Que pasa, y'all? My comments in brackets. - Jonah
Descendants of Rebel soldiers, young Brazilians visit the South to get in touch with their past
(by Bill Hendrick from the Atlanta Constitution, Aug 10, 1998)
Bodies sprawl everywhere. Puffs of white smoke belch from countless rifles. Men and young boys are bent over in agony, and scores --- perhaps hundreds --- are aiming guns straight at Jose Padoveze, 17, and his twin brother, Joao.
So they immediately do what any right-thinking kid would in the midst of such a swirling, chaotic, horrific battle. They hit the dust, writhing and howling --- in hysterical laughter. [If they were real reenactors they would do what other reenactors would do: ignore the shots and not take hits.]
The boys and three other young Brazilians, all descendants of unrepentant Confederates who left the Union-occupied South after the Civil War, are visiting the Atlanta Cyclorama, a diorama of the Battle of Atlanta that includes a huge round painting fronted with 128 small statues of soldiers in blue and gray.
Though they engage for a few minutes in a little spontaneous play, the youths didn't visit the Cyclorama, or come to America, on a lark. They came to learn about their Southern roots. And because of who they are, they're allowed to tread where few live men ever do --- on the dusty floor of the majestic display.
Their four-week trip takes them to many real battlefields, from Chickamauga in North Georgia to Gettysburg, Pa. And also to Robert E. Lee's crypt at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va., and to Stonewall Jackson's grave there. To still pristine rebel fortifications at Kennesaw Mountain, just north of Atlanta. To Jefferson Davis' digs in the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond. To shopping malls, the Hard Rock Cafe and Six Flags.
And it ends with a bang, literally: a trip to the Civil War museum at the Atlanta History Center, where outside, dozens of re-enactors fire ancient guns and lecture on soldiering. Before returning to Brazil, they also attended an Atlanta Braves baseball game and had a private audience with former President Jimmy Carter, whose wife Rosalynn's great uncle, W.S. Wise, is buried in the teens' hometown of Americana, Brazil.
As the twins and the two other boys, Ricardo Silva and Raphael Romi, both 16, play war and play dead at the Cyclorama, lying among some of the plaster statues, Anna Lee Carr de Muzio, 19, a second-year law student, surveys the pseudo-carnage, her lips trembling.
"It's hard to believe our ancestors, they were here," she says in Portuguese-accented English. "It must have been terrible." [What, in the Cyclorama? I don't think so. ]
The boys seem moved, too, not just to horseplay but by history. They came to learn about the Civil War's grim realities, but they still had a ball on their event-crammed trip, "despite so much riding," Silva says.
That's echoed by Dan Coleman, 53, a financial planner from Smyrna and official of the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He kept a couple of the kids in his home and drove them in a van all over Georgia, northern Virginia, Maryland and Gettysburg.
It wasn't just the Cyclorama officials who treated them like royalty. Everyone did, Coleman says, when they found out the youths are descendants of the 40,000 people who fled the shattered Confederacy in the largest exodus ever from a country famous for immigration, not migration.
Most went to Brazil, and by the turn of the century --- 35 years after Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House --- many had returned. But others stayed and intermarried, and, it's estimated, 150,000 Brazilians today could claim Rebel kin.
Many have lost touch with their antecedents, but this group of kids is different. They're among an estimated 1,000 Brazilians who call themselves Confederados and who can even name the Rebel soldiers from whom they are descended. Anna and all four boys were reared on Deep South traditions and tales passed down from ancestors who "fought the damn Yankees," Romi says with a laugh. They're descendants of about 2,000 former Southerners who founded a town they named Vila Americana --- American Town --- where it's no coincidence that lots of people, like Anna, still have "Lee" in their names.
"We are very proud of our American roots, our Confederate heritage," says Anna, whose grandmother's first language was English, though she was born in Brazil. Even Anna's father --- whose great-granddad, Pvt. Albert G. Carr of the 56th Alabama Partisan Rangers, fought in the battles of Peachtree Creek and Atlanta --- speaks almost flawless English.
Their city was founded in 1868, a few years after Georgia planter William Norris, a retired Mexican War colonel whose four sons fought for the Confederacy, led the migration to what is now Americana, a city of 160,000 about 80 miles northwest of Sao Paulo. The city holds Confederate festivals four to six times a year near Campo Cemetery, where many of the original Southern settlers and their descendants are buried.
"We celebrate and remember where we came from," says Anna.
