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Bom Dia, Barnstable High School! Brazilian Students Bring New Energy to Hallways and Classes

Sarah Mizes-Tan
Seniors Danilo Silva, Emilin Da Costa, Jamily Almeida and Maria Braga are part of a new and growing group of Brazilian students at Barnstable High School.

In the past year, Barnstable High School has seen a dramatic increase in its population of students coming from Brazil. Today, in the hallways between classes, visitors are almost as likely to hear Portuguese being spoken as English.

This piece is Part 2 of a two-part report on the growing Brazilian population at Barnstable High School. You can listen to Part 1 here.

On a school day before the winter break, senior Maria Braga stood with a group of her Brazilian friends at their lockers, all of them chatting in Portuguese before class. Braga moved to Barnstable from Minas Gerais, Brazil, two years ago, and she said when she first arrived, there was less of a Brazilian community, and she didn't speak any English.

"Just hi and bye," Braga said. "Yeah, I was completely lost before. Now I can talk. I'm not fluent, but I can understand everything."

Braga has gone through the school's English Language Learner program, and these days almost all of her classes are with American students, as she works towards a career in nursing. She's soft-spoken with long wavy hair, and she clutched a purple binder to her chest as she navigated the school's labrynthine hallways.


"My parents are still in Brazil, so it was hard," she said of her time when she first arrived at Barnstable. "But now it's much better. Everything's different: new culture, new people, new school. It's a new life, right?"

In many ways, Braga's story of coming to the Cape is similar to many of her Brazilian peers. Both Braga’s parents had worked temporarily on the Cape in the past, and she was actually born in Hyannis. But when she was six months old, she and her family returned to Brazil. When she was 15, her parents decided she should come back to Cape Cod, since she already had U.S citizenship and could live with her aunt.

"You can have more opportunities," Braga said. "Here is a country of opportunities. In Brazil, you have to work, work. Brazil's a good country, I miss Brazil so much, but here you can have a life."

Many of the new Brazilian students at Barnstable have come for similar reasons: for more opportunity and greater safety. The Cape has historically been an immigration hub for Brazilians because of its image as a tourist destination with many service-industry jobs.

"Brazil's economy is always like a roller coaster, sometimes it's doing ok, sometimes not so well," Gustavo Barandas, a school administrator who helps advise Brazilian students and parents, said. "People already know [about opportunity on the Cape]. They have relatives living here, or friends, and they get excited about coming here."

He believed that Barnstable might be seeing a bigger population of older Brazilian students these days as separated families try to reunite. In many cases, most of the new Brazilian students live with relatives, like Braga, or they live with one parent who may have sent for them. Barandas said it's likely easier to send an older child over to live with one parent or relative than a younger child.

The increased population of Brazilian newcomers can be seen in the hallways of the high school, as students gather at lockers or sit together at lunch tables. Danillo Silva is another Brazilian student who immigrated, about three years ago, to join his father, who works in landscaping on the Cape. Silva said that having a Brazilian community at school made his transition much easier. 

"It actually helps with culture. It was kind of hard for me in the beginning to make American friends, because the culture is so different," Silva said. "We don't laugh at the same jokes, we don't like the same games, so having Brazilians here helps."

He said as a new person, it's hard to know specific American rituals, like when to hug or not to hug. And he mentioned one particular instance in the cafeteria.

"There's some stuff that we do that you guys find weird, like putting ketchup on pizza," he said, remembering how an American student asked him about it once. "But it's like, it's ketchup, dude."

But even with a growing Brazilian student population, Maria Braga said that the move for most students can be a tough exercise in growing up fast. Because many of the school's new Brazilian students live with just one parent or a friend or relative, they also work jobs after school to pay their bills.

"Sometimes you want to go back, and sometimes you just want your mom, you know?" she said. "You have to be responsible. Here I have to work, I have to pay my bills, I have to help my aunt... I have to save money and think about going to college," she said—all of which are different from her life in Brazil.

Braga wants to go to school in Boston once she graduates, but she thinks tuition costs might mean she'll have to go to Cape Cod Community College first. She hopes to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, and then one day a nurse, and eventually, to return to Brazil to see her parents.


This piece is Part 2 of a two-part report on the growing Brazilian population at Barnstable High School. You can listen to Part 1 here.