Page last updated at 19:47 GMT, Sunday, 23 August 2009 20:47 UK

Obama island's Brazilian 'engine'

Barack Obama will soon follow in the footsteps of US Presidents Bill Clinton and John F Kennedy by holidaying on Martha's Vineyard. But behind the scenes of the exclusive island getaway, BBC Brasil's Bruno Garcez finds an army of immigrant Brazilian workers tending lawns and waiting on tables.

Mauricio Brandao
Mauricio Brandao is one of about 3,000 Brazilians in Martha's Vineyard

"During his visit to Martha's Vineyard, Barack Obama will play golf in a course set up by Brazilians, eat meals prepared by Brazilian cooks and swim in a pool which was cleaned by workers from Brazil."

So predicts Mauricio Brandao, a 28-year-old Brazilian who has spent the past 12 years in Martha's Vineyard, a sophisticated resort and a traditional summer destination for Hollywood stars and politicians.

He works on the island as a horse trainer, but defines himself as a "fixer" who grabs any job available - with a preference for work offered by those he refers to as "the high-ranking people".

Mr Brandao knows the place where Mr Obama is likely to stay with his family well.

The Blue Heron Farm is a 28.5-acre vacation home likely to cost from $35,000 to $50,000 per week to rent, according to local newspaper the Vineyard Gazette.

I have a house worth $1m and have a licence to rent 300 bicycles. In Brazil, I could not afford my own bicycle
Aguimar Carlos

The official data provided by the administrator of Oak Bluffs - one of the island's six towns - backs up Mr Brandao's prediction.

There are roughly 3,000 Brazilians in Martha's Vineyard, out of a population of 15,000.

Mr Brandao said: "The Brazilians are the engine of the island. They are the ones who make it happen."

Some in the local community claim the official figures do not fully reflect reality and that the correct number could be two times higher.

Many of the Brazilians working in landscaping, serving tables or cleaning rooms in hotels prefer to stay off the radar - up to 70% are undocumented workers.

Great days

Martha's Vineyard has become a traditional destination for US presidents.

Bill Clinton playing gold on Martha's Island
Bill Clinton is fond of the island's manicured greens

Before Mr Obama arrived, Bill Clinton spent several holidays on the island.

Ironically, a Brazilian who paved the way for many more of his countrymen to come to Martha's Vineyard was named after an American president.

Forty-six-year-old Lyndon Johnson Pereira, from the small Brazilian town of Goiabeira, arrived in Martha's Vineyard in 1986.

"I was the first Brazilian there," he said proudly.

Mr Pereira was working in a Boston diner when a colleague invited him to move to Martha's Vineyard, where her brother was setting up a restaurant.

"Those were great days," he recalled. "In Boston, I managed to save, at the most, $1,000.

"In the island, I managed to make $4,500 - but I worked a lot, till one in the morning. I almost died of so much work."

Although he made huge sums on the island, Mr Pereira only stayed in Martha's Vineyard for a year.

"My father became seriously ill and I had to go back," he said.

"Once in Brazil, I began to study and became a high school teacher, then got married and had kids. That led me to put my dream aside.

"Had I stayed one more year in Martha's Vineyard, I wouldn't have returned."

Pursuing the dream

But many other inhabitants of Goiabeira and neighbouring towns decided to pursue the dream Lyndon Johnson Pereira left behind him.

He believes that today there are about 600 inhabitants of Goiabeira in Martha's Vineyard. Not bad for a small town of a little over 4,000 people.

Brazilian kitchen workers in Martha's Vineyard
For many Brazilians, Martha's Vineyard means work, not relaxation

The path taken by Aguimar Carlos, a 48-year-old who arrived on the island in 1989, takes the opposite direction to that of Lyndon Johnson Pereira.

He is married to an American, owns two shops that rent out scooters and bicycles and only thinks of returning to Brazil once he has retired and his six-year-old-daughter has enrolled in university.

Mr Carlos said: "When I arrived in the US, I already had a fate.

"I showed up in Martha's Vineyard with $80 in my pocket and carrying a bin bag with two pairs of trousers and two shirts.

"Now I have a house worth a little under $1m and have a licence to rent 120 scooters and 300 bicycles. In Brazil, I could not afford to buy my own bicycle."

But Martha's Vineyard is not only a place of happy stories.

Jessica Nascimento, a 29-year-old American from Middleborough, Massachusetts, works in a restaurant in Oak Bluffs where the kitchen is staffed solely by Brazilians.

But the Brazilian who she most wishes to have by her side can no longer return to Martha's Vineyard.

 Jessica Nascimento
Documentation problems have soured the dream for Jessica Nascimento

Mrs Nascimento said: "Douglas, my husband, first came here around the end of 1988.

"A few years later, he spent a while in Brazil with his family.

"When he was about to return, Douglas went to the US consulate in Rio, to renew his visa.

"But they printed his last name incorrectly and he was prevented from entering the country when he arrived here."

Mrs Nascimento has faced a bureaucratic nightmare to bring her husband back - and allow him to be with his two American-born children.

He has not seen four-year-old Luke, and Kahlia, two, for over a year.

"I'm going crazy," Mrs Nascimento said. "I have lost 60 pounds and had psychiatric evaluation.

"The hard part is explaining to my son what's going on."

Over the years, Brazilians ended up being blamed for many things unfairly
Michael Dutton, town administrator

If Mrs Nascimento had a chance to meet the latest famous visitor to the island, she would ask him to help immigrants facing hardship in the US because of problems with their papers.

She said: "Obama represents hope.

"He should create a law that could help people like my husband who are good citizens, who never had any problem with the law, who pay their taxes and have a good credit history.

"I do have hopes that something will be done - I just fear it might take too long."

Obama family setting off to Martha's Vineyard
The Obama family set off on Sunday for a week on the island

Tensions between Martha's Vineyard's Brazilian and American communities were stoked last January when a young American girl, Brandy Gibson, was killed in a car accident.

The fact that the Brazilian van driver was unlicensed led to a wave of angry messages in the local press aimed at Brazilians - although immigrants who spoke to the BBC did not complain of prejudice.

Michael Dutton, Oak Bluffs' town administrator, said: "Over the years, as with any first generation of immigrants, Brazilians ended up being blamed for many things unfairly.

"The Brazilian population has kept to itself. That is not good, because they remain a mystery to the rest of the island."

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