US Civil War marked way down south of Dixie
It had all the trappings of a downhome country fair somewhere well below the Mason-Dixon line: Lynyrd Skynyrd medleys, mile-long lines for fried chicken, barbecue and draft beer, and a plethora of Confederate flags emblazoning everything from belt buckles to motorcycle vests to trucker caps.
But Sunday’s party marking the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War took place about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) south of the South, in a rural Brazilian town colonized by families fleeing Reconstruction.
For many of the residents of Santa Barbara d’Oeste and neighboring Americana in Brazil’s southeastern Sao Paulo state, having Confederate ancestry is a point of pride that’s celebrated in high style at the annual “Festa dos Confederados,” or “Confederates Party” in Portuguese.
Thousands turn out every year, including many who trace their ancestry back to the dozens of families who, enticed by the Brazilian government’s offers of land grants, settled here from 1865 to around 1875. They’re joined by country music enthusiasts, history buffs and locals with a hankering for buttermilk biscuits or a fondness for “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
“I don’t speak English and the only place I’ve been to in the U.S. is Disneyworld, but I feel the heritage,” said 77-year-old Alcina Tanner Coltre, whose great-great-grandparents migrated from Mississippi along with their 15-year-old son. “My great-grandfather married a Brazilian woman, so he integrated into Brazilian culture pretty quickly, but it’s really important to me to come out every year to remember where we come from.”
The party takes place up a dusty dirt road flanked on both sides by sugarcane plantations, in a field that abuts on the “Cemiterio dos Americanos,” or “American Cemetery,” which began as the resting place of the wife and two daughters of one of the first Confederados and still serves their descendants today.
Amid food and beer stands bedecked with red-white-and-blue ribbons, extended families tucked into diet-busting barbecue and hamburger lunches as “Dixie” played on a loop. Teenage girls pulled hoop skirts over their cut-off short-shorts and wiggled into bustier tops, taking to the stage painted with a giant Confederate flag on the arms of young men in grey and yellow Johnny Reb uniforms. The pairs solemnly presented the flags of the 13 Confederate states and square danced to raucous fiddle music.
A man walks in a cemetery where Southern U.S. immigrants are buried in tombs adorned with the confederate flag, during a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War in Santa Barbara d’Oeste on Brazil, Sunday, April 26.