Brazil Youths Find Southern Roots
MABLETON, Ga. (AP) _ Amid paper plates laden with barbecue, cole slaw and potato salad, the teen-agers struggled in halting English and bursts of Portuguese to describe finding the Southern roots their ancestors left behind more than 130 years ago.
``We knew about the history, but now we have the details. Now we can imagine what their life was like, what they were like,″ said 17-year-old Joao Ferreira Padoveze.
He is among five Brazilian youths who have spent the past month on a whirlwind tour of the homeland their great- or great-great-grandparents abandoned after fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Rather than remain in the war-devastated Reconstruction South, up to 10,000 Southerners headed to the truly Deep South _ Brazil _ to start new lives.
Concerned that the assimilated younger generations of ``Confederados″ descendants were losing touch with their heritage, their families worked with Georgia members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to put together this summer’s trip as a pilot program meant to become a regular student exchange.
The visitors have gotten heaping helpings of Southern hospitality and regional culture, old and new _ from their first tastes of grits and participation in the Cordele Watermelon Festival to trips to outlet malls and theme parks.
And they’ve been steeped in the history of the war that altered their families’ history.
They visited a barrage of battlefield parks; Andersonville, site of an infamous war prison; the graves of Confederate heroes Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson; and had a tour of Richmond, Va., conducted by the great-grandson of Confederate cavalry leader Jeb Stuart.
And they took part in this month’s massive re-enactment of the climactic battle of the war, Gettysburg. Wearing gray uniforms like those of their ancestors, they slept on the ground, smeared black gunpowder on their faces, and raced into smoke and the sounds of withering cannon and gunfire in a re-enactment of the ill-fated Pickett’s Charge.
By previously drawn lot, three of the boys ``died″ during the charge, while Ricardo da Silva, 16, was allowed to make it ``over the top″ into the Union line, where, by re-enactment tradition, ``the Yankees shook my hand and said, `Good fight!″
Anna Lee de Muzio, 19, the lone female in the group, was a spectator at the battle.
All in all, what was Gettysburg like?
``Pre-tee cool!″ the four boys answered in unison.
The group, which includes Joao’s twin brother Jose, also have pondered the reasons why their ancestors left what Ricardo describes as ``a beautiful country with friendly people.″
Historians say some Confederate exiles wanted to continue slavery elsewhere, but many simply were hungry for a new frontier or feared retribution after losing the war. And Brazilian Emperor Don Pedro II recruited Southerners for their agrarian, textile and educational expertise.
``I think my ancestors didn’t want to be oppressed. After the war was over, they said, `Why stay in this country?‴ said Anna Lee. Her great-great-grandfather, Albert Gallagher Carr, was an Alabama native who fought in the Georgia campaign.
Decked out in an antebellum hoop skirt for a barbecue Friday evening, she talked about watching the Gettysburg battle and imagining her ancestors in the Lost Cause.
``Thinking about them, it was a big emotion,″ she said.
Her father, Daniel de Muzio, heads the Brazilian chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans. It’s one of the heritage organization’s two overseas groups _ the other is in Europe and includes the grand-nephew of the Andersonville prison camp commander hanged after the war.
Daniel Coleman, a local leader of the heritage association who was host to two of the teens, had previously visited Brazil. He said attending one of the four-times-a-year festivals held at the Brazilian town of Americana by Confederados’ descendants wearing Confederate garb and singing ``Dixie″ was ``the most Southern thing I’ve ever experienced.″
Still ahead as the youths conclude their visit this week is a meeting with former President Jimmy Carter, who as Georgia governor visited Brazilian ``Confederado″ descendants.
The youths, who watched on American television as Brazil lost the World Cup soccer final, will attend an Atlanta Braves baseball game Tuesday night and learn to do the Braves’ fans’ ``Tomahawk chop.″
``We like learning about baseball,″ said Raphael Rami, 16.
``We bought baseballs and the baseball sticks,″ added Ricardo da Silva.