Confederate Heritage is Alive and Well in Brazil
The gradual erosion of open celebrations of Confederate heritage throughout the United States stands in sharp contrast with a vibrant memory for the residents of Santa Bárbara d’Oeste and neighboring Americana, in Brazil’s south-eastern São Paulo state. Following Confederate defeat somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 white Southerners left for the promise of land and even the possibility of one again attaining slave-owning status in a foreign country. For close to thirty years the residents of this community have organized a celebration of their Confederate roots.
The images are right out of the Civil War centennial era, including the uniforms, dresses, dance, and large Confederate flags. All of it has a campy feel at best. Their memory of the Confederacy and the South is framed by a love for buttermilk biscuits and the “Dukes of Hazzard.” Very little attention appears to be focused on their ancestors themselves, many of whom were absorbed into Brazilian culture shortly after arrival. In fact, it’s not even clear what percentage of male immigrants actually served in the Confederate army. It also makes me wonder just how many of their ancestors wanted to put the whole Confederate experiment behind them and move on with their lives.
For Lost Cause devotees, who remain committed to a memory of the war void of slavery, these celebrations are ideal. There seems to be no awareness of why white Southerners left the United States after the war or the stated goals of the Confederate government. The images depict an ethnically diverse crowd, which reflects the current push to paint the Confederacy as a socially progressive experiment. Best of all there is no pressure surrounding this community to acknowledge the relevant history.
At the same time, it’s easy to see that this community doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Confederate heritage is clearly not a full-time occupation. I don’t anticipate a visit by H.K. Edgerton or a representative of the Sons of Confederate soliciting their support for so-called “heritage violations” in the United States. It’s as superficial a commemoration as they come, but they certainly look like they are having a lot of fun.
Americans have grown less and less tolerant of this silliness over the past few years because we can no longer afford to ignore the legacy of this history.