- Historic Sites
The Deepest South
Five thousand miles below Mason-Dixon line, a Brazilian community celebrates its ties to antebellum America
April 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 2
Their ancestors were not necessarily the Rebels least willing to be reconstructed; they may simply have had a stronger taste for adventure.
Though it has fewer visual links to its first American residents, Americana rather than Santa Barbara is the place most Brazilians associate with the Confederate settlers. With 167,000 residents, Americana is located on the main routes (road as well as rail). The American settlers didn’t plant cotton for very long, hut the crop’s early influence helped make Americana one of Brazil’s textile centers. The town has also worked to polish its American connections, most prominently by adopting a municipal crest that incorporates the Confederate flag.
The specific American sights in Americana are more tangential than those in Santa Barbara—or, depending on your point of view, better integrated. The Presbyterian church in the center of town is a legacy of the Confederados . On the city’s eastern edge two institutions highlight the American contributions to the region. Carioba House is a working museum, a series of small textile factories that offer a glimpse at the industry cotton created. “Brazil needed help growing cotton,” says Judith MacKnight Jones. “A lot of propaganda went out to attract people who knew how to plant it. Southerners came with knowledge, implements, and seeds.” Also on the eastern edge of town is Salto Grande, a municipal museum in a huge colonial farmhouse. From its grandiose plantation exterior to the former slave quarters in its bowels, the house has the feel of a museum in the Old South, even if its style owes more to Portugal. Among the more curious displays is a picture, in a collection of photographs of local personalities, of “George Jones, heroi de 1932.” No further explanation is offered.
Teenage descendants of the Confederates dress up like their ancestors and still feel comfortably Brazilian.
Unlike the kinfolk they left behind, the Confederate Brazilians got a second chance at secession. In 1932 the states of southern Brazil attempted to break away from the federal union. The center of the rebellion was in the state of São Paulo, where most Confederados lived. And just like their grandparents in the American war of secession, many of the Confederados went off to fight.
Americans have visited Americana and Santa Barbara over the years and come away with a range of reactions. Jody Powell went in 1972 with then governor Jimmy Carter and wrote of the unexpected emotion felt by everyone in the party from Georgia. “None of us could explain exactly why Americana touched us so deeply,” he observed. “Part of it was the feeling that we had discovered a part of ourselves that we hardly knew existed.”
But if Americans are sentimental about discovering long-lost kin, most Confederados approach their American connection with a more complex blend of memory and emotion—a mix that allows teenage descendants of Confederate migrants to dress up like their ancestors and still feel as comfortably Brazilian as the descendants of the first Portuguese settlers.
“When I was growing up, I wondered if I was more American, Confederate, or Brazilian,” recalls Judith MacKnight Jones. “I made my first visit to the United States in 1951, and it was only when I saw the Brazilian flag on my return, and felt the tears in my eyes, that I knew where I truly belonged.”
On the other hand, Nancy Padovese has never been to the United States and never questioned her Brazilian identity. Yet, she says, when her husband went to America on business a few years ago, on his return he remarked, “I learned more about you in the last two weeks than in all the years we’ve been married.”
Searching for some symbolic summation of the Confederado experience, I found it in the church at the Campo. Luciana De Muzio told me that the current chapel is the third one on the site, but it wasn’t until I read a brief history of the Campo at Santa Barbara’s Immigration Museum that I understood why it had to be rebuilt twice. The earth underneath keeps shifting.
Unlike the characters of the classic tale of the American South, the Broad River folk themselves moved like the wind, looking for more hospitable lands. They moved from place to place, until they found a patch of land that would move under their feet and spare them the trouble.