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Somerville celebrates first Haitian-Brazilian cultural festival

“Haiti and Brazil Hit The ’Ville” was centered on music, art, and food.

Zack Wittman for The Boston Globe

“Haiti and Brazil Hit The ’Ville” was centered on music, art, and food.

SOMERVILLE — Haitian and Brazilian communities congregated on Sunday in Somerville’s Union Square Plaza for a colorful afternoon festival, the city’s first joint celebration of the two cultures.

“Haiti and Brazil Hit The ’Ville” was centered on music, art, and food. It was hosted by the Somerville Arts Council’s ArtsUnion Project in partnership with the City of Somerville and SomerVIVA, the city’s language liaisons program.

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Bringing together two of the largest immigrant populations served by the SomerVIVA program, the event was a “celebration of Somerville’s diverse population,” according to the Somerville Arts Council.

Jhenny Saint-Surin, the Haitian Creole language liaison with SomerVIVA and co-creator of Sunday’s festival, appreciates the connectedness of the city’s immigrant communities. Brazilians and Haitians, in particular “love soccer, love Carnival, and we eat a lot of rice and beans,” Saint-Surin said.

Somerville’s Haitian and Brazilian communities have bonded over the past two decades.

According to SomerVIVA, Haitians’ love of Brazilian soccer was sparked by “a 1978 visit by legendary player Pelé to Haiti, and the Brazilian-penned song “Haiti é Aqui” captures the significance of Haiti’s history to Brazilians.”

After the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Brazil was the first country to donate to the Haiti Reconstruction Fund.

With the celebrations lasting from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., the festival grounds were free to enter and offered an array of entertainment and food choices, such as Haitian fritay and Brazilian churrasco.

Roommates Phung Nyugen, 30, and Alice Huang, 23, live a short walk away from Union Square. They gripped beef and chicken skewers, smiling broadly.

“It feels a bit like a farmers’ market,” Huang said. “It’s so colorful, though.”

Somerville’s immigrant community has always felt inclusive to Nyugen, who was born and raised in Vietnam and moved to Massachusetts in the last few years.

Many in attendance were recent immigrants who viewed the festival as an opportunity to bond with their community in Somerville and experience other cultures.

Adriana Gama, 39, moved from Sao Paolo, Brazil, two months ago with her 4-year-old son.

“It’s been so difficult, especially since I have a son, to find food from our culture,” Gama said.

Smells rising from the food vendors’ tents accompanied performances by multicultural artists.

People danced in the streets during the festival.

Zack Wittman for The Boston Globe

People danced in the streets during the festival.

City of Cambridge poet populist Jean-Dany Joachim followed the festival’s welcoming statements with a series of poems in English and Haitian Creole. Joachim, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, performed poems on the joyfulness of children and the tragedy of wartime.

On a banner-draped stage, a Haitian konpa band and Brazilian band Samba de Tres played over a bustle of visitors examining homemade crafts and South American art.

Jewelry and clothing vendor Marie-France Merisier moved to Massachusetts from Haiti about 16 years ago. She offered a combination of hand-crafted goods and jewelry she imports from Haiti.

“We are all different, but at the same time we have cultures that are unified by art, music, and colors that are universal,” Merisier said.

The celebration was to conclude with a parade of revelers with flags, dancing to the drums, said Robson Lemos. Somerville resident Lemos, 35, helped decorate the square and was one of the presenters.

About a month in the making, the festival was “not just about entertaining people,” said Adriana Fernande, SomerVIVA’s Portuguese liaison. “It’s important for the immigrant communities to know that they are welcome and safe.”

Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@globe.com.
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