Race on the Move
Brazilian Migrants and the Global Reconstruction of Race
Tiffany D. Joseph



Migration and Racial Movement across Borders

I had the following thinking: that we are all equal, for me, when I left [Brazil], we are all equal. And arriving there [in the U.S.], I saw that it’s completely different. I had situations that to me were racism. And I got confused. The black neighborhood, the white neighborhood, this division; I couldn’t believe I saw this. It was the same in my neighborhood, which was the Latino neighborhood, on the other side of the black neighborhood, and the other side of the white neighborhood. So, I had never dealt with this. I never imagined the U.S. would have this division, everyone together without mixing. —Fernanda, age 301

With light-brown skin, brown eyes, and long, slightly curly, dyed-blonde hair, Fernanda thought of herself as black. In her native Brazil, however, her fellow Brazilians racially classified her as white or sometimes as a light morena, a term generally ascribed to individuals with a racially mixed phenotype.2 In the United States, others believed her to be Latino or Hispanic. Fernanda had migrated to the United States for one year, and during that time she quickly had to make sense of U.S. race relations. She was shocked and confused to observe racially segregated neighborhoods, overt discrimination, and general social division based on race in the United States.3 Her experiences were not unique, and many migrants to the United States find the hyper-significance of race to be perplexing.4 Fernanda is different from those who migrate permanently to the United States in that she eventually returned to Brazil. And as a consequence of living in the United States, she subconsciously acquired U.S. racial ideals and brought them back with her.5

Our increasingly connected world has altered contemporary migration, and advanced technology makes it easier for immigrants to lead transnational lives.6 Today, immigrants can live both “here” in their host country and “there” in their country of origin. They can communicate with family and friends via phone and the Internet, send financial remittances, and travel back and forth if they are documented. As a result, transnational migration has significantly influenced culture, gender dynamics, and political practices in both immigrant-receiving and -sending communities.7 Migration, and return migration in particular, also allows individuals to keep a racial foot in their host and home societies, providing a useful perspective for understanding how race in various countries is transformed via migrants on the move.8 Through their movement across national borders, migrants come to view and interpret race differently, in turn reconstructing and giving new meaning to race. The social meanings attached to skin color, hair texture, and other physical features can vary dramatically from one country to the next. Migrants first negotiate race transnationally by relying on racial ideals from their country of origin to understand and interpret race in their host society as immigrants.9 After their return migration, however, they draw on racial ideals acquired abroad to readapt to race at home.

I explore how this process unfolds by focusing on the experiences of return migrants from Governador Valadares (GV), which is a small Brazilian city in the state of Minas Gerais.10 I examine how these migrants negotiated racial classification, stratification, and discrimination primarily as undocumented immigrants of color in the United States.11 I then consider how their experiences abroad changed their assessment of broader racial dynamics in Brazil after returning. GV has been Brazil’s largest immigrant-sending city to the United States for the past 60 years and is a “transnational social field,” where people, culture, goods, and money flow continuously between there and Brazilian immigrant enclaves in the United States.12 Nearly every resident has migrated or has relatives who have migrated to the United States, and many of these immigrants eventually return to GV after living and working abroad for many years.13 This movement across national borders has dramatically altered the economy, culture, and social life of the city, so much so that some Brazilians call GV “Governador Vala-Dolares,” a reference to U.S. dollars.14


Both the 2000 and 2010 United States censuses indicate that the Latino and multiracial populations are growing and that the percentage of non-Hispanic whites as a proportion of the entire population is decreasing.15 Some U.S. scholars of race argue that the conventional black-white racial binary will shift in the wake of such changes.16 Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has posited that the United States will undergo a “Latin Americanization” of its race relations; an “honorary white” group of multiracial individuals will serve as a buffer between blacks and whites, which is a racial pattern more typical in Latin American countries.17 In Brazil, by contrast, new racial quotas in universities that were implemented to increase Afro-Brazilian enrollment have made it necessary to specify who is black and would therefore benefit from the new policy.18 Sociologist and journalist Ali Kamel argues that the quotas are an American import that will transform Brazil’s black-pardo-white society into a black-white binary.19 For many Brazilian and U.S. scholars, these demographic changes have produced shifts in racial discourse, signaling that the approach to race in both countries is starting to converge.20

