Brazil on the corner of University and Georgia: Brazilian establishments dominate intersection in Wheaton’s multicultural small-business landscape
|By Erica W. Morrison|
Sitting in his Silver Spring bakery filled with the aroma of fresh baked bread, Glayson Silva, looks around the busy shop and says, ““I do pretty well here.”
Its half an hour before close and the buffet filled with Brazilian cuisine has already been packed up for the night but traffic continues to stream into Brazilian Bakery as others walk out toting paper bags full of bread. Several patrons are planted with sandwiches and Brazilian cheese bread in front of a large screen TV broadcasting the news in Portuguese, the official language of Brazil.
Silva said he emigrated from Brazil 10 years ago looking for better opportunities. During his first seven years in the U.S., he worked in construction saving his money and waiting for the opportunity to own his own bakery.
“I like to bake bread, cook food and stuff like that. Back in Brazil I started working in a bakery when I was maybe 12 years old,” he said. “So the whole time that I’m here, I’m like I want to buy a bakery.”
Silva is the owner of Brazilian Bakery in Silver Spring; he bought the business from an older Brazilian man about three years ago. The business has been in the Aspen Manor shopping center on Georgia Avenue for about 10 years he said.
A Business Opportunity:Brazilian woman living her dream of being a business owner
Hear Selma Kahachik’s story in her own words
Selma Kahachik confesses that she does not know how to do hair but she does know how to run a business.
Kahachik is the owner of Via Rio Hair Salon in Wheaton. The salon has been open for more than 5 years she said, but she became the owner a year ago. It has always been Brazilian-owned.
“I don’t know how to do hair, I don’t know how to do nails, I don’t know how to do nothing about hair,” she said. “But I know how to run the business.”
Via Rio is a full-service salon providing hair, nails, massages and esthetician services. The most popular service at the salon is the Brazilian keratin treatment,
|By Oluseyi Segun|
An eclectic mix of immigrant communities, Wheaton has made itself home to numerous immigrant groups. These immigrant enclaves bring not only the richness of their culture, but business endeavors, which has been and continues to be the case for Wheaton’s Brazilian community.
Just two blocks from the Wheaton Metro Station lives a group of Brazilian stores. These stores developed independently of one another. However, the stores form a central part of the Brazilian identity and have helped the establishment of a Brazilian presence in the already saturated market for immigrant enclaves.
“Somos todos da familia como aquí. We are all like family here,” said Antonio Melo Rocha in Portuguese and then heavily accented English. Rocha, 50, is the manager of the By Brazil market and café on Georgia Avenue. By Brazil Market opened its doors in 2002 attracting not only Brazilian clientele, but that of fellow immigrant enclaves. According to Rocha, one thing that makes By Brazil distinct from other Brazilian businesses is the family feel.
Upon walking into the store, the staff greets their customers with hey and how are you. For customers such as Lola Solloso this is the most important thing. “I come here every week to get pastries I can’t find anywhere else, but what attract me here really is the people,” said Solloso. Solloso, 32, is a Brazilian-ex-patriot living in Adams Morgan. Solloso comes to By Brazil market at least twice every week to chat with customers and staff members and to buy Brazilian products.
Similar to what attracted Solloso to the store is another factor that Manager Antonio Melo Rocha feels distinguishes the stores. “We strictly sell products from Brazil,” said Rocha. By Brazil offers distinct Brazilian dishes and products such as
pastel de feira and coxinha: popular pastries in Brazil. In one location, a customer can buy groceries for their home, get a quick bite to eat, and catch up with the latest news of friends and Brazil.
The distinct quality of the products By Brazil market sells is what makes the store authentic. According to Rocha, “We are a Brazilian store; we do not try to be one, “he said. For Rocha, the purpose of the store was to bring a bit of home to the United States.
Rocha, along with employees of By Brazil, is an ex-patriot. Rocha has been living in the United States since 2002. Ten years later, Rocha finds himself well accustomed to the American way of life. However, Rocha still misses Brazil.
Rocha said, “Living here hasn’t been very difficult for me, but I do miss my family.”
Back in Rio de Janeiro, where Rocha is originally from, Rocha has two nieces and two daughters. By Brazil market offers ex-patriots such as himself a piece of Brazil without having to physically be in Brazil. But, By Brazil market is not only for Brazilians; it is for anyone interested in Brazil or Brazilian foods.
Rocha is aware of the demographics of Wheaton, which is what prompted him to learn Spanish and English. According to Rocha, “Most Brazilians just speak Portuguese. But here, I also speak Spanish due to the Latinos in the area, but my English is still not so good.”
According to 2011 census data, Wheaton is 42.2 percent Caucasian, 41.7 percent Hispanic, and 18.6 percent black. Rocha and his fellow coworkers are well aware of this. Rocha and his three co-workers have been able to learn Spanish and English. However, both languages are still a work in progress.
|By Oluseyi Segun|
When people think of the hair industry, African-Americans, East Indians, and Chinese are the first ethnic groups to come to mind. No one ever connotes Brazilians with the hair extension industry, unless they are talking about sold hair extension hair types. But with the introduction of Hair Brazil to Georgia Avenue in Wheaton, Hair Brazil is re-shaping perceptions of those who work with hair extensions.
