Governador Valadares, a city in the interior of the state of Minas Gerais, is known for being a primary immigrant sending community. The locals have even nicknamed the city Governador Vala-dolares in reference to the remittances coming in from the United States. Although Governador Valadares, with over 200,000 inhabitants is the most well-known immigrant sending community in Minas Gerais, there are many more cities heavily impacted by immigration of Brazilians to the United States, including the much smaller city of Capitão Andrade. Capitão Andrade and its 5,000 or so inhabitants are located about an hour south of Governador Valadares and is a city built from abroad. I spent a few weeks in Capitão Andrade where I was able to conduct thirty different interviews with family members with sons/daughters/siblings/spouses abroad, former immigrants who had lived in the United States and returned home, and key members of the community.
One of the most striking things about the city is the visual difference between businesses and homes built with remittance money from the United States and those built from working in Brazil. For example, in the picture I have provided is an area of the city right outside the city center. In the center area are plots of land with several large, two-story, gated houses, while on the outside of the square are small, government built houses with dirt floors. The picture portrays a remittance-built house by a couple who spent several years working in New Jersey on the left, while right across the street are the government-built buildings. Examples such as this depict a stark, visual difference, in a small community of what money from abroad can provide. However, surprisingly to me, while it was very visible which houses and businesses were built with money from abroad, a more humble home did not always mean that someone in the family had not traveled abroad. In the picture, for example, several families of modest means, living in government houses have family members in the United States who have been less successful in their endeavors, than some, like the couple with the two-story, yellow house.
While I was unable to conduct interviews with the families living in the government houses, I did manage to collect several different narratives during my time in Capitão Andrade. Although I am confident (if not always grammatically correct) in speaking Portuguese (like a gringa), I found interviewing to be a little nerve racking and have learned several lessons in the time I have spent in Capitão Andrade. One of the biggest learning experiences I have had with interviewing is that much of the more interesting and relevant information comes out once I have stopped recording. My interviewees sometimes seem nervous about the questions I present and once I turn off the recording device and our interaction becomes more conversational they tend to reveal stories and information that are more appealing to my research. After catching on to this trend, for several of the interviews I simply paused my recording device and started recording again after the questions were over and the conversation began. In retrospect I wonder if this type of conversational interview would have been more informational.
In the chapter “The Concept of Time and Conflicting Expectations of Brazilian Women in Clinical Settings” of the book “Becoming Brazuca”, for examples, Clémence Jouët-Pastré, Branca Telles Ribeiro, Márcia Guimarães, and Solange de Azambua Lira use conversational interviews to obtain narratives from Brazilian women about their experiences in clinics in the United States. The researchers attest to the importance of a conversational interview saying that “the interviewee will convey more interesting information that is relevant to her—and, most of all, is not likely to be interrupted” (201). While I tried to follow the narrative my interviewees were taking I do think that an uninterrupted style narrative may have been a better choice. Hopefully I will be able to include some of the conversational interviews I conducted into my final paper, but overall I would say more research in Capitão Andrade was successful.
Posted by Rebecca Bintrim – MA Candidate at CLACS