Brazil and the United States have been the focus of numerous comparative and scholarly studies about race.21 Both countries are former European colonies, had sizable Indigenous populations, and were the largest slaveholding societies in the Americas until the mid to late 1800s.22 However, both Brazil and the United States took divergent paths incorporating the descendants of African slaves and other racial minority groups into their post-abolition societies. Brazil earned a global reputation as a racial paradise due to its fluid racial boundaries, absence of overtly racist legislation, and social acceptance of interracial (sexual and marital) relationships. Conversely, the United States developed rigidly defined racial categories and extensive de jure and de facto racist policies aimed at separating racial groups and emphasizing (white) racial purity.23 Brazilian scholars have used the “racist” United States as a point of comparison for interpreting the seemingly more cordial relations between Brazilians of different skin tones.24 Similarly, U.S. scholars have looked to Brazil to solve “the racial problem,” presuming that fluid racial boundaries and friendly interracial relations meant that racism was non-existent.25

Thus, Brazil and the United States have been each other’s “backyard social laboratories,” using the other country as a benchmark for assessing race relations, inequality, and democracy in their respective societies. Much historical and contemporary research has revealed extensive differences in the construction of racial categories and interracial relations alongside the persistence of inequality between whites and nonwhites in both countries.26 However, most of those studies have relied on survey data or qualitative accounts conducted among Brazilians located in Brazil or among Americans situated in the United States. Few studies of Brazilian immigrants in the United States or return migrants to Brazil have directly examined how race influences the migration experiences of Brazilians, or the racial impact of such movement in Brazilian cities like GV, which have significant U.S.-Brazil migration.

Incorporating migration as an analytical tool to compare race in the United States and Brazil is relevant because migration has influenced the development of race in each nation. The United States has always been a nation of immigrants, and its race relations and racial categories have shifted over time to accommodate various ethnic groups.27 There were times in U.S. history when Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants were not socially white; U.S. blacks could classify as negro, mulatto, or quadroon; and Mexicans and South Asians were legally white.28 In Brazil, the influx of immigrants was dominated by Portuguese colonizers and the importation of African slaves in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Between World Wars I and II, immigrants arrived in large numbers from Italy, Spain, and Portugal since Brazil’s migration policy favored “white” immigrants.29 The Japanese also began migrating to Brazil for work during that same period, and currently Brazil has the largest Japanese-descended population outside of Japan.30 Most recently, as Brazil has emerged as a global power, migration from neighboring Latin American countries has increased.31 As in the United States, these waves of migration have influenced how ethnic groups are racialized relative to white, black, brown, and Indigenous Brazilians.

Migration has also informed various scholars’ interpretation of U.S. race relations. Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal spent significant time in the United States observing race relations before writing The American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy in 1944.32 In it, he argued that Jim Crow segregation and the discriminatory treatment of people of color was in direct contradiction to the nation’s democratic principles. Renowned U.S. sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, an African American who experienced significant racial discrimination in the United States, studied abroad in Germany from 1892 to 1894, where:

His skin color was no hindrance in his relations with Europeans, either strangers or those he came to know personally . . . Du Bois’s studies in Germany were a profound influence on the course of his life’s work. When he returned to the United States in 1894 he had been inspired by his academic and social experiences abroad . . . He brought some of this inspiration to the study of the black community.33

Du Bois’s experiences abroad played a crucial role in his scholarship on U.S. race relations, which influenced his political views about black social advancement and resulted in The Philadelphia Negro in 1899 and The Souls of Black Folk in 1903.34

Given my comparative focus on Brazil, it is important to note the work of the distinguished Brazilian anthropologist Gilberto Freyre. As an undergraduate student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and then a graduate student of the anthropologist Franz Boas at Columbia University from 1917 to 1921, Freyre spent time in the American South, where he witnessed the systematic oppression of black Americans at the height of the eugenics movement. Upon completing his studies, Freyre returned to Brazil. He immediately noticed that relations between Brazilians of different colors were more cordial than those in the American South, and there was an absence of overtly racist legislation. He conceptualized the ideology of racial democracy (Democracia racial), theorizing that Brazilians could not be separated into distinct groups because of their racially mixed phenotypes.35 For this reason, Freyre believed Brazilians could not be targets or perpetrators of the de jure and de facto racism he observed in the United States. He argued that racism and an explicit emphasis on having separate racial groups were antithetical to racial democracy, an ideology that became the basis for Brazilian national identity.36 Freyre’s U.S. migration significantly influenced his perception of Brazil as a racial utopia upon his return.