Romula Oliveira is the proud owner of Hair Brazil, which opened three weeks ago in Wheaton. Oliveira chose the Wheaton area due to the high volume of Brazilians living in the area.Hair Brazil is a hair extension store that sells a variety of hairstyles employing Oliveira’s own unique form of hair pieces creation in a Brazilian fashion that he has been using in Brazil, Europe, and the United States for the last 20 years. This is what Oliveira hopes will set his store aside from competitors.
“We only work with human hair, “said Oliveira. Whereas many hair extension stores sell synthetic and human hair together, Hair Brazil only sells authentic human hair that is not treated with any form of chemicals. This is a distinguishing factor because Oliveira said, “You can find many stores here who say they are selling human hair, but it’s not 100 percent human hair; it’s synthetic hair.”
Oliveira developed his own treatment for the hair he works with that uses heat as a means of treating the hair instead of chemicals. However, with a higher standard for product quality, customers can expect to see higher prices.
On average, the hair pieces sold at Hair Brazil cost between $120-160. Hair Brazil hair pieces cost more, but customers are guaranteed of the quality of their product due to prior treatment that the hair goes through and the fact that Oliveira and his wife custom make the items and Hair Brazil has a production team of individuals who are knowledgeable of Oliveira’s hair extension technique in Silver Spring.
Every member of Oliveira’s productions team goes through a two-to three month process in order to learn Oliveira’s technique so that they are able to make the hair as if he or his wife were making the hair. Also, all employees must sign a contract with Hair Brazil so that they do not steal Oliveira’s technique, truly making Oliveira’s store one of a kind in its field.
The attention paid to detail by Hair Brazil workers’ and the technique they use account for the high prices. However Olivera said, “You can reuse the hair and the benefit is much better than synthetic hair.”
Due to the fact that Hair Brazil does not use chemicals on their hair extensions, Oliveira said that is what makes it possible to reuse the hair. And if anything, he felt that an individual ended up saving money because they were able to reuse the hair.
The science behind Hair Brazil’s technique is a secret Oliveira would not share. However, it is clear that Oliveira, his wife, and production team have been developing this method long before Hair Brazil’s arrival in Wheaton.
“Before coming to Wheaton, I was in Newark, N.J. and before that Brazil and Italy, “Olivera said. In addition to working internationally, Oliveira operated a well-known hair extensions production company in Rio de Janeiro. “Our company was very well known and we worked with big Brazilian soap opera stars,” said Oliveira.
Oliveira brings a wealth of experience to his latest Hair Brazil location in the United States, which he hopes will help him to open more Hair Brazil locations in the United States.
On the outskirts of the District, in Montgomery County, Md., rests a unexpectedly vibrant cultural community. At first glance, Wheaton’s Georgia Avenue, lined with strip malls and neat rows of houses, looks like the main drag of any other suburb. But beneath its unassuming surface, Wheaton is a dynamic hub of immigrant cultures.
Until the late 1940s, Wheaton was primarily farmland. As federal government employment took off in the 1950s and 1960s, however, Wheaton’s population boomed. Now, the city of 56,000 is home to several significant ethnic populations. And one only needs to take a stroll through downtown to see their contributions. From the Brazilian market on Grandview Avenue to an Ethiopian restaurant down the street on University, the city’s ethnic communities don’t just inhabit Wheaton – they help define it.
Perhaps the most striking example of Wheaton’s cultural identity are the many places where its diverse populace intersect. We profile of few of those here: At the Hollywood East Café – a renowned for its dim sum – the community has found more than just good meal but also a gathering place; at the local library, a conversation class provides both English lessons and emotional support; and at a Montessori school, where the student body reflects the area’s diversity and cultural issues are part and parcel of a teaching philosophy geared toward educating “citizens of the world.”
— Kat Aaron, Lori Grisham and Cooper Allen
In English class, stories of dreams lost and found
Audio story and text by Kat Aaron
The Evergreen School
Text and photographs by Cooper Allen
Hollywood East, dim sum in Wheaton, Maryland
Audio story, text and photographs by Lori Grisham
By Kat Aaron
In English class, stories of dreams lost and found (Click on link to listen to audio story)
Every Tuesday morning, in a small, nondescript room in a back corner of the Wheaton Public Library, men and women gather for a conversation class. They are old and young, from all over the world: Cameroon, China, El Salvador, Sudan. They come to practice and improve their English.
But the students share more than a desire to learn a new language. They share an understanding of what their journeys to America have cost, personally and professionally.
In between lessons on American idioms and pronunciation, they swap memories of the careers and loved ones left behind. Some were lawyers, doctors or engineers in their countries of origin, and now work as cooks, housekeepers, and nannies. In their home countries, all have left siblings and parents, who grow older and change without them. These English learners came to America to escape war and political turmoil, or for the opportunities, for their children’s futures, or simply for money.
Whether pushed or pulled here, the varied stories of the men and women who gather in the class reveal an often hidden side of the immigrant experience: the bittersweet sacrifices made in pursuit of a better life.
