The Brazilian Town Where the American Confederacy Lives On
The Confederados are one of the last remaining enclaves of the children of the unreconstructed South.
Photos by Jackson Fager
One day last spring, near an old rural cemetery in southern Brazil, a black man named Marcelo Gomes held up the corners of a Confederate flag to pose for a cell-phone photo. After the picture was taken, Gomes said he saw no problem with a black man paying homage to the history of the Confederate States of America. "American culture is a beautiful culture," he said. Some of his friends had Confederate blood.
Gomes had joined some 2,000 Brazilians at the annual festa of the Fraternidade Descendência Americana, the brotherhood of Confederate descendants in Brazil, on a plot near the town of Americana, which was settled by Southern defectors 150 years ago. The graveyard is usually empty save for its caretaker or the odd worshipper drawn to its little brick chapel. On the April morning of the festa, a public-address system blaring the Confederate battle song "Stonewall Jackson's Way" had interrupted the cemetery's silence. Brazilians in ten-gallon hats and leather jackets called out greetings.
For miles around the graveyard, unfiltered sun beat down on sugarcane fields planted by the thousands of Confederates who had rejected Reconstruction and fled the United States in the wake of the Civil War—a voluntary exile that American history has more or less erased. Their scattered diaspora has gathered annually for the past 25 years. The party they throw, which receives funding from the local government, is the family reunion of the Confederados, one of the last remaining enclaves of the children of the unreconstructed South.
Brazilians filed past a Rebel-flag banner emblazoned with the Southern maxim: heritage, not hate. They lined up at a booth where they traded Brazilian reals for the festa's legal tender, printout Confederate $1 bills. (The exchange rate was 1:1—the Southern economy had apparently survived.) Kids flocked to the trampoline and moon bounce. Old-timers staked out shade beneath white tents. Early on, the line for fried chicken grew almost too long to brave.
Under a tent, I picked at some chicken and watched a young blond Brazilian woman maneuver an enormous Confederate-flag hoop skirt into a chair. I wondered what she made of the symbol. She introduced herself as Beatrice Stopa, a reporter for Glamour Brazil. Her grandmother, Rose May Dodson, ran the Confederado fraternity. She'd been dancing at the festa since she was a kid.
I asked if she knew there was a connection between slavery and the American South. "I've never heard that before," she said. She wasn't sure why her ancestors had left the States. "I know they came. I don't really know the reason," she said. "Is it because of racism?" She smiled, embarrassed. "Don't tell my grandmother!"
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Brazil itself outlawed slavery in 1888, more than two decades after the end of the American Civil War. Despite outwardly progressive efforts since then, the country has struggled to rid itself of the institution. The government passed legislation strengthening worker protections, including a 1940 constitutional amendment prohibiting employers from submitting their workers to "conditions analogous to slavery." But as Brazil grew more desperate to modernize in the early 20th century, farm owners started coercing wage laborers with debt and holding them in bondage. In recent years, government inspectors have found Brazilians trapped in debt on charcoal farms in Goiás, Haitian workers who have died on World Cup construction sites, and Bolivian immigrants in sweatshops at the center of São Paulo.
The town the Confederates built has been caught in this dragnet. On January 22, 2013, the Brazilian Ministry of Labor orchestrated a sting in Americana, the town where many of the Confederados had settled. It found Bolivian immigrants manufacturing baby clothes under the roof and supervision of two Bolivian bosses. The prosecutors broke up the factory, and in the suit that followed, they deemed the conditions they'd found execrable enough to constitute slavery.
Of all the people I asked at the Americana festival, not a single one had heard of slavery in his town.