Though U.S. race relations have improved considerably since Freyre’s time abroad, contemporary Brazilian immigrants still find race to be more socially divisive in the United States than in Brazil.37 As natives of the only Portuguese colony in predominantly Spanish Latin America, Brazilians challenge existing U.S. ethno-racial categories.38 Unlike Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans, who are the focus of most immigration and race studies, Brazilians are not Hispanic; they see themselves as culturally and socially distinct from Latinos in the United States and from other Latin Americans. Their unique social position complicates how scholars and the general population understand the relationship between skin color, race, ethnicity, and nationality in the changing ethno-racial landscape of the United States. In comparison with other Latin American immigrants, Brazilians have a more recent migration history, are more likely to be undocumented, have a higher level of education, and are much further geographically from their homeland, which means they need more resources to migrate and maintain transnational ties.39 The rise of Brazil as a global market at the beginning of the twenty-first century has drawn more attention to issues of social inequality and poverty with regard to race, skin color, and class in the country.40 Thus, exploring the migratory movement of people and racial ideals between both countries is timely, and it bridges various gaps between previous studies of Brazilian migrants, migration in general, and comparative studies of race in global contexts.


The all-consuming importance of race in the United States has often confused immigrants as they construct new lives here. Racial assimilation is intrinsically a transnational process: migrants bring racial conceptions from their home country and use them to make sense of how race works in the United States. Furthermore, technology has enhanced their transnational ties, allowing continued contact with non-migrant relatives and temporary visits, which keep migrants racially connected to home. Exposure to U.S. racial ideals and sustaining transnational ties yield a merging of race “here” and “there” in migrants’ minds, which influences how they see race as they go about their daily lives. The longer these immigrants remain in the United States, the more likely they are to become inculcated with and eventually acquire U.S. racial ideals, either consciously or subconsciously. For the returnees examined in this book, the United States became a new reference point for assessing Brazilian race relations post-migration. They used the racial ideals they were introduced to abroad to recalibrate their understanding of racial categories and inequality in Brazil. Emigration and return migration transformed how they viewed race abroad and at home, influencing their racial (re)adaptation in each society. This “transnational racial optic” is a lens through which migrants observe, negotiate, and interpret race by drawing simultaneously on transnationally formed racial conceptions from the host and home societies.41

The transnational racial optic is social-psychological and influenced by various factors that in turn shape migrants’ racial conceptions. Among the returnees I interviewed in GV, I found that five factors shaped their perceptions of race in the United States during their migration and in Brazil after their return.42 First, migrants received their initial racial socialization in Brazil that provided the foundation from which they would interpret broader social relations based on race and influenced their self-classifications, identity development, interpersonal relationships, and observations of inequality.43 Their subsequent movement from Brazil to the United States required a racial resocialization that allowed them to adapt temporarily to race in their new society. But even as this movement and resocialization occurred, Brazil remained a racial reference point for them while they were in the United States.

Second, the differences in the social construction of race in the host and home countries had a profound impact on returnees’ interpretation of race in each country. In the United States, migrants confronted the social construction of race as they searched for work and housing and adjusted to living in the country. The historical importance of race in the United States yielded experiences of overt discrimination that many returnees had not encountered in Brazil, causing them to reflect on differences between the significance of phenotype and ancestry in shaping social outcomes in the two countries.

Third, transnational ties between the host and home countries influenced migrants’ knowledge about race at each stage of their migration. In GV, where people have been migrating to and from the United States for decades, potential migrants learn about racial issues in the United States from family and friends. This information helps prepare them for what they will likely encounter. Similarly, while living in the United States, migrants communicate additional information to non-migrant family and friends in GV, and non-migrants continue to transmit Brazilian racial ideals to migrants abroad. These exchanges create a cycle in which racial ideals from each country are simultaneously shared and merged, altering returnees’ and non-migrants’ views of race in each society.

Fourth, migrants’ ethno-racial backgrounds—being or looking white, brown, or black—likely influence their experiences with racial classification and discrimination in both countries before, during, and after migration. While self-classification is important in shaping migrants’ experiences and observations, how Americans and other Brazilians racialize these migrants, based on the racial classification norms of each society, demands consideration.44 The consistency, or lack thereof, between self-classification and perceived external classification influences social treatment and outcomes.45 Among Brazilian returnees, looking white, brown, or black—and the different standards for each in Brazil and the United States—was equally important for their interpretation of race in the two societies.

Finally, returning to the home country, either temporarily or permanently, increases the influence of the transnational racial optic on migrants’ racial conceptions. The process of returning home re-exposes migrants to the norms of race relations in the place where they were initially socialized. Their exposure to race abroad, though, contributes to reshaping how migrants interpret the norms of their home country. Of course, a migrant’s legal status in the host country affects his ability to return. A migrant with legal permanent residency (a “green card”) or dual citizenship can travel more easily than the undocumented, who must usually return home permanently. The return migration can be viewed as a quintessential transnational tie that more explicitly connects the two countries. Sociologist Nancy Foner maintains that such individuals “truly have their feet in two societies . . . and [their] plans to return entail a continuing commitment to the norms, values, and aspirations of the home society.”46 Through their return, these migrants contribute to the cycle of transmitting U.S. racial ideals by sharing their experiences and observations with non-migrants, some of whom may later make the migration, thereby continuing the cycle and further shaping the transnational racial optic for others.

