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Chicago Speaks Mon Jun 16 2014

Chicago Speaks: Portuguese, as Spoken by Film Series Founder Ariani Friedl

chicagospeaks.jpgAs a global city, Chicago is home to many languages besides English. Chicago Speaks profiles speakers of these languages, and shares some of their personal stories along the way.

If you were to hang out with Ariani Friedl, you probably would learn at least one Portuguese word even if you communicated entirely in English. "Mostra," which means "show," is the name of the Brazilian "film series" she founded in Chicago four years ago — a name she chose for both its aptness and its catchiness.

"Mostra became part of their vocabulary very quickly," she says of her American colleagues. Her ambition for Mostra, though, goes beyond the slight expansion of our lexicon.

"The majority of Americans think of Brazil as samba, [soccer] and bikinis," explains Friedl, who in 1964 moved to Chicago as a newlywed from the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. "And all this is part of our culture, but that's not it."

Wanting to share it with fellow Chicagoans and give Brazilian cinema more exposure, Friedl has spent the past several years establishing and growing an annual event that brings what she calls "films with a social conscience" to Chicago.

Each year, she chooses a social, political or cultural theme whose implications span national borders. With the help of a committee, she selects Brazilian movies related to the theme and invites the filmmakers to the United States to discuss them. Screenings take place every fall at venues such as Columbia College, Facets and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Friedl worked as director of the John Nuveen Center for International Affairs until her retirement in 2004.

Ariani Friedl
Ariani Friedl. Photo by Megan Marz.

Portuguese in Chicago

Approximately 5,600 Chicago area residents speak Portuguese or a Portuguese creole at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. With the rest of us in mind, Friedl picks only films that have already been subtitled in English. (A volunteer-run organization, Mostra doesn't have the resources add subtitles itself.)

But she will make the odd exception: For a short children's film shown one year at Brazil in Chicago, a Portuguese language school, the school's then-director made his own translation of the dialogue. He then performed it live while the movie played for the assembled kids.

Brazil in Chicago, which counts Friedl among its instructors, is one axis of a local Brazilian community she describes as diffuse. Brazilians, she explains, are spread out across the Chicago area, never having concentrated in one neighborhood.

She and her then-husband were part of what the Encyclopedia of Chicago calls a "small but growing stream of Brazilians" who began migrating to Chicago in the mid-1960s. Today, the metropolitan area is home to about 4,500 people born in Brazil — and about 5,700 who claim Brazilian ancestry.

Portuguese in the World

Brazilian Chicagoans are not the only Chicagoans one might call Lusophone, a word that means Portuguese-speaking and derives from Lusitania, an ancient name for present-day Portugal.

While the majority of today's Portuguese speakers come from Brazil, the Lusophone world also comprises Portugal and several other places once subject to Portuguese rule: Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Broadly speaking, people in these areas use European Portuguese, which differs from its Brazilian counterpart on many points of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. "In Brazil we say the Portuguese swallow their vowels," Friedl says, for example.

Now I Know What You Mean

One thing Portuguese speakers share is "saudade," another term you might learn from Friedl. Add it to the stock of Portuguese words you already know because English has borrowed them: piranha, tapioca, zebra.

Famously difficult to translate, saudade combines the meanings of several words in English. "It's missing somebody, it's longing for that person, it's loving that person or thing or place," Friedl explains. "You will learn how to feel that once you go to Brazil. . . . Almost all my friends that go there and come back, they say 'Ah, now I know what you mean.'"

If you can't make it to Brazil anytime soon, you can still see it, if only onscreen, later this year: The fifth edition of Mostra begins Nov. 1.

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Carla da Silva / September 30, 2014 9:36 PM

Great article, thank you for featuring ou Brazilian community and MOSTRA so well.

Ester DeMello Lima / September 30, 2014 10:00 PM

Thank you for the article about our Brazilian Culture and Mostra. Well done.

Margaret Rohter / October 1, 2014 9:31 AM

An accurate and interesting portrayal of Brazilians living in the Chicago area. MOSTRA films are enlightening and novel. You do not want to miss out on this event from Nov 1-10.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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