June 18, 2019 | 72° F

Festival celebrates Brazilian people, culture

Photo by samantha casimir |

Michelle Goncalves, president of the Latin American Student Organization, holds the hands of two Samba Novo dancers on stage at the College Avenue Student Center Wednesday evening for the “Latin American Festival: Brazil” event. 

Four years ago, Michelle Goncalves and Stephanie Souza were told Brazil was not part of Latin America. They resolved to combat that mentality by hosting a festival inclusive of their Brazilian and Latino roots. Last night, their vision became a reality.

The Latin American Student Organization (LASO) held the “Latin American Festival: Brazil” event last night at 8 p.m. at the College Avenue Student Center.

Admission to the event included a $3 fee. The money collected will be donated to Amazon Watch, an organization that partners with indigenous communities to protect the environment in Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador and Peru, according to amazonwatch.org.

“We decided that with global warming and deforestation, the Amazon was clearly the right choice because Brazil’s all in the Amazon,” said LASO President Michelle Goncalves.

The event included performances from Samba Novo and the Rutgers Capoeira Club. Samba Novo, two dancers hailing from New York, invited members of the crowd to learn basic samba dance moves, said Goncalves, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Catering for the event was provided by Costa Verde, a South Amboy-based Portuguese restaurant. She said Rutgers-approved vendors offer many catering options for Indian or Chinese food, but the Brazilian or Portuguese food options are limited.

“They were very kind and they created an exclusive Brazilian menu for us,” Goncalves said.

LASO was founded in 1975 as a safe haven for Latino students, but when Goncalves and Souza first joined the organization as freshmen, their shared Brazilian ethnicities were not widely recognized as Latino, said LASO Vice President Stephanie Souza.

Every year, LASO hosts a Latin American Festival with a Latin American country as a theme, with Salvador, Mexico and Cuba as past themes, said Souza, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. This year, both students were able to infuse the festival with their Brazilian culture.

“Being Brazilian, we’re not known to be smart,” Goncalves said. “We’re known to be beautiful and play soccer.”

Goncalves said that many Latinos see their culture as a crutch, but she wants to show the beauty within their heritage.

Sociedad Estudiantil Dominicana and Hermanidad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc. were among the organizations who co-sponsored the event, Souza said.

“I think the importance of these types of events are really important cause like I said, diversity is not just like sitting next to somebody in class,” Souza said. “It’s the interaction with diverse types of people.”

She said it is easy to see diversity at Rutgers. In any classroom, someone can be sitting next to someone who is different and easily call that diversity. But when people attend cultural events and immerse themselves in what is going on, that is feeling the diversity.

“(Events like this) create a different sense of diversity, of actually experiencing it,” Souza said.

Yvanna Saint-Fort and Chris Roney contributed to the reporting for this story.

Marielle Sumergido

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