My expansion of the transnational optic to encompass race is grounded in a social psychological framework in which I highlight the role of the premigration context in shaping migrants’ racial conceptions in the host country. That context lays the foundation for navigating the social world both at home and abroad. Furthermore, the other factors account more explicitly for how the social construction of race in a country, one’s position within that racial hierarchy, and migration between countries form individuals’ racial views.

Since the late 1990s, scholars have argued for a cognitive approach to study how individuals use perception, judgment, and memory to understand race and identity, and in particular how migration can yield transformations of these concepts.47 Answering that call, sociologist Wendy Roth developed the concept of racial schemas, which she defines as “racial categories and the set of rules for what they mean, how they are ordered, and how to apply them to oneself and others.”48 She examines how migration influences the racial schemas of Dominican and Puerto Rican migrants in New York and demonstrates that these schemas travel across borders back to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where non-migrants use them to understand racial classification in those contexts.49 Taking the racial schemas concept one step further, she suggests that individuals have schemas filed away in a mental “portfolio,” where they can draw on them in different contexts, switching between the schemas they associate with different locales.

Roth’s cognitive racial schemas are useful for understanding how individuals negotiate racial categories across national borders. The relevance of ethno-racial categories—particularly for government classification purposes—requires immigrants to determine what those categories mean, to whom they apply, and where immigrants fit within them in the United States. However, the racial schemas concept is narrow in two ways: first through its primary emphasis on racial classification, and second through Roth’s implication that the racial schemas are separate. Although racial categories are crucial for understanding how individuals use physical characteristics to classify themselves and others, alone they do not explain how people make sense of the broader impacts of those categories—interpersonal relationships, experiences of discrimination, and segregation—in a society. In the context of transnational migration, it is likely that migrants hybridize racial schemas by combining elements from the host and home countries in their own minds. The transnational racial optic accounts for how this hybridization can occur.

The cognitive approach, as exemplified in Roth’s work, provides a nuanced way to examine how individuals navigate race and ethnicity in multiple contexts. But it also focuses on how an individual’s present setting shapes her views at one moment in time. Little attention has been devoted to how an individual’s premigration socialization and positionality in the racial hierarchy shape her later cognitive negotiation of race. Before individuals can cognitively act on racial or other schemas, they must first recognize those schemas. The transnational racial optic allows individuals to see race broadly before they cognitively sort people into groups based on physical appearance or understand how groups are racially stratified in a society.

Finally, my goal in focusing on the transnational racial optic among return migrants is to elucidate our understanding of how racial ideals cross borders and potentially change a country’s racial dynamics. Other scholars have explored the influence of migration on individuals’ racial conceptions among immigrants in the United States and non-migrants in other countries.50 Sociologists Nadia Kim and Sylvia Zamora demonstrate how the transnational flow of U.S. racial ideals through migrants, the media, U.S. policy, and U.S. military intervention can influence immigrants’ (in receiving societies) and non-migrants’ (in sending societies) understanding of U.S. racial categories and relations.51 Although these studies are innovative in their exploration of non-migrants’ exposure to U.S. racial ideals in the home country, their primary frame of reference is migrants who live and remain in the United States.

Few studies have analyzed the experiences of return migrants in migration studies, let alone studies that focus on race. Because migration to the United States has an enormous impact on the immigrants themselves, their return migration presents a unique set of challenges. Return migrants to the Caribbean, Brazil, and Asia experience disillusionment and a sense of “in-betweenness,” as both the migrants and their home communities have changed while the migrants were away.52 Discord in personal relationships between returnees and non-migrants may influence their interpretation of cultural and political practices. Similarly, this discord can affect returnees’ perceptions of race, skin color, and the inequality and discrimination associated with the two.53 Racial discord is evidence of the transnational racial optic at work, reshaping how migrants see race and interpret broader racial dynamics.


To conduct this study, I lived in GV from September 2007 to October 2008. I am an African American woman with light-brown skin and extremely curly dark hair. Because I was not white and spoke proficient Portuguese, Brazilians rarely believed I was American and usually assumed I was parda or morena. My ability to pass for a Brazilian, and my position as a temporary migrant, although under very different circumstances, gave me significant pseudo-insider status and allowed me to establish community rapport. I attended church services, volunteered with emigrant service organizations, and frequented social events. I was also invited to do local television and newspaper interviews when Valadarenses learned more about my project.

