EL PASO — With the sexy swaying of samba rhythms and outrageously mechanical capoeira moves, Brazilians and El Pasoans took over the dance floor while others enjoyed the taste of typical Brazilian meals.
Green, blue, and yellow Brazilian colors were displayed in flags, T-shirts, and balloons, splashing the spirit of Brazil onto the Mexican-American border city.
The University of Texas at El Paso is known as a very cultural university that celebrates different ethnicities. With Ciudad Juarez as a neighbor, most of the students at UTEP have Mexican backgrounds. But UTEP has a wide variety of international student organizations and study programs like the Brazilian studies program that was implemented three years ago.
“The idea is to create a link between different colleges and students of the community so the Brazilians can come and experience what it is to be in an international environment,” said Aileen El-Kadi, organizer of Brazilian Studies.
Since the number of students in Portuguese classes were increasing, El-Kadi says she knew something had to be done about it. “More and more students are interested in Brazil because of the World Cup and the Olympics and because Brazil is now the 5th largest economy in the world,” said El-Kadi. So far UTEP is the only university in the U.S. to offer a certificate in Brazilian studies, she said.
For the past three years, Brazilian student organizers have put together a festival where students, professors, and the community in general get the opportunity to feel what it is to be part of Brazil. Food, music, and capoeira dance are just a few of the offerings that the audience can enjoy.
This year’s festival drew some 400 people compared to last year’s attendance of 300 people. Student organizers work for a few months in order to put together a festival like this one. “The festival is a way for students to learn how to manage money and how to talk to other people,” said El-Kadi.
Portuguese students also participated in this year’s festival with the singing of a Portuguese song. According to El-Kadi the festival gives students the opportunity to relate to many ethnic festivities and to enjoy and learn what other cultures have to offer.
UTEP’s course instructor, Luciene Wandermurem, a Brazilian, said she is very pleased that UTEP celebrates her culture. “This celebration makes me feel proud of my country and it helps me appreciate my own culture more,” said Wandermurem. According to Wandermurem Brazilians are much like Mexicans because they place a high value on friends and family.
Wandermurem believes that although many Latinos may share many similarities, each country has particular traditions that need to be valued. El Paso feels like home to Wandermurem who plans to stay until she finishes her PhD. “I am glad to have Brazilian professors who share this same feeling of being in the right city and working with a population we truly connect with.”
El-Kadi said that next year’s festival may count with the participation of other international organizations. One of the many plans for the Brazilian studies program is to one day take UTEP students to Brazil so that they can experience Brazilian life first hand.