Almost everyone had come to the festa dressed as an American—in jeans and boots, Johnny Cash T-shirts and camouflage. Visitors haggled at a booth stocked with Southern paraphernalia: aprons, quilts, commemorative glasses, a used copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. An amplified voice called the crowds to pull their chairs up to the main stage—an enormous concrete slab with a flag painted across it and the words XXVI FESTA CONFEDERADA emblazoned at its top. The mayor of the nearby town Santa Bárbara d'Oeste surveyed his assembled constituents and welcomed the state representatives in attendance. "It's the first time I have the honor being here as mayor," he beamed, leaning over the microphone as descendants in homemade hoop skirts and sewn Confederate grays standing behind him hoisted flags up long, thin wooden poles. "But I've been here many times as a spectator, a fan." The banners of São Paulo, Brazil, Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy flapped languidly in the breeze. "North American immigration has helped build our region, has helped build Santa Bárbara d'Oeste, has helped build the city of Americana," he proclaimed. "That's what we celebrate today."
By and large, the thousands of Texans and Alabamans and Georgians who sailed to Cuba and Mexico and Brazil failed. They folded into cities and set up doomed plantations on rain-forest plots. By 1918, they'd dwindled enough to merit ethnographic study, and the American Geographical Society dispatched researchers to learn their ways.
But not Americana. Led by an Alabaman colonel, its settlers introduced cotton and turned the town into an industrial textile powerhouse. For generations their children spoke English with a drawl. Today the city of 200,000 boasts Latin America's largest cowboy-rodeo arena. The festa brings it great pride.
Men dressed as soldiers led the crowd in the Brazilian national anthem; one trumpeted an off-key "Taps." In the States this kind of gathering usually culminates in a battle reenactment, but the Confederados offered tamer fare, mostly dance performances headlined by a long-bearded local celebrity known as Johnny Voxx, whose black hat, sunglasses, black-leather-trimmed jeans, and black cowboy boots made him look like the hero of a spaghetti western.
"This is nearly perfect... This is what we want. I don't attach anything political. I like black people." – Philip Logan
Passing me a business card, Voxx said he'd googled a bit before he booked the Confederado gig. "I started studying just to know if the people here were racist or not," he said. "But like they say, 'Heritage, not hate.' I wouldn't be here if it was a party to celebrate racism." He stumbled through the English—what little he knows he learned from music and watching Bonanza—and I wondered what his interpretation of country music could possibly sound like. But when he belted out "Cotton Fields," the crowd doubled. His intonation was perfect—the man sounded like Hank Williams.
I couldn't help bringing up the historical contradictions over and over—to Voxx, to descendants, to a group of local men who ran a weekly country-western movie club. But nobody seemed as uncomfortable as I was. "Our prejudice is very small compared with other people's," Pedro Artur Caseiro, a member of the movie club, told me. I asked what he loved about westerns, and he smiled dreamily, his chest puffed in affected military decorum, his hand on his wooden sword. "Good always trumps evil," he said. "Today what's missing, it seems like people don't believe in goodness."
Real Southerners—Confederate enthusiasts—had made the pilgrimage too. Ambling through the yard in his uniform, Philip Logan, a tall and portly Civil War reenactor from Centreville, Virginia, inspected the headstones: Ferguson, Cullen, Pyles. Born: Texas. Died: Brazil.
Accompanied by his girlfriend, a Brazilian woman with a bonnet and parasol whom he'd met online, Logan exhaled. "This is nearly perfect," he said. "This is what we want. I don't attach anything political. I like black people." As an active member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, he reckoned constantly with what he considered exploitations of his heritage. "There's just so much animosity," he said. "Here it's like, seeing the Confederate flag, nobody cares. If I waved a Russian flag nobody would care."
At the entrance to the festa, two muscled bodyguards patted the attendees down, checking their arms and necks against four Xeroxed sheets of paper that outlined in Portuguese 42 white-supremacist symbols—the SS, the Iron Cross, the swastika, KKK. They'd been instructed to eject anyone with these markings from the party. It had been a problem in years prior.
As the party wound down and attendees made their way back to the fields where their cars were parked, I asked Érico Padilha, a non-descendant local, what he thought of the Confederate-slave connection. "I really don't like this idea, celebrating something about the South, because of slavery. I really don't like it," he said. "But here this party is not about politics, I think. It's about the culture."