I used a combination of purposive snowball and quota sampling to recruit people to interview. The personal relationships I developed with Valadarenses facilitated their willingness to participate and to introduce me to others. Also, I asked respondents at the end of each interview if they knew other returnees who would like to participate. I asked returnees if they had a non-migrant sibling or cousin I could also interview. To be eligible for the study, returnees had to be at least 18 years old, they must have lived in the United States for at least one year, and they must have returned from the United States within the past twenty years. I sought to interview an equal number of men and women, since men and women can experience race differently. I accounted for the different racial perceptions and experiences potential respondents, especially returnees, might have had in each country, based on their skin color, hair texture, and other physical features, by recruiting a phenotypically diverse sample.54 I aimed to interview a relatively equal number of returnees who appeared to be white, pardo, or black by Brazilian standards.55 To elicit a broad variety of views and experiences, I took all of these factors into consideration, as well as gender, age, and length of time in the United States.

I interviewed 73 Valadarenses—49 migrants and 24 non-migrants—in Brazilian Portuguese. The 49 returnees were on average 40 years old and had lived primarily in the northeastern United States for an average of eight years. Most had a high school education and came from working- and middle-class backgrounds before migrating. While living in the United States, most resided in Brazilian immigrant enclaves in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey. They typically worked as housecleaners, dishwashers, and babysitters, or in construction, and had limited English proficiency. Though the majority arrived legally with tourist visas, most migrants became undocumented by overstaying their visas.56 Men and women were equally represented, and most returned to GV between 2000 and early 2008. Before leaving GV, the majority (80 percent) intended to return. Half of the returnees migrated only once, in order to work or be reunited with family members in the United States.

To comparatively assess how U.S. migration influenced the returnees’ racial conceptions, I also interviewed 24 non-migrants who were relatives of 24 returnees.57 Within the non-migrant sample, there were 14 women and 10 men with an average age of 39. The majority had completed at least high school and worked in sales and business occupations, either as employees or as small-business owners. By interviewing the relatives of migrants, I was able to increase the demographic similarities between the return migrant and non-migrant samples such that the primary difference between the two groups was that one relative migrated and the other did not.

Since it was not possible to follow each returnee through his or her individual migration experience, I asked return migrants to reconstruct their perceptions of their lives before, during, and after migration.58 For some, many years had passed since their return, and their probable inability to accurately recall all aspects of their migration experience is a limitation of this study. But because U.S. migration had had such a profound impact on returnees’ lives, most were able to paint very clear and detailed pictures of their lives as migrants.59 Having the comparison sample of 24 non-migrant relatives was also useful in validating the returnees’ experiences.

In analyzing the interviews and my fieldnotes, I allowed respondents’ racial conceptions to guide the process in order to minimize the influence of my U.S.-based and sociologically trained interpretation of the data. Using open-ended and closed-ended questions allowed me to assess consistency, patterns of evidence, and counterevidence in respondents’ perceptions and to explore the nuanced ways that respondents negotiated race in Brazilian and U.S. society. Nevertheless, I would be remiss to not acknowledge my own intersecting and at times conflicting social identities as a highly educated, middle-class, and light-skinned African American woman conducting this research.60 I was concerned about how these identities might influence my entry into the field, my ability to recruit and interview participants, and my evaluation of the data. As a native Southerner, I grew up in an environment where black and white racial and spatial boundaries were clearly defined and where there is a diversity of skin tones and hair textures evident among southern African Americans and among members of my own family. Though I have multiracial ancestry, I have always self-identified as black. Because of my previous travels to Latin America, however, I was aware I might not be considered black in Brazil.

Although my physical characteristics allowed me to pass as Brazilian, I was often reminded of my privileged outsider status when returnees shared graphic accounts of living in fear because of their undocumented status in the United States; some told me they did not like President George W. Bush. Some even treated me more positively and wanted to befriend me after I disclosed my U.S. nationality. Although it is possible my social identities influenced how Valadarenses answered my questions, I believe the respondents were candid and sincere in our interviews. Relative to Americans, I found that Brazilians could be brutally honest when sharing their personal or political opinions, not seeming to worry that they might offend others or not be politically correct. Therefore I do not think respondents were telling me what they thought I wanted to hear.61

