Utah Brazilian Festival unites Brazilians for 15th consecutive year

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Samba dancers turn heads and excite the crowd with their traditional Brazilian dances at the Utah Brazilian Festival on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. (Thomas Madrigal)

What started as a way for Matilde Wosnjuk to bring the culture of Brazil to her sons in Utah has become a yearly celebration for Utah residents and others from neighboring states with ties to the country.

“We have people come from all over,” Wosnjuk said. “It’s like a big reunion.”

The Utah Brazilian Festival started 15 years ago when Wosnjuk, the festival’s founder, organized a gathering for Brazilians living in Utah. The event was held at Thanksgiving Point and was expected to host approximately 1,000 people. To Wosnjuk’s surprise, nearly 3,000 people from all over the state attended to celebrate Brazilian culture.

Local and non-local Brazilians were invited to bring their heritage and culture to the festival. To bring the taste of Brazil to the festival, various stands offered traditional Brazilian foods, drinks and deserts.

Wosnjuk said some of her favorite parts of the festival include a traditional dance in Brazil known as samba.

Matilde Wosnjuk, the founder of the Utah Brazilian Festival takes part in the festivities. (Addie Blacker)

BYU Portuguese professor Rubia McLane said the festival is a great opportunity for her students to reconnect with past mission companions and to re-experience Brazilian culture.

“A favorite part for me is to be engaged in something that is for the community,” McLane said.

Lessia Smith, who was born in Brazil but moved to the U.S. as a child, runs a food stand at the festival. She said that although she’s only been part of the festival for two years, she feels at home.

She also expressed that she wants people unfamiliar with Brazilian culture to know “there is much more to Brazil than just samba and football.”

Lessia Smith looks to her roots as she offers Bahiana cuisine at the festival. (Addie Blacker)

Kathy Fortes from Rhode Island shared her love for Brazilian culture by participating in one of the samba pieces during the festival.

Fortes started performing for Brazilian festivals after she networked with a dance school after competing in Utah’s Miss Africa Pageant.

Fortes said the festival is a great opportunity for people who have never been to Brazil to broaden their horizons.

“You don’t feel left out,” she said.

Katie Fortes, a samba performer in the festival, smiles alongside her mother, brother-in-law and stepbrother. (Addie Blacker)

When asked what her favorite part of the festival was, Fortes said, “This feels like a home away from home.”

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