The Confederados decamped for Brazil for a number of reasons—their children still bicker over why. Brazil had been trying for years to match North American and European agricultural development, and Emperor Dom Pedro II saw in these disaffected Southerners an opportunity to import American prosperity. He set up informational agencies across the South and offered subsidized passage to any American willing to emigrate. Newspaper ads for chartered ships appeared nearly every day, as did editorials mocking the plan, and Confederates jumped at the offer of cheap land on which to build new plantations, fantasizing about restoring the economy they'd watched crumble in the States. This would be possible because Brazil would allow them to keep their slaves.
Although Brazil outlawed the slave trade in the mid 1800s, it dragged its feet in banning slavery outright. Southerners wouldn't have been able to produce competitive cotton without it, and both the Confederates and Dom Pedro knew it. Even before the Civil War, Southerners had held conferences on moving slavery to the country. Once they emigrated, prominent Confederate officers scrambled to buy operational fazendas already staffed with slaves. Cotton and tobacco didn't grow well in Brazil's soil, but established crops like coffee, orange, and sugarcane certainly did.
Brazil's race relations shocked Confederate sensibilities enough to send many émigrés back to the United States. "The black, who some admit will one day be our equal here, will already be found occupying the foremost and most honorable walks in society," one prospector wrote of Brazil in the Galveston Tri-Weekly News after scouting the country for plots. He added, "Although the white fears he will someday cast his ballot in the same box with him here, he will find him not only voting there, but making laws—laws to govern whites who go there."
"So pronounced was their distaste," writes descendant Eugene Harter in The Lost Colony of the Confederacy, "that in 1888, when a senator opposed to slavery was assassinated on the eve of Brazil's emancipation, the Confederados were first suspected." The public, however, felt differently. Lore holds that crowds gathered to celebrate outside Princess Isabel's palace as she signed abolition into law more than two decades after the American Civil War had ended.
"We never had a war in Brazil about slavery," João Leopoldo Padoveze, a Confederado whose ancestors were once slaves, told me. Like many, he asserted that the abolition of slavery was peaceful because Brazil never had a problem with racism. The concept that Brazil is a "racial democracy" has shaped the country's cultural identity for decades as a point of national pride. The Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre coined the term after he witnessed a man being lynched when he was a student in the Jim Crow South. Horrified, he came home with a newfound appreciation for his country as a place where ethnicities mixed freely, which he argued was evidence that in Brazil racism did not exist.
But even as Brazil wrote racism out of its history, slavery continued. Landowners, including Confederados with fazendas, hired wage laborers in place of their slaves. In turn, these laborers—impoverished farmworkers—have been replaced by a workforce that includes the tens of thousands of slaves, many of them immigrants, who live in Brazil today.
It wasn't until the 1970s that rural activists set up rescue centers for escaped workers and started to collect the stories in an effort to eradicate the practice. They presented their findings—evidence of thousands of Brazilian workers whose abuse and bondage the state had systematically tolerated—to the International Labour Organization, and in 1995 the ILO declared Brazil in contempt of its forced labor conventions, which Brazil had ratified.
The shaming moved President Fernando Cardoso to make a now famous radio address that summer. "In 1888, Princess Isabel signed the famous Golden Law, which should have ended slave labor in this country," he said. "I say 'should' because, unfortunately, it hasn't stopped." Brazil would establish a task force to find and punish slavery across all industries. In the two intervening decades the government has taken multinational companies like Zara to task and freed 47,000 workers legally defined as "slaves."
Brazil's "secret inspection operations," as one ILO brochure dubs them, are some of the world's most rigorous. The country has publicly acknowledged and committed to reforming its abuses of labor on a scale few others have. This June, for example, activists won a 15-year battle to pass a constitutional amendment allowing the state to expropriate the land of businesses and farms found using slavery—an unthinkable penalty in the US.