The time frame in which I conducted this research is relevant for interpreting the findings that I present. I lived in Brazil and conducted interviews during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, which was also a period when the debate on racial quotas in Brazil was intensifying. Most Valadarenses were heavily invested in the U.S. candidates’ views on immigration policy. Because many returnees had lived in the United States during Bill Clinton’s presidency, Valadarenses highly favored Hillary Clinton early in the campaign. But as Barack Obama’s candidacy gained momentum, Valadarenses (and Brazilians in general) became fascinated by the fact that he had a good chance of winning and becoming the country’s first black president.62 Although no respondents referred to Obama in their interviews, some Valadarenses initiated informal conversations about him, the campaign, and the upcoming election. Some Valadarenses also made references to the implementation of racial quotas in elite Brazilian federal universities, illustrating how racial discourse in Brazil was changing through the growing importance of racial classification. Respondents discussed media accounts of instances in which white Brazilian applicants felt they were denied admission to universities as a consequence of quota policies, which reserved 20 percent of the spaces for black, pardo, and Indigenous Brazilians. Conducting this study during that unique historical moment allowed me to capture insights into Brazilian and U.S. race relations that might not have been evident a few years earlier or later.

The chapters that follow take readers on a journey from Brazil to the United States and back again in order to explore the transnational racial optic at work among return migrants in GV. Examining the racial influence and consequences of migration in GV is important for understanding how race functions as a social construction at the micro and macro levels in and across countries. At the micro level, migration can alter individuals’ perceptions of racial categories, the relationship between skin color and racial classification, and how such categorization can shape interpersonal interactions through stereotyping and discriminatory behavior. This can, in turn, shape macro-level processes, such as racial stratification and the implementation of race-based public policies, as shifts in micro-level perceptions can change racial attitudes and public opinions regarding racial inequality. While the findings of this study should not be considered generalizable beyond this group of individuals, their perceptions shed light on how racial ideals can travel back to immigrant-sending communities through migrants on the move across borders. The same process likely occurs in other cities around the globe as migrants return home. Thus these Valadarenses’ perceptions may yield additional theories and insights into how migration can remake race in Brazil, the United States, and beyond.


1. To protect the respondents’ identity and confidentiality, I use pseudonyms that do not overlap with their real names. Throughout the book, I have translated the quotes from the Portuguese interviews and included each respondent’s pseudonym and age as reported at the time of the interview.

2. Historically, morena referred to a wide range of “brunette” phenotypes, including black, racially mixed, and white individuals with dark hair and eyes. Brazilian anthropologist Gilberto Freyre (1933) used moreno as an overarching term to describe the Brazilian population, since most have dark hair and eyes. Moreno is the most popular informal racial category in Brazil. The Brazilian census equivalent of moreno is the pardo category, which also implies racially mixed heritage. Most Brazilians classify themselves as pardo.

3. I use “race” broadly to refer to a single instance or a combination of the following: ethno-racial classification; interpersonal and/or institutional race relations; perceptions and experiences of racial discrimination; and racism. This definition draws on sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s (1997) “racialized social systems,” Ann Morning’s (2009) “racial conceptualizations,” and Michael Omi’s and Howard Winant’s (1994) “racial formations” to broadly capture how physical features influence social interactions and stratification, as well as inequality at the interpersonal, structural, institutional, and economic levels, with particular regard to socio-geographic context.

4. See Alba et al. (2005); Kim (2008); Lee and Bean (2007); Roth (2012); Sakamoto et al. (2010); Waters (1999).

5. Racial ideals are characteristics associated with race from a particular country. An example of a U.S. racial ideal is the notion that the United States has a history of overt racism toward people of color. An example of a Brazilian racial ideal is that racial categories are fluid.

6. I use migration, international migration, and transnational migration interchangeably.

7. DeBiaggi (2002); Grasmuck and Pessar (1991); Levitt (2001b, 2007); Pedraza (1991); Takenaka (2000).

8. Alarcón et al. (2009); Assis and Siqueira (2009); Carling (2008); Lee and Bean (2010); Levitt (2000, 2007); Orellana et al. (2001); Pedraza (1991); Rapoport and Docquier (2005); Rivera-Salgado (2003).

9. Aranda (2009); Duany (2002); Flores (2009); Itzigsohn et al. (2005); Kim (2008); Levitt (2001b); Roth (2012); Zamora (2014).

10. A return migrant is an individual who temporarily migrates to another country and then returns to her country of origin permanently or for an extended period of time. I use “returnees” and “return migrants” interchangeably. Some return migrants re-migrate to the same or a different host country after the initial return migration, a process known as “yo-yo migration.” However, those individuals again become immigrants. In this book, my focus is on individuals who considered themselves permanent return migrants at the time of the study, regardless of how many times they previously migrated to and returned from the United States.

