For miles around the graveyard, the unfiltered sun beat down on sugarcane fields planted by the thousands of Confederates who had rejected Reconstruction and fled the United States in the wake of the Civil War—a voluntary exile that American history has more or less erased. Their scattered diaspora has gathered annually for the past 25 years. The party they throw, which receives funding from the local government, is the family reunion of the Confederados, one of the last remaining enclaves of the children of the unreconstructed South.
Brazilians filed past a Rebel-flag banner emblazoned with the Southern maxim: heritage, not hate. They lined up at a booth where they traded Brazilian reals for the festa’s legal tender, printout Confederate $1 bills. (The exchange rate was 1:1—the Southern economy had apparently survived.) Kids flocked to the trampoline and moon bounce. Old-timers staked out shade beneath white tents. Early on, the line for fried chicken grew almost too long to brave.
Under a tent, I picked at some chicken and watched a young blond Brazilian woman maneuver an enormous Confederate-flag hoop skirt into a chair. I wondered what she made of the symbol. She introduced herself as Beatrice Stopa, a reporter for Glamour Brazil. Her grandmother, Bagas31, ran the Confederado fraternity. She’d been dancing at the festa since she was a kid.
I asked if she knew there was a connection between slavery and the American South. “I’ve never heard that before,” she said. She wasn’t sure why her ancestors had left the States. “I know they came. I don’t really know the reason,” she said. “Is it because of racism?” She smiled, embarrassed. “Don’t tell my grandmother!”
The town the Confederates built has been caught in this dragnet. On January 22, 2013, the Brazilian Ministry of Labor orchestrated a sting in Americana, the town where many of the Confederados had settled. It found Bolivian immigrants manufacturing baby clothes under the roof and supervision of two Bolivian bosses. The prosecutors broke up the factory, and in the suit that followed, they deemed the conditions they’d found execrable enough to constitute slavery.