In a drab office in Campinas, labor inspector Joao Baptista Amancio slid a stack of files on the Americana slavery case across a table. The sting had ended in a great, and rare, success. Amancio's office had followed the case to the top of the supply chain and levied $95,000 in fines on Lojas Americanas, the national brand that was selling the clothes. Though Brazil's antislavery operations are some of the world's finest, successfully prosecuting a case is slow and arduous. Conditions need to be egregious.
Amancio, a soft-spoken bureaucrat in Reeboks and khakis, raided the factory along with another inspector, four federal police officers, a prosecutor, and a judge. They were following up on a 2011 case in which they'd found six undocumented Bolivians making clothes in a home factory but had elected not to prosecute the work as slavery. They wanted to make sure that the sweatshop had stayed closed.
Instead they found five Bolivians making baby clothes in a broken-down shed with cracked walls, water damage, and a moldy ceiling caving in. Four young women shared a grimy concrete cell, sleeping on makeshift bunks, their clothes strewn across their beds and on the floor. They had no furniture to speak of; they couldn't close their doors. Amancio said they worked 12-hour days, six days a week, churning out fabric on faulty sewing machines. They were paid, but irregularly and based only on how much they produced.
Two of the workers fled when the Ministry of Labor descended. Amancio's office never found them—he suspects they'd run to São Paulo. Flight is not uncommon, Amancio told me. Factory overseers trap workers in abusive conditions by convincing them that the Brazilian authorities will deport them for working illegally, even though Brazil accepts Bolivian migrant workers as a part of a free-trade agreement.
"They fear being caught by authorities," Amancio said. "That's what holds them. They only trust the employer, the guy exploiting them. He exploits that fear." The three who stayed in the Americana factory all listed Gabriel Miffia Alanes, their overseer, as their emergency contact for the ministry.
The workers hardly spoke. They hunched over their machines, feet exposed, looked at the ground, and avoided questions. So the ministry used its discretion, picked up on subtler things. Workers glanced at Alanes for visual cues, regarded him with what the ministry called "reverential terror." But the clincher was the door. When the authorities asked the workers to show them the keys they used to get in and out of the factory, none could produce one. The door locked from within, and the ministry said this showed that Alanes kept his employees trapped inside.
The case in Americana is somewhat typical of Brazil. It matched the story of another Bolivian immigrant I met one night outside a Peruvian restaurant near a strip called Cracolândia,* a drug-plagued strip in São Paulo. Edwin Quenta Santos worked there as a server—the first real job he'd had since escaping his violent cousin's factory in Guarulhos, not far from the São Paulo airport. He lived in a rat-infested, windowless concrete changing room near the restaurant and slept in a child's plastic race-car bed. He still wasn't working legally, and made minimum wage, though he consistently worked a few hours past the supposed end of his shift. "We could say it's still a little bit like slavery," he said, letting out a laugh.
Edwin called his story his "testimony"—he'd never spoken to the police, never told his children or his wife what he'd endured. He'd moved on and tried to forget, but then he'd heard rumors that his cousin Severo Oyardo Santos was running a sweatshop once again. He wanted people back home to fully understand what Severo had done.
In 2009, Severo visited Edwin in La Paz, Bolivia. Severo had lived in São Paulo for about ten years, and Edwin was shocked at how well he seemed to be doing. He bragged that he owned a factory that was expanding, and he was looking for more help. He told Edwin that he could triple his income if he moved to Brazil to work. Edwin said he borrowed about 500 reals ($190) from Severo for a plane ticket and an additional 500 reals to tide his family over until he could send back his first check.
"I thought, Well, if he is lending me five hundred reals just like that, it means everything is going to be OK over there," Edwin said.
