STAFF WRITER
May 15, 2008
Eric Robeiro was full of confidence when he stepped up to the microphone at the Shaheen Brazilian Community Center in Hartford on Wednesday to sing an impressive solo version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The 8-year-old, looking sharp in a dark suit and every hair on his head in place, hit the tough high notes and even threw in a few vocal trills.
The performance was in honor of what Brazilians and city officials called a historic day. A visiting Brazilian ambassador, Oto Agripino Maia, announced at the community center that his country would open a consulate in Hartford later this year, a formal recognition of the growing Brazilian community in the state.
"It's a great honor what is happening today and a great victory for the Brazilians living in Connecticut," said Ester Sanches-Naek, president of the community center on Park Street in the city's Parkville section, the bustling center of Brazilian life in the city.
No location has yet been selected for the office.
Maia said consulates are opened in areas that have a large population of Brazilians who have established roots and have begun to integrate into the larger community.
Eric and the other 20 children who performed during the ceremony are the embodiment of that. Most were born to Brazilian immigrants in this country and are growing up American. "The Star-Spangled Banner" may be a breeze for them, but most needed lyric sheets to get through the Brazilian national anthem, and they take Portuguese language lessons at the community center.
"It's a well integrated community," Maia said. "We want it that way. We don't want Brazilians to be isolated."
Brazilians living in Connecticut have had to go to the consulate in New York City to obtain passports and other documents, vote in Brazilian national elections and seek support for various cultural activities.
José Alfredo Graça Lima, the consul general in New York City, estimated there are 400,00 Brazilians living in the four states he serves, about a third of them in Connecticut, mainly in Danbury, Bridgeport and Hartford.
Brazil also is opening new consulates in Atlanta and Washington.
Sanches-Naek said 5,000 people signed a petition requesting a consulate be opened in Hartford and city officials supported the idea.
Costas Lake, director of international affairs at the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said only one other country, Peru, has a consulate in Connecticut, though several have satellite offices or honorary vice consulates.
Addressing the crowd of about 60 people at the community center, Mayor Eddie A. Perez said Brazilians had contributed to the economic and cultural life of the city and diversity was Hartford's strength.
"It's a great day for our city, a great day for the Brazilian center and a great day for the Parkville neighborhood," Perez said.
Despite the upbeat mood at the ceremony, Sanches-Naek mentioned the upheaval the community experienced in November when 21 allegedly illegal Brazilian immigrants where picked up in Parkville during a joint operation by Hartford police and agents from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Authorities were looking for a suspect in a shooting but arrested people they encountered who could not prove they were in the country legally. Fear swept through the community. Many businesses on Park Street that cater to Brazilians suffered as people stayed off the streets, some even keeping their children home from school.
The crisis eventually faded, but Sanches-Naek said four volunteers were recently arrested by ICE agents at the community center.
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts was among state and city leaders who attended Wednesday's ceremony.
"I want you to feel comfortable," Roberts said. "I want you to feel this is your police department."
Among the services the consulate, which has yet to rent an office in the city, will offer is a new consular identification card that Brazil is offering its citizens living abroad. Since many illegal immigrants do not have official identification, Maia said he hopes the cards will be accepted by financial institutions and local and state governments.
He said the federal Homeland Security and State departments have said the cards will not be accepted for travel purposes, but also provided suggestions for making them technologically secure.
Maia said his country's consuls make no distinction between documented and undocumented Brazilians.
"We try to help them regardless of their status," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at