South East Seattle's Brazilian twin- Arroio do Sal

From the moment my husband and I pedaled our tandem bicycle into Arroio do Sal, I felt right at home. It was as though some genie had lifted dear old Martin Luther King Jr. Way on a magic carpet and flown it to the sunny south coast of Brazil.

Maybe it was the way so many people walked up to me and started conversations as though I were a long time friend and neighbor. I might as well have been back in King Plaza near the corner of MLK and Othello discussing politics with Dan Au at Arctic Press or chatting with one of the cashiers in my favorite Asian food market about the virtues of their homemade fried tofu. A sense of celebrating diversity was in the air with folks originating from many parts of the world even though, in the case of Arroio do Sol, almost everyone spoke a common language, Portugese, instead of the 50 some languages spoken in Southeast Seattle. After all, Portugese sounds almost as inscrutable to the untrained ear as Vietnamese.

I have always thought that living in the Rainier Valley felt a lot like living in a foreign country. At the same time, it feels more like a small town than anyplace else I have ever lived. That's because wherever I go in the Valley I meet people I know from community and church activities. Likewise, the people of Arroio do Sal, upon first encounter, behave as though they have known us for years. It is quite common here to be hugged and kissed by someone I have only just met a few minutes ago.

The town of Arroio do Sal has another special quality that makes it seem more like Southeast Seattle than anyplace else we have been in Brazil. Maybe that is because we have just crossed the state line from the state of Santa Catarina to the state of Rio Grande do Sol. The villages and houses no longer have the distinct German influence so prevalent in Santa Catarina. Stores along the Rua Principe, the main street of this town, display a motley array of signage. Buildings reflect a hodge-podge of styles with no evidence of design standards or a cohesive plan. Arroio do Sal isn't as pretty as most towns in Santa Catarina, but there is a homeyness about the place that reminds me of Southeast Seattle.

What makes this town most like the Rainier Valley is the way small business rules the day. There are no corporate logos or big box stores. Instead the streets are lined with little stores, shops, pharmacies, grocery markets, and restaurants. Everything is privately owned, probably by families. As we biked along the main street, a woman come out of her pastry shop and invited us in for coffee and treats. While we sat in the internet cafe catching up on our email, a young woman came in to interview us for a local weekly newspaper. She brought with her the local English teacher to translate. The cafe owner took our picture for her as we left.

With the help of friendly Arroiosians, we located a small camp ground in a sandy vacant lot along the main street. From there I sit looking out at more little businesses, a construction firm, a cement factory, a cell phone company. Two young men pushed racks of colorful beach clothing past us along the street. They set up shop on a busy corner looking ever so much like the vendors who sell jackets and sweat shirts on the corner of MLK and Othello.

Could any place be more like Southeast Seattle with so many people bent on earning a living without calling another man boss? I have sensed that there is greater government support and encouragement of small business in Brazil than in the United States. However, the Seattle city government has taken a step in the right direction by providing a Community Development Fund for the South End. Another resemblance to Southeast Seattle are the views around and about the outskirts of this, and other, small towns in Brazil. Spectacular views of green mountains rise up from expanses of shimmering water, forests, and fields.

There is, however, one noteworthy contrast, the weather.  After all it's summer here in the southern hemisphere, and we are on the Atlantic coast. Even though there is usually a pleasant breeze, the temperature averages maybe 10 or 15 degrees warmer than the warmest part of an average summer day in Seattle.

Brilliant sunlight bathes the streets of Arroio do Sal as people stroll the streets in bikinis and shorts. Along one side of town lies a beautiful public beach where warm, playful surf rolls into flat, sandy shores. If only there were a genie to lift some of this weather onto his magic carpet and take it home to the people sin Southeast Seattle.

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