By Cooper Allen
“Do all of these kids look like they’re from the same culture?” Lourdes Barden asks her class of 6-to-9-year-old students at Evergreen School in Wheaton, Md.
“Noooo,” the children collectively respond. Today’s lesson is about universal human needs, which Barden is illustrating by showing her class a series of photos of people from a variety of nationalities and cultural backgrounds. The students,sitting on the floor, identify the potential origins of the people in the photos, then paste them inside a circle on a large sheet of paper.
“No, they look like they’re from different cultures,” Barden says. “And they are.”
This lesson carries particular resonance to this group of students who mirror the differences evident in the photos.
Many private schools are characterized by their demographic disconnect from the communities they serve. But at Evergreen, a Montessori school in Wheaton, a city marked by its diversity, it’s not uncommon for classrooms to be majority-minority. Indeed, administrators say it’s that diversity – and how cultural issues are routinely woven into the curriculum – that attracts parents to the school.
“I don’t think you would have a student here that would even use the word diversity,” says Marcia Jacques, the head of school at Evergreen. “I don’t think they think about it like that. We just learn about each other, and we celebrate each other’s differences.”
The Montessori approach to education – developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, in the early 20th century – is both a method and a philosophy. It emphasizes movement and the notion that children should choose their own lessons.
Montessori schools differ from traditional schools in a number of immediately noticeable ways, namely the variety of ages in each classroom. Montessori schools are divided into three age levels – primary, lower and upper elementary.
At Evergreen, administrators see bringing cultural issues into the classroom lessons as essential to fulfilling the Montessori vision, so much so that teachers often do not have to focus on diversity, per se, because it informs nearly everything they do. It’s all part of their goal of making their students “citizens of the world.”
“We don’t have to work at it,” Jacques says. “It’s very natural to Montessori education, I think, because it’s very much a worldview.”
Educational researchers have emphasized the importance of bringing cultural and diversity issues into the classroom.
Dina Castro, a child development research at the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, says bringing diversity issues into the classroom at a young age and instilling in students a sense of connection to their community is essential to giving students “a sense of identity.”
She adds, however, “this is not going to happen by itself – spontaneously.” Teachers, she says, have to focus on cultural awareness and diversity issues in their classrooms. One way to do this, she says, is to build “good, strong partnerships” with parents.
What’s more, Castro adds, “teachers should also be interested in learning” about their students’ backgrounds.
As the day’s lesson progresses, Barden points out the cultural backgrounds within the – two students’ families are from Africa , another’s is from Brazil and one is from Jamaica, which prompts an excited classmate to say, “Me, too!”
Barden says she thinks Evergreen’s student body is representative of the Wheaton community, an area with a majority non-white population, according to recent census data.
Evergreen’s student body – approximately 78 – is 27 percent African American, 12 percent Asian American, 4 percent Latino and 15 percent multi-racial, which, combined, constitutes a majority-minority population.
However, Jacques says children here look beyond the school’s and the area’s demographic data.
“I don’t think kids really see that – they see each other,” she says. “It’s so rich and beautiful, until society gets a hold of us, you know.”
She explains the rationale for the day’s lesson, one she says is taught at Montessori schools around the world. She says she wanted to engage her students in the idea that “no matter who you are, where you are, what you look like, we all basically have common needs.”
Barden added that although her classroom is diverse, with students from a variety of racial and national backgrounds, the lesson could have worked in a classroom without Evergreen’s diversity.
“You have many opportunities,” Castro says of teaching the importance of appreciating diversity to students at a young age. “They’re still forming ideas.”
The discussion about culture and human needs in Barden’s class proves to be wide-ranging. The class frequently asks and answers questions about cultures around the globe. There is even a lengthy discussion of the culture of cavemen, which seemed to be a particularly engaging topic for the students.
Finally, as the activity nears its end, 8-year-old Tobi Onaolapo brings the discussion back to more contemporary times – sort of.
Getting reading to ask a question, he says, “This isn’t about the cavemen, but it was, like, a long time ago – like the 1980s.”
By Lori Grisham
Hollywood East, dim sum in Wheaton, Maryland (Click on link to listen to audio story)
A Chinese restaurant known for its dim sum brunches has put Wheaton, Md., on the D.C. area’s culinary map. Zagat rated Hollywood East the No. 1 Chinese food restaurant in the region. But to its customers, it also serves as a gathering place for one of the suburb’s most diverse communities.
Hollywood East opened in 1996 and has enjoyed positive reviews from restaurant critics and a loyal, multi-ethnic clientele ever since, according to owner Janet Yu.
Yu runs the business with her sons, nieces and nephews, and to them, the customers who come regularly from as far as Annapolis, are also like family.
During the making of this piece, Hollywood East on the Boulevard announced they are moving to a new location this summer. The current location will be closed at the end of May 2009. Hollywood East will move into a new space at the Westfield Wheaton Shopping Center. It is scheduled to open in summer 2009.
Current Location (until May 2009):
2621 University Blvd. West
Wheaton, MD, 20902
New Location (coming this summer):
11160 Veirs Mill Rd.
Wheaton, MD 20902