Migrants, Multiculture

Ana Souza: “Children perceive the importance of their cultural mix”

It is well known that there is a large Brazilian community in the United Kingdon, above all in its capital, London, where according to unofficial numbers there are close to 150,000 Brazilian immigrants. Like thousands of her Brazilian compatriots, Ana Souza arrived in the UK and intergrated into a culture she already knew through its language. 

Juan Galbete

Born 41 years ago in Sao Paulo, although she considered herself to be from Brasilia where her family settles when she was 10 years old, Ana Souza gained a degree in Portuguese, English and Translation and began teaching English in Brazil at age 17. When she arrived in the UK, ten years after receiving her degree, she began to work as a volunteer in educational groups for Brazilian families who teach their mother tongue and culture to their children.

For six years she worked with one these groups, and this became the origin of her doctorate at the University of Southampton, which commenced after her work as a volunteer. Her studies were based in the work of these educational groups that she already knew and followed the theme of The relation between language and identity between Brazilian mothers and their children in the UK. Currently she is working at Goldsmith’s College at the University of London where she is carrying out two investigations in Sociolinguistic material. In 2006 she founded the association ABRIR (Brazilian Association of Educational Projects in the UK), of which she is president.

What are the origins of ABRIR?

This initiative is the fruit born by investigations about bilingualism, such as the experiences of teaching languages in Brazil and in the UK. What we intend to do with ABRIR is make sure these educational groups have access to these investigations and administrative and pedagogical information in order to develop their projects.

At ABRIR we do not offer classes; we give support to those groups who teach. For example, we organize an annual seminar to which we invite personalities with experience in this field. ABRIR does not want to impose anything on anybody; we simply offer ideas and pathways to achievement. We want to understand the realities of these groups, their ways of working and try to introduce improvements in the management of these groups.

How many people work in this collective?

In total, only five of us make up the group and we are all volunteers. However, we also count on people who collaborate with us on different levels. There are those who help sporadically, contributing on a particular theme; others serve as a link to Brazilian authorities and travel to Brazil. We have many collaborators and every one contributes in a different way. In total we have almost 400 people registered with ABRIR who make use of our services.

What initiatives do you regularly carry out?

This month (November) we have a meeting with all the groups who form ABRIR and in September we organized a seminar to merge the academic investigations on bilingualism with the practical knowledge of the educational groups.

In your opinion, what importance do these educational groups have?

I really believe in the importance of the work of these groups and in the importance of the children continuing to speak Portuguese, as much for them as for their families and relations. This also helps them at school, because the better they speak and write in their first language, the better their development in their second. Also, bilingualism opens doors for the future; it helps the children’s capacity to progress in other countries and for them to have more opportunities in the future.

What is the linguistic situation of the child descendents of Brazil in the UK?

The linguistic situation of the children descended from Brazilian origin, whether with both parents being Brazilian or just one, varies from family to family. There are some children who speak Portuguese but cannot write in it.

This, over the years, becomes a problem and it strongly indicates that in the future they will probably not speak Portuguese with their children. For this reason, learning to speak as well as write is very important to maintain the language and also for the type of information these children can assimilate in the future. Furthermore, if they cannot learn to read and write in Portuguese they will not be able to learn about Portuguese literature.

Other children understand Portuguese but respond in English. In other cases, and not only taking into account children, there are Brazilian immigrants who only speak Portuguese. In general, the linguistic situation on Brazilians in the UK is very varied and also includes children who speak and write fluently.

In which language do children of Brazilian origin develop in the UK?

For my investigation, I interviewed children from Brazilian origin born in the UK, all between 5 and 12, and I realized that they felt the cultural influences of both countries – even that of a third culture when one of the parents is Brazilian but the other is not from the UK.

I think it is a wonderful thing because it demonstrates that the children are conscious of this cultural mix in their identity, even more than the adults. We must understand that the children perceive the importance of their cultural mix. For this reason, even the British schools such as those which teach Portuguese should recognize that children have different cultural influences and that this is very important for their development. The Brits must realize that the children of Brazilian origin speak Portuguese at home and that they have different experiences that can enrich their time at school.

On the other hand, it is important on the part of the Brazilian schools to recognize both cultures. Fighting against the English language when the classroom doors close, saying “You are only going to speak Portuguese here, and we will only be interested in Brazilian culture” should not be practised.When children go to school they do not leave their English experiences outside it. Just as when they enter the Brazilian environment as when they enter the British, they take with them a little of each.

How many families form these groups?

The number varies. Every group is usually formed by between 10 or 20 families, but those numbers vary a lot because the families move house or city or go back to Brazil.

Do they families frequently end up going back to Brazil?

According to studies, the average stay for a Brazilian in the UK is between 4 and 6 years. This also depends on the “legal” situation; those who have the papers go home and those who don’t, stay. There are still Brazilian families in the UK that haven’t been able to go home to visit their countries because they don’t have the papers. At ABRIR we don’t make differences, we don’t need to know the legal situation of the families and we also worry about the immigrants’ problems.

How many Brazilians are currently living in the UK?

The Brazilian government estimates that there are around 180,000 Brazilians in the entire UK, but there are no entirely trustworthy figures because many Brazilians don’t have papers and others have European documentation that say they are Portuguese, Italian and Spanish descendents.

What are the next projects for ABRIR?

Right now we want to get the educational Portuguese groups together because they are very scattered throughout London. Also, in September we created a blog where specialists write for families, teachers and the groups. In this way we have a channel of more dynamic information.

Moreover, next year we want to bring books from Brazil and have them placed in public libraries in areas with Brazilian families; books on literature, education and games, so that children have access to Brazilian Portuguese. Until now this has been extremely difficult for parents and teachers. The Portuguese spoken in Portugal and Brazil have some differences, much like the Spanish spoken in Spain and that in different Hispanic countries of Latin America, and this is why we want to bring books from Brazil.

(Translated by Erica Buist – ericabuist@hotmail.com)

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