caipirinhas (Canada's strict alcohol laws prohibit the public consumption of alcoholic beverages on beaches) but when the sun shines, you can almost imagine that you're in Brazil.
This past weekend, Vancouver became significantly more Brazilian during the annual Brazilfest, sponsored by a number of commercial enterprises, the city administration, the Consulate General of Brazil in Vancouver, and the tourism department of the federal government of Brazil, and organized by the local Brazilian community here in Vancouver. This community has grown significantly in the past decade, and Brazilian culture has become part of the rainbow of cultures that makes up Vancouver. On the Brazilian social network site Orkut, one community for Brazilians in Vancouver numbers over 9000 members, and there are other Vancouver-based Brazilian social networks around the web. Vancouver annually hosts thousands of Brazilian students who come to Canada to learn English. During the summer in the center of the city one constantly hears Portuguese spoken in shops, on rapid-transit and in parks.
Brazilfest took place on one of Vancouver's principal downtown streets, which was closed for the duration of the festival. There was a large music stage at one end of the street (video above), and the street was lined with booths and stands. Some were selling Brazilian clothing and crafts, come were advertising tourism in Brazil, but by far the most popular, and to me the most interesting, were the food stands. One stand featured plates of Brazil's "national dish", feijoada, and for most of the afternoon, the line for feijoada stretched back a full city block. Other stands sold Brazilian pastries and sweets, like cheese bread (pão de queijo) and doce de leite, or snacks such as coxinha and pastel. The popular Brazilian soft drink guaraná was available at the exorbitant price of $3.00. All that was lacking to make it truly a Brazilian festival was beer. Oh well, that's Canada for you.
I spoke to several people who were lined up to buy feijoada. Whether they were Brazilians who immigrated to Canada long ago or students here for a summer of English language instruction, they all said they were lining in order to "matar saudades" of Brazil. They meant that they were trying to assuage homesickness for Brazil and Brazilian culture through eating one of it's most traditional dishes. Feijoada isn't easy to make for one or two persons, or in a small kitchenette, so these folks didn't mind lining up in the hot sun for up to an hour just to eat a plateful of "home." Over the years, I've attended numerous cultural festivals, in Vancouver and elsewhere, and one constant element of these fairs is "food from home." It's interesting proof of the centrality of traditional foods and recipes in creating cultural identity. Food from back home shrinks time and distance and brings one back to one's culture with each bite. Certainly that was the case for those Brazilians in Vancouver this weekend who ate feijoada and other Brazilian dishes. They all exclaimed how the tastes of Brazil connected them once again to their homeland, or even if they said nothing, the look of satisfaction on their faces as they ate told the same story.