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Marco Werman: The push to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of South Carolina’s state capital gained steam today. Some of the state’s top politicians appear to be jumping on board now. But the south is not the only place in the world you’ll find the Confederate flag still flying. It’s also proudly displayed in the rural Brazilian town of Santa Barbara D’Oeste. Asher Levine visited the town for an annual celebration. Levine is a Sao Paulo-based correspondent for Thomson Reuters.
Asher Levine: Once a year, the descendents of about 10,000 Confederates that fled the United States and came down to Brazil after the war, they have a kind of family get-together where they all take part in--stereotypically, I’d say--southern things: square dances, eating fried chicken and biscuits, and listening to George Strait, that kind of thing. Also, a lot, a lot, a lot of Confederate flags everywhere, all over the place.
Werman: So, we’re talking people, descendents to six or seven generations back now. When these people look at the Confederate flag, when the people who did not descend from those 10,000 Confederates look at this flag, what do they see? What’s it symbolize?
Levine: Well for the people that are, as they call themselves, Confederados, which are the descendents, they don’t see anything political at all in it. They see basically a symbol of their ethnic heritage; they see themselves as ethnically American, to some degree. And so as if you would see, I don’t know, at any Italian festival you see people waving the Italian flag in the United States, or it’s Saint Patrick’s Day and you see people waving the Irish flag--they see it in that way. They don’t have any political affiliation to it whatsoever.
Werman: What about the Afro-Brazilians and what they see in that flag? Because, I mean, Brazil was a slave society like the US for many years.
Levine: That’s true. Actually, what’s interesting is that a lot of the people that are descendents of these Confederates have African blood as well. You know a couple of generations in, a lot of these descendants married within the Brazilian population, which if you’ve ever been to Brazil, it’s a big mix of all types of races and there’s a lot of miscegenation here. So you’ll see, at the party itself, a lot of people that are dark-skinned waving the Confederate flag.
Werman: That is so surreal, to be running into black-skinned people who are waving the rebel flag. What was that like for you the first time you saw that?
Levine: Well, I didn’t see any people that were very, very black-skinned. In Brazil, it’s a whole range of shades. For me, living in Brazil now for four years, I’m pretty used to seeing things that strike me as peculiar. But what was interesting was I spoke to some Americans that were at the event, and one gentleman I spoke to was from the south. He said it was completely mind-blowing to him to see a child singing “Amazing Grace” on top of a Confederate flag, which the symbolism is totally lost on them, but for us it’s quite a contrast.
Werman: Brazil’s a very mixed race country, Asher. I’m just curious, what Brazilians--what Afro-Brazilians, specifically--make of the tragedy last week in South Carolina. Has it come up in the news?
Levine: Yeah, it has come up in the news. I wouldn’t say that I’ve heard much commentary that was race-based. What I hear a lot of is people--which you get every time you have a mass shooting in the United States--saying, “Oh, well, you think Brazil is dangerous? Well, we don’t have this happening.” It’s funny, a lot of my relatives and friends in the United States have declined to come visit me here in Sao Paulo, or even Rio, saying, “Oh, it’s too dangerous.” So when they see an event such as what they saw in South Carolina last week, they wonder if it’s really so much better in the United States safety-wise.
Werman: Asher Levine with Thomson Reuters, speaking with me from Sao Paulo. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Levine: Thank you, Marco.