Emanuel Ebot, Whellder Guelewar and Pa Suwareh Faye are from Cameroon, Brazil, and Gambia, respectively.
But on Friday, they came together at a restaurant in Sao Paulo's growing African immigrant community to cheer on Cameroon's World Cup team, saying they felt united by Brazil's historical links to Africa.
“I'm cheering for Cameroon, and I cheer for any African team,” said Guelewar, a 29-year-old producer of cultural events, and the small restaurant explodes into cheers when an apparent Mexico goal was overturned. “We feel that we are Africans, even if we are part of a diaspora. We really value this part of our culture.”
He and his girlfriend have never been to Africa, but say they have been able to meet African nationals for the first time here recently, both those who have come to Brazil to work, and those visiting for the World Cup.
“The restaurant has become a meeting point for people from all over the world, especially for Africans,” said Melanito Biyouha, 38, from Cameroon, who opened her restaurant, Biyou'z, three years ago, talilored for African immigrant clients. “The mixing of cultures has been going on for years now, but things have really exploded during the World Cup.”
Cameroon lost to Mexico, 1-0, on Friday, disappointing locals and Africans alike. But the World Cup match, the first this year featuring an African team, filled this area of downtown Sao Paulo with native Cameroonians decked out in full World Cup regalia, and Brazilians eagerly taking pictures and speaking Portuguese or broken English. A crowd formed outside after the restaurant filled up.
Sao Paulo, South America's largest city, is crowded and imposing, and is rarely featured in tourist guides, making foreign visitors rare. And until recently, Brazilians were more likely to head abroad in search of work than be in a position to welcome immigrants from elsewhere.
But over the last few years, immigrants have arrived from African countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola and Mozambique. Biyou'z has become a meeting point along with two Nigerian restaurants and, increasingly, a gastronomic destination for curious Brazilians.
“The atmosphere here during the game is fantastic,” said Pa Suwareh Faye, president of Gambia's Football Coaches Assn., in town for a meeting with the Confederation of African Football. “Before I came to Brazil, I was told I had to come to this restaurant.”
Ebot, 34, has been living in Sao Paulo for eight years, and now works detailing high-end cars. He said Brazilians are especially receptive to Africans in some ways, because of their shared history involving slavery. But these days, he said, it's not easy for the growing community, and the locals' knowledge of modern African culture is limited at best.
“They're bringing us knowledge of things we thought we knew, but don't. Or maybe things we lost,” said Patricia Oliveira, 40, Ebot's wife, who works as a bank loan advisor. “Many of the new Africans here suffer prejudice, or have a hard time adjusting. But Brazilians try to be joyful and welcoming.”
By the end of the game, Ebot is disappointed by his team.
“They're playing terribly,” he says, in fluent but accented Portuguese. “Like this, we'll never get out of the first round.”
Cameroon willl now have to beat Brazil on June 23 in Brasília. Most at the restaurant agreed that the game will divide allegiances and create a rivalry, at least for at the time
“But no big deal,” said Guelewar's girlfriend, Ana Caroline. “It will be friendly.”
Bevins is a special correspondent.