11. Racial classification refers to the categories used to racially identify a person. In Brazil, it is usually associated with skin tone or côr, and in the United States it usually relates to phenotype and ancestry.

12. Levitt and Glick Schiller (2004).

13. Previous studies estimate that 15 to 50 percent of Valadarense migrants return to GV (Assis and DeCampos 2009; Centro de Informação 2007; Goza 1999; Marcus 2009; Martes 2008; Sales 1999; Siqueira 2008, 2009a, 2009b). Given the limited data and number of studies on return migration, it is difficult to determine how Brazilians compare with returnees from other countries who have migrated to the United States and other immigrant-receiving societies. There has been significant return migration to traditional immigrant-sending cities in Mexico (Alarcón 2009; Rendall et al. 2010; CONAPO 2009; Passell and Cohn 2009). For more on qualitative aspects of return migration, see Conway and Potter (2006); Flores (2009); Iredale et al. (2003); Plaza and Henry (2006); Potter et al. (2005); and Tsuda (2009a).

14. Centro de Informação (2007); Goza (1999); Sales (1999); Siqueira (2008, 2009a, 2009b).

15. Humes et al. (2011). The 2010 U.S. census designates “Hispanic” as an ethnic category that is distinct from race since Hispanics can be of any racial group. Thus the term “non-Hispanic whites” refers to whites who do not have Hispanic ethnicity. See Chapter 3 for more on this and the difference between the Latino and Hispanic categories. See also Hirschman et al. (2000); Prewitt (2005); Snipp (2003).

16. Bonilla-Silva (2004); Fu (2008); Lee and Bean (2004, 2010); Lee and Edmonston (2005); Rockquemore and Arend (2002).

17. The “honorary whites” include light-skinned Latinos, many Asian Americans, and Middle Eastern Americans (Bonilla-Silva 2004). Bonilla-Silva suggests this is a tri-racial system, although it could be argued that it is a modified black-white binary system. See the following for how the black-white binary could develop into a black-nonblack binary: Forman et al. (2002); Frank et al. (2010); Lee and Bean (2010); Murguia and Saenz (2002).

18. Araujo (2001); Bailey (2009); Bernardino and Galdino (2004); Fry and Maggie (2004); Xavier and Xavier (2009). See Chapters 5 and 6 for more on quotas in Brazil.

19. Kamel (2006).

20. Bailey (2009); Bonilla-Silva (2004); Daniel (2006).

21. Bailey (2009); Daniel (2006); Degler (1971); Marx (1998); Monk (2013); Nogueira (1955); Pierson (1967); Skidmore (1993); Telles (2004); Van den Berghe (1978).

22. More Africans were brought to Brazil than to any other part of the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade. Consequently, Brazil has the largest number of African-descended people outside of Nigeria. Some scholars have argued that (predominantly unmarried male) Portuguese colonizers’ more lax social norms regarding interracial sexual unions, as well as few laws prohibiting interracial marriage, yielded a nation of individuals with a wide range of physical features. This contrasts with the United States, where many of the original European colonists migrated in family units. See Degler (1971) and Skidmore (1993) for more.

23. Bailey (2009); Daniel (2006); Marx (1998); Telles (2004).

24. Fernandes (1965); Freyre (1933); Sansone (2003).

25. Harris (1952); Pierson (1967); Tannenbaum (1947); Wagley (1952).

26. Bailey (2009); Daniel (2006); Degler (1971); Marx (1998); Nobles (2000); Santos and Silva (2005); Sheriff (2001); Telles (2004); Twine (1998).

27. Espiritu (2009); Jacoby (2004); Lee and Bean (2010); Nobles (2000); Pedraza and Rumbaut (1996); Snipp (2003); Vickerman (2007).

28. The legal definition of whiteness shifted in response to the Native American conquest, slavery, the 1880–1920 immigration wave, and westward expansion for the purpose of creating racial boundaries between whites and nonwhites. The definition also included a distinction between legal whiteness and social whiteness for groups who were legally white, such as Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants, but who were not socially white, such as the British, and were therefore subject to ethnic discrimination. For more, see Treitler (2013); Feagin (2000); Haney López (1996); and Roediger (2005).

29. Freyre (1951); Lesser (1999); Skidmore (1993); Telles (2004).

30. Iwata (2012); Lesser (1999); Sasaki (1999); Tsuda (2009b).

31. Lesser (2013).

32. Myrdal (1944).

33. Du Bois (1996, p. xiii). This quote is from sociologist Elijah Anderson’s introduction to the 1996 version of Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro.