When Edwin arrived in São Paulo, paid traffickers known as gatos sidled up to him as he waited with his suitcase for his cousin. Gatos prey on Bolivians who arrive in the country with no connections, offering work in unlicensed clothing factories hidden in back offices or homes. This kind of work—dispersed, small-scale exploitation rather than obvious torture on farms—is booming. Last year was the first on record that Brazil busted more urban slavery rings than rural ones. "They offered to pay for my hotel, said they had rooms available for work. They kept offering," Edwin said. "Then my cousin arrived."
Severo drove Edwin to his compound near the airport and introduced him to the 20 or so extended family members already working there. They threw a little welcome party in the cramped kitchen. The concrete house was three stories high, and it had no front door—just a gated carport with a padlock, whose key Severo kept hidden. Severo parked his car on the street, reserving the carport instead as a home for his guard dogs. If Edwin wanted to leave outside of the one trip a week his cousin allowed, he'd have to scale the back wall and make sure to be back before he was caught. He knew the kind of punishment his cousin could inflict—he recalled watching him beat his children. "He's bigger than me," Edwin said.
The workers followed a strict schedule, rising at five and working till midnight, sometimes stopping only for a 15-minute lunch. They drank water from a well covered in algae. They slept six to a room on the compound's top floor or else in the sewing factory itself, pushing their machines aside at night and sliding in thin mattresses. Edwin didn't know how to make clothes, so he started out cooking and cleaning as his family members sewed.
According to Edwin, when he asked his cousin for money, he screamed that it was Edwin who owed him money. They'd talk wages only once he put a dent in his debt for the plane ticket and loan. Severo was evasive and would lie to family members who wanted to settle their accounts, refusing to pay them in full. In Edwin's time at the factory, the only worker who managed to persuade Severo to give him the money he was due was a cousin with papers who had threatened to report his boss to the federal police if he didn't pay up and let him go.
The workers followed a strict schedule, rising at five and working till midnight, sometimes stopping only for a 15-minute lunch.
Edwin struggled to learn to sew. He fumbled with the machines, ruining fabric. It took him a month to make what his cousins could make in four days. A businessman who contracted with Severo would show up at the house and demand faster production. "If my cousin said he couldn't do it, he would say, 'That's your problem, you have to deliver tomorrow,'" Edwin told me. On those nights, he and the others often did not sleep.
His family in Bolivia begged him to send money. Eventually they moved to a cheap rental house, and his wife took their children out of private school. Edwin lied when his son and daughter asked how he was doing; he felt too ashamed to admit the situation. "Imagine that I came from Bolivia with a good plan in order to overcome the low lifestyle of my family," Edwin explained. "Imagine how my children would have reacted, or my wife, or my parents. That's why I contained myself. I felt incapable of doing anything."
It grew increasingly obvious that Severo had no intention of compensating anyone fairly, and they all slowly stopped working. A cousin or a nephew would say he wanted to leave, and Severo would tell them to pack their bags. He'd load them into his car and drop them off penniless at the bus station in Guarulhos. Edwin didn't know where each had gone. He waited, still in debt and without connections in Brazil, as work in the factory slowed and then came to a halt. Eventually, only he and Severo's children remained. Then one evening he found his bags packed and out on the curb. Edwin slept in the locker room at a soccer field for three days, collecting himself before he headed into São Paulo to look for work. He ultimately made his way to the Peruvian restaurant near Cracolândia.
The afternoon after I met Edwin, I drove to Severo's compound in Guarulhos and waited for his car to pull up. A stout man with a puggish face slammed the door and waddled toward the gated carport.
"Who's judging me?" he demanded when asked if he'd been running a factory. "I have to know." There was no factory inside, he said, just his children, home from school, and a cousin or two visiting. He showed me his home. On the second floor there was an empty, white-tiled room filled with gleaming sewing machines. A heap of felt filled a bin in the corner. Nobody was working, but the machines were spooled.
"It's all lies made up by jealous people, good-for-nothings," Severo said.
I asked why there were so many machines inside if he wasn't running a factory. There'd been one in the past, he confessed. But he'd closed it.