At the festivals, women wear antebellum-style ball gowns, males don gray uniforms, and thousands come from around Brazil to watch bowing gentlemen and curtsying belles doing the Virginia reel in a cleared area in the middle of thousands of acres of sugar cane. Fried chicken and grits are popular at the gatherings, though the Confederados, like most Brazilians, prefer Brazilian fare.
Though the festivals are popular, like ethnic heritage celebrations in Atlanta, many parents of the kids of Anna's generation worry that their Southern roots will be forgotten. And that's why Anna's father, Daniel Carr de Muzio, came up with the idea to send youths to America every summer, starting this year. He broached the idea during a business trip to Florida after meeting Darryl Brock, an agricultural scientist in Valdosta and self-described Hispanic member of the Sons.
Brock contacted Coleman and Allen Trapp Jr., a 45-year-old Carrollton lawyer and commander of the Georgia Sons. Coleman and Trapp flew to Brazil last November to set up the trip, which the Sons sponsored and arranged. The kids' parents and host families around Atlanta paid most of the expenses.
"They learned and saw an awful lot," Coleman says. "They learned to eat a lot of fast food, and they wanted to stop at every Wendy's between here and Gettysburg. [Not unlike reenactors...] They sang. They tried to play baseball. And they took part, wearing wool uniforms and sleeping on the ground in tents, in the biggest Civil War re-enactment ever, with about 38,000 other people in the July heat refighting the Battle of Gettysburg."
Though the trip was fun, it was also emotionally wrenching, Anna says. "Since I was a little child I went to the Campo Cemetery in our meetings and festivals," she says. "It was all wonderful. But I had special feelings when I was in Gettysburg. There I could see how it is, sleeping in tents, no bath. We saw the re-enactment. It was like if I was seeing my ancestors fighting, a really emotion moment. Another emotion moment was in the laser show in Stone Mountain. When I listened to Elvis Presley singing 'Dixie,' my eyes were wet and I cried for a moment." [I would, too, but for other reasons.]
Twins Jose and Joao say the trip made them understand why it's important to remember their Southern heritage.
The Brazilian kids had a harder time trying to understand racial attitudes in America, however. In Brazil, long known for racial tolerance and intermarriage, everything is different, says Ricardo, who notes that within a couple of generations, Confederados were marrying whomever they fell in love with, including Indians, blacks, Arabs, Italians and Germans.
The twins' father, Jose Antonio Padoveze, says he wanted his sons to learn more about "the spirit of our cousins. Their duty now is to give to the other teenagers a few of these spirit."
Though there are at least 1,000 people in Americana who're aware of their Southern roots, only about 350 are members of the Fraternidade Descendencia Americana (Fraternity of American Descendants). Even fewer are members of the Sons' Brazilian division, headed by Daniel de Muzio. That's why he feared the younger generation might forget, even though Americana's Southern heritage is obvious.
Most Confederates who went there were lured by Emperor Dom Pedro II, who opened recruiting offices as far north as New York and offered subsidized passage and land with rich, red soil like Georgia's for 22 cents an acre. He was intent on making Brazil a major player in world agriculture, and his investment paid off.
Today, Americana has the highest per capita income and educational levels of any city in Brazil, in part because those who went set up schools, stressed education and imported preachers and newfangled steel plows, not to mention baseball, watermelons, pecans, sewing machines, fried chicken, peaches and pancakes. [A racist would have a field day with this observation.]
They also established their own burial ground, Campo Cemetery, where a 25-foot granite obelisk, emblazoned with a Confederate flag, lists names from Ayees to Yancee. About 400 tombstones carry English epitaphs, including some defiant ones, like "Once a rebel, twice a rebel, forever a rebel." And Americana's city crest incorporates the Confederate battle flag. [Political correctness obviously hasn't made it to Brazil yet.]
Still, kids like Anna and her friends consider themselves Brazilians, not Confederate-Brazilians, and are more curious than obsessed about the Confederacy, says American historian Eugene Harter, a former U.S. diplomat descended from Confederados who returned to America.
"In Brazil, they have solved the race problem," he says. [Arguable.] "But in Americana, though there are no race problems, it is still different in a tiny way from the rest of Brazil. The people are still paler. They married among themselves for three generations and spoke only English before starting to mix with others. Now race isn't an issue."
The kids, before going back home, made that point clear.
"Think about Gettysburg, what it was like," Anna says of the re-enactment. "When the battle is over, the Yankees and Confederates shake hands. In Brazil, we all shake hands. There is no difference.