Filmmaker Examines Brazilian Immigrants in Belgium

Filmmaker Susana Rossberg presented her documentary on Belgian immigration, “Brasileiros Como Eu,” and sparked discussions on immigration and acculturation outside the United States during her campus visit on February 17. Inspired by her own multicultural experience as a Belgian-Brazilian, Rossberg chronicled the lives of legal and illegal Brazilian immigrants living in Belgium in her film. Taylor Clarke ’10, Co-Head of JusticeNOW, said, “We all know about U.S. immigrations and minorities but to see that [immigration] was happening in what we could consider more homogenous communities, like Belgium, was really interesting. And also seeing how those communities flourished when the odds might have been against them was inspiring.” “After seeing the movie I was a little surprised, because I was kind of expecting it to be about her [cross-cultural heritage] but it was more of a documentary on immigration,” said Matt Kelley ‘10, Co-Head of JusticeNOW. Rossberg felt the immigrant experiences portrayed in her film could also apply to Hispanic immigrants in the United States. During a question and answer session that followed the screening of “Brasileiros Como Eu,” Rossberg said that she initially hoped to make a documentary on the experiences of Hispanic immigrants in the United States. Due to lack of financial support, she filmed the documentary in Belgium, her home country. Rossberg was ultimately pleased with the outcome because she felt that her film showed that the motivating factors and issues facing immigrants are universal, regardless of the country. Rossberg conducted interviews and filmed Brazilian festivals in an attempt to capture the Brazilian culture within Belgium. Through the film she tried to determine what prompted different Brazilians to immigrate to and remain in Belgium. “The presentation was really an interesting window into a culture that I previously had no idea about,” said Sonya Schoenberger ’11 Another benefit of filming in Brazil was that Rossberg was able to spend more time with her family. The film follows Felipe, Rossberg’s nephew, as he leads the audience from one place to the next. Felipe, a Belgian-Brazilian, discusses his hopes to return to Brazil someday, though he loves living in Belgium. The film captured a wide variety of opinions on immigrant life in Belgium. Several of the interviewees stated that they missed the sunny weather in Brazil and the cheery attitude of Brazilians. One illegal immigrant said that everyone who immigrated with him to Belgium had given up on life in Belgium and returned to Brazil. Kelley said, “One of messages I took from the discussion was that immigrants are humans, and that people may fail to see that at times because there are so many, especially if they are illegal.” The film also details the hardships of life for Brazilian immigrants in Belgium, from poor wages to harsh treatment. One woman told her story of traveling from Brazil to Belgium to earn money for her daughter’s eye operation. She began cleaning houses and started to work as a live-in maid. Her boss took advantage of her and made her work several jobs and paying her unfairly low wages. Elaine Kuoch ’11, said, “The story about the lady who cleaned houses was really heartbreaking. There was a variety of stories, which really showed the wide range of possibilities and the risks of immigration.” Many immigrants like Belgium despite the risks and poor living conditions. One woman cited easier access to museums, libraries and education as a particular interest of hers. “I was surprised that so many people instantly loved Belgium after immigrating there because it seemed to me that most of the time immigrants ha[d] a hard time adjusting,” said Kuoch. Rossberg fled the Brazilian military government dictatorship when she was a teenager in the 1960’s because of her work with political activists redeveloping slums. Rossberg sought amnesty first in Chile and then Belgium. Kim Kohn ’10, Rossberg’s niece, helped bring Rossberg to campus. Clarke said, “[Rossberg] has been interested in coming [to Andover] for the past couple of years, so we thought this was the perfect opportunity to explore [the Belgian-Brazilian] culture that we otherwise knew very little about.” “It was also cool to see Ms. Rossberg in person and on the screen at the same time, and interesting to hear her talk more about the film,” said Schoenberger. “It was a shame that the event wasn’t as well attended as we had intended, but I think it was great we could all see the movie and have a little more intimate discussion than we could have had otherwise,” Clarke continued. Rossberg will also visit other college campuses in New England.