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The town in Brazil that embraces the Confederate flag

Descendants of American Southerners wearing Confederate-era dresses and uniforms dance during a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War in Santa Barbara D"Oeste, Brazil, April 26, 2015. Image copyright Reuters

The debate over flying the Confederate flag has reignited in the US, but the American South isn't the only place in the world you'll see the emblem - it's also proudly displayed in the rural Brazilian town of Santa Barbara D'Oeste.

Once a year, the descendants of about 10,000 Confederates that fled the United States to Brazil after the US Civil War have a sort of family reunion.

"They all take part in stereotypically southern things like square dances, eating fried chicken and biscuits, and listening to George Strait," says Asher Levine, a Sao Paulo-based correspondent for Reuters.

"And a lot of Confederate flags everywhere, all over the place."

Image copyright Reuters

Despite being six or seven generations removed from their antebellum ancestry, many local Brazilians still maintain strong ties to Southern culture, and proudly wave the Confederate flag.

But for them, Levine says, the flag is much more of an ethnic symbol than a political one.

"They see themselves as ethnically American to some degree," he says.

"At an Italian festival, you would see people waving an Italian flag. Or on Saint Patrick's Day you see people waving the Irish flag. They see it that way. They don't have any political affiliation to it whatsoever."

Image copyright Reuters

Over time, the Southern white population has mixed with the Brazilians, resulting in people with a variety of different shades of skin colours waving the Confederate flag. Americans might be surprised by the resulting visual.

"A lot of people who are descendants of these confederates have African blood as well, so you'll see at the party people with dark skin waving the Confederate flag."

Levine says he talked to an American at the festival who was completely amazed at watching a young girl singing Amazing Grace - often sung in black churches across the US - while standing on top of a Confederate flag.

Image copyright Reuters

The banner is everywhere - kids wave mini-flags and women wear Confederate flag dresses.

"You know, the symbolism is totally lost on them, but for us it's quite a contrast," Levine says.

Despite being a very mixed-race country, Levine says that the killings in Charleston are being seen in Brazil as more of a gun safety issue than a racial issue.

"When they see an event like what happened in South Carolina last week, they wonder if it's really so much better in the United States, safety-wise."

This story was originally broadcast on PRI's The World. Listen here.


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