"Seamstresses only want to work little and earn lots, and that can't be, you know?" he said. "So better to end that."
The morning after the Confederado festa, I drove the 30 miles from the old Southern graveyard to the address the ministry's records listed as the sweatshop run by Gabriel Miffia Alanes and Eusebia Villalobos Tarqui, the Bolivian couple who'd been caught with slaves in Americana. The GPS led to a bulldozed lot, the plywood and steel skeleton of a house built atop it. On the corner I saw a shoddy two-room building, its yellow-brown walls the same color as the dirt. I wondered, as I walked out to a man in a bucket hat and work boots, if that shack had been the factory.
The man squinted at me as I asked him what he was doing. Puzzled, he said he was at work building a bank. He hadn't heard that there had been a factory here, but there were some Bolivians currently living in the house right across the street. He didn't know anything about them—who they were, if they worked—but they only ever left in the morning and at night. They walked by with their heads down and never said hello.
It took a few minutes of knocking on the house's rust-red-painted metal door for a man with black hair and sallow cheeks to stick his head out. His forearm, stuffed into the pocket of his shorts, bore a scorpion. Behind him baby clothes hung on a clothesline against a concrete wall.
I asked him if there had been a factory in his house. "Yes," he said. "But it's been closed for a while." The ministry had come around months ago. "There were no problems," he said. "Everyone had their papers."
When I asked if he'd heard about slavery across the street, he bristled. "It's not slavery," he said. "When I first came from Bolivia, I worked from seven till midnight. I wanted to work those hours. The owner never forced me. If I worked like a Brazilian, from seven till five, I wouldn't make enough money."
Grasping, I brought up Alanes, the Bolivian neighbor caught with slaves in his factory the year prior. Did he know him? He hesitated, and then he said, "That's me."
Of course. The address I'd gone looking for—the one in the ministry's files—led to the house where Alanes and his family slept. This was their workplace, the factory across the street, where he'd allegedly kept his workers locked inside. A year after the ministry raided Alanes's sweatshop, freed his workers, and successfully linked the case to a national chain, the sweatshop still stood, and Alanes was still inside it.
He disappeared into the house, but soon after, a woman wearing a scrunchie came to the door—Tarqui, his wife. She laid out the situation: The only people working in the factory these days were herself and her husband. They made shorts for a São Paulo private school, but if they showed the logo, they'd lose the business, which they couldn't afford. That understood, she opened the gate and motioned for me to follow.
A year after the ministry raided Alanes's sweatshop, freed his workers, and successfully linked the case to a national chain, the sweatshop still stood, and Alanes was still inside it.
A concrete walkway led past small cinder-block dwellings to an enormous tin-roofed pavilion propped up by plywood poles at the back of the lot. Fabric, plastic wrapping, and cardboard boxes covered the floor. Two faded laminate posters—one with an old lineup for Palmeiras, a São Paulo soccer club, another with an aerial mountain shot of La Paz—were tacked onto the water-stained walls. Light fixtures dangled from the ceiling. Part of the roof had collapsed and showed the sky. A dozen yellowed sewing machines rested on card tables.
Tarqui turned toward me in the room's corner, picked up a pair of red nylon school athletic shorts, and folded her arms. She said the school paid 90 centavos—about 35 cents—per pair and she and her husband churned out about 2,000 per week. In exchange, her children attended the school. She insisted that her children never worked. (Amancio, the labor inspector, said he suspected otherwise.)
To hear Tarqui tell it, she fell into managing a sweatshop by accident. In 2001, she moved to Brazil at the invitation of a Bolivian she knew who'd married a Brazilian man and needed a nanny. She boarded a bus and braved the two-day ride to São Paulo. She eventually left the nanny job to work in a factory; after a while, she and her husband opened their own. They'd pick up contracts, have a week to make 1,000 pairs of shorts. Unable to do the job themselves, they'd go meet Bolivians in the town square. They hired one, then another, and by 2011 the Ministry of Labor was knocking on their door.