34. Du Bois (1996); Morris (2014).

35. Guimarães (2005); Telles (2004).

36. In developing the ideology after the eugenics movement, Freyre challenged the prevailing scientific argument that racial miscegenation would lead to the biological and cultural degeneracy of the superior (white) racial group. U.S. and Brazilian scholars, however, have harshly criticized Freyre’s work, arguing that it encouraged the use of racial mixing to whiten or dilute the African and Indigenous elements in the Brazilian population (Daniel 2006; Guimarães 2001; Sansone 2003; Skidmore 1993; Telles 2004; Twine 1998).

37. Joseph (2013b, 2013c); Marcus (2003); Margolis (1994, 1998); Marrow (2003); Martes (2003; 2007); McDonnell and DeLourenço (2008, 2009).

38. Ethno-racial refers to a combination of ethnicity and race when discussing the ethnic and/or racial origins of individuals. For example, black is considered a racial category, and Latino is ethnic.

39. Margolis (1994, 1998); Mitchell (2003); Sales (1999); Siqueira (2009b).

40. Bailey and Pereira (2010); Marteleto (2012); Padgett and Downie (2009); Rascusen (2010); Reiter and Mitchell (2010); Shannon (2012); Xavier and Xavier (2009).

41. Sociologists Peggy Levitt and B. Nadya Jaworsky (2007) conceptualized what they called the “transnational optic” to illustrate how “economic, political, social, cultural, and religious life are transformed when they are enacted transnationally” (p. 130). Borrowing that term and building on it, I use the “transnational racial optic” to explore how migrants, specifically Brazilian return migrants, enact race transnationally.

42. Joseph (2013a).

43. See the following for more on human social psychological development: Erikson (1959); Herman (2004); Howarth (2002); Hughes et al. (2006); Marcia (1966); Meeus (1996); Mortimer and Simmons (1978); Perry (2002); Proshansky et al. (1983); Relph (1976); Schlegel (1998); Schwalbe and Morgan (1990); Suarez-Orozco and Todorova (2003).

44. Racialization is the process by which an individual or group is ascribed membership, usually by other people, in a particular racial group.

45. External racial classification is how individuals are classified by others. Perceived external racial classification is how individuals perceive they are classified by others. Bailey (2009); Bastos et al. (2009); Itzigsohn et al. (2005); Landale and Oropesa (2002); Loveman et al. (2012); Telles (2004).

46. Foner (1997, p. 358).

47. Brubaker et al. (2004); Cerulo (2002); D’Andrade (1995); DiMaggio (1997).

48. Roth (2012, p. 12).

49. Roth identifies three racial schemas among Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in the United States, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. The first is the “continuum racial schema,” which includes intermediate racial terms between black and white. The second is the “(panethnic) nationality racial schema,” which includes nationalities and ethnic groups as well as the panethnic Hispanic/Latino category. She breaks the third schema, the U.S. racial schema, into two sub-schemas. The first is the “traditional U.S. racial schema,” in which any mixture of white and black has historically been perceived as black. The second is the “Hispanicized U.S. schema,” which includes the white, black, and Hispanic/Latino categories. See Roth (2012) for more.

50. Duany (2002); Flores (2009); Itzigsohn et al. (2005); Kim (2008); Levitt (2001); Roth (2012); Zamora (2014).

51. Kim (2008); Zamora (2014).

52. Conway and Potter (2006); Margolis (2001); Plaza and Henry (2006); Siqueira (2009b); Siqueira et al. (2010); Tsuda (2009a).

53. Aranda (2007); Flores (2009); Levitt (2001).

54. See appendix for more specific demographic information on each respondent.

55. This should not be confused with respondents’ self-classifications, which I did not know until I interviewed them.

56. Thirty of 49 returnees obtained tourist visas before migrating, but only 12 were able to obtain green cards or U.S. citizenship.

57. Most of these relatives were siblings or cousins.

58. I discuss the migration experience of returnees in three time periods: (1) before migration (the time in Brazil before migrating to the United States); (2) during migration (their time in the United States as immigrants); and (3) after migration (the period after returning to Brazil).

59. Memory recall is a limitation of most social scientific studies in which respondents are asked to recall events from the recent and distant past (Bernard et al. 1984; Trivellato 1999; Wellman 2007; Wolcott 1994).

60. I am a descendant of slaves and cannot trace my heritage beyond the United States. For more, see Joseph (2014b).

61. See appendix for more on this.

62. President Barack Obama would not be considered black in Brazil, but rather pardo, due to his appearance and racially mixed background. Some would even argue that his status as U.S. president would make him (socially) white in Brazil.