Learning from immigrants
Learning from immigrants
Cuisine, drumming, calligraphy: Brazilians can learn all of this from low-income expats. The platform Migraflix organizes courses with a view to integrate immigrants into the local society and labor market.
“There, we reverse our roles. The immigrant is no longer the foreigner who needs something from us. Here, he’s the one who gives. And we’re the ones who leave enriched.” That is how the São Paulo entrepreneur Patrícia Salvaia describes the courses in Arabic calligraphy, African percussion and in Syrian and Moroccan cuisine that she has attended over the past months. All of them organized by Migraflix – a platform created in September 2015, in the city of São Paulo, that has to date promoted 70 workshops taught by 25 low-income expats from countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Syria. “It’s a way of learning that is richer than a conventional class, because there is a cultural exchange, we learn a little about life in other countries, for example,” Patrícia Salvaia goes on to say.
For the Argentine economist Jonathan Berezovsky, creator of the project along with São Paulo journalist Rodrigo Borges Delfim, the objective of Migraflix is exactly this: to bring together Brazilians and immigrants through cultural exchange. “In addition to generating income for the immigrant, since 80% of the profit from the workshop goes to him or her, there is also the concern with integrating him or her into Brazilian society,” says Berezovsky, who has lived in Brazil for two years. “While taking a course in Syrian cuisine, for instance, the students aren’t only going to learn how to make a typical dish, they’ll also learn that immigrant’s story: why he had to flee Syria, what he did before the war, how he is rebuilding his life in Brazil.”
Network of contacts
In the courses, you hear stories like that of the Syrian mechanical engineer Talal Al-Tinawi, who currently offers the workshop A Síria sobre a mesa (Syria on the table) at Migraflix. “With this work I earn money, widen my network of contacts and learn more about the Brazilian people,” says Al-Tinawi. In 2012, he left the city of Damascus, where he used to live, for Lebanon to get certified in the English language. On his way back he was arrested, having been confused with a man with the same name wanted by the government, and spent three and a half months behind bars. When he left prison, in fear of being detained again, and also pressured by the civil war ongoing in the country since 2011, he decided to move to Lebanon with his wife Gazhal and his children Riad and Sara (today 14 and 11 years old, respectively).
Since they didn’t adapt to Lebanon, the engineer and his family managed in 2013 to get a visa for Brazil, to where many of his compatriots had already emigrated. In order to survive in the country, the engineer started selling Syrian food from home. At the end of last year, he raised 71,000 Brazilian reais through a crowdfunding site and opened a restaurant in São Paulo in April. “Now my country is Brazil,” he says. Al-Tinawi’s success story is still an exception. “Low-income expats have a lot of difficulty finding work and face discrimination in Brazil,” says Berezovsky.
A fine mix
The Argentinian is fascinated by the issue of migration. “I come from a family of immigrants,” says the economist, who is the grandson of a Polish Jew who settled in Buenos Aires at the end of the 1940s, after the Second World War. “And besides, I am also an immigrant: I was born in Buenos Aires, grew up in the United States, spent time in Israel and now I live in São Paulo”. In Israel, where he lived from 2009 to 2014, he was involved in an NGO that helped African refugees, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, by providing microcredit. When he moved to Brazil in 2014, he did not abandon the cause and created Migraflix – along with Borges Delfim, who is no longer directly involved with the platform. Now, the project that started in São Paulo has just migrated to Curitiba and Belo Horizonte. “The aim is to get to more Brazilian cities as well as other countries,” Berezovsky plans. Another goal is to bring the workshops to schools. “It’s a way of breaking the prejudice against immigrants from early on,” Berezovsky believes. “Prejudice is about ignorance.” With the same idea, the economist formed the band Mazeej (a “mix” in Arabic), made up of musicians from Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, as well as Brazilian Jews. The band’s debut was at the end of May in a synagogue in São Paulo. Berezovsky concludes: “The idea is to mix people from different countries and religions to show that together we can create incredible projects independent of one’s nationality, color or religion.”