"Here I feel a little lost," Alanes told me. "Tired too."
The ministry ordered HippyChick Moda Infantil, the company that sold Alanes and Tarqui's clothes to Lojas Americanas, to pay both the workers and the factory owners severance and "moral damages." It took five days or so for HippyChick to pay the workers. After that, they boarded buses and left for good. Alanes had no idea where they'd gone. It's this absence, more than anything, that marks Brazil's record of the case in Americana, and of its slavery operations writ large. The workers gave no testimony and left no trace.
As for the lock and key: At first, Alanes said the ministry was lying. Later, on the phone, Tarqui admitted that they'd kept the door locked, but insisted that workers had access to a key. She said that they'd been robbed before. In November of last year, Brazil's federal judiciary opened a criminal case against Alanes for keeping workers in conditions analogous to slavery, a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison.
Daniel Carr de Muzio, the de facto Confederado genealogist, swung open the heavy wooden door to his house in a gated ten-year-old development called Jardim Buru in the São Paulo countryside. A pickup truck with a Confederate flag sat in the driveway. De Muzio grew up in Brazil steeped in his family's Confederate heritage. His grandmother referred to Abraham Lincoln as "that man" until the day she died, and his grandfather threw away his baseball cards depicting black players. In adulthood, de Muzio remained devoted to his American roots, making his money by translating English to Portuguese and speaking with a Southern drawl.
Inside de Muzio's house, a sunken den with chandeliers gave way to floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over a backyard filled with eucalyptus trees and subtropical varieties of lemon. On a credenza next to a glass tray of alcohol sat three miniature flags: Brazil's, the United States', and the Confederacy's. Walking through the house in madras shorts and a T-shirt, de Muzio showed off his collection of family and Confederado memorabilia—books and papers and crinkled old photos. A stained copy of Facts the Historians Leave Out: A Youth's Confederate Primer rested near his computer alongside a book called Lost White Tribes, in which de Muzio is featured.
Sitting in his back-porch rocking chair, looking over his verdant yard, he tried to disabuse me of the notion that the Confederados came to Brazil to keep practicing slavery. Slaves had nowhere to go after the Civil War, he told me. Brazil looked like a great option. "I'm sure they came voluntarily," he said. "These people, you know, they were raised by their masters—and they knew very little of how to get along by themselves on their own. They probably were very afraid of being alone."
For the Confederados, the legacy of the South is all innocence, no reckoning.
When I asked de Muzio if he'd heard of contemporary slavery in Brazil, he told me that he had—Haitians on construction sites, Bolivians in factories. His brow furrowed as he threw eucalyptus charcoal on the stove. "Now, that hasn't got a thing to do with us," he said.
Today, the Confederados are, for the most part, light-skinned upper-middle-class Brazilians, the legacy of the few Southerners who succeeded in preserving a simulacrum of their crumbling plantations. They celebrate a mythology that hardly contends with the past and keeps itself blind even to the present.
At the festa, I had met Cindy Gião, who was a visitor, not a descendant. She said she knew next to nothing about the Confederacy. She'd come on the invitation of her father's friend, Robert Lee Ferguson. Gião guessed she was Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and maybe Dutch in heritage. But she couldn't say for sure, and neither could most of her friends. No one knew, she said, "because it's so mixed." That's what so many Brazilians envy in the Confederados—a connection to one's past.
For the Confederados, the legacy of the South is all innocence, no reckoning. Their Confederacy is a collection of sounds and words and images: a Johnny Cash song, a western, a flag. White Southern bitterness has melted into kitsch—or else denial, oblivion. These are the blindnesses that render slavery invisible today.
"Brazilians are not very into our history," Gião said. "We learn it in school, but we don't have parties to celebrate what our ancestors did for us." Then she turned toward the stage to listen to a rendition of "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess and watch as a man hoisted the Brazilian flag up alongside the Stars and Bars.