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Brotherhood touted with sister cities Thursday, September 15, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Town officials yesterday welcomed the delegation from Brazilian city Governador Valadares, as both groups touted their sister city relationship as a way of fostering understanding between them.

The Valadares representatives, including Mayor Jose Bonifacio Mourao, met with selectmen and members of the Framingham committee that helped establish the partnership.

During the Memorial Building ceremony, Mourao said he hopes the visit builds understanding between the two communities.  Framingham's Brazilian immigrants, he said, also want to live peacefully here and work hard.

"We want to help with our labor, not only in our country where we live but also in Framingham," said Mourao, who spoke through an interpreter.  "They are hard workers and want to work and also increase development of Brazil and the United States."

Kathleen Welte, who sits on the sister city committee, said the relationship between Framingham and Valadares, which was formalized in December, strengthens their ties.

"We believe in, for a lack of a better word, brotherhood," she said.

The Brazilian delegation presented Framingham with several gifts, including a CD on the history of Valadares, a mosaic made from minerals from the country, and a copy of the constitution for the state of Minas, where Valadares is located.

The reception wasn't entirely warm.

Local anti-illegal immigrant activists Joe and Jim Rizoli and Harold Wolfe attended the meeting, taking photographs and video for the Rizolis' local cable show.

"This is the biggest scam that has hit this town.  This is terrible," said Joe Rizoli.

The Rizoli brothers and others in town are members of Concerned Citizens and Friends of Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement.  They loudly protested the sister city agreement and accuse town officials of being soft on illegal immigrants, many of whom live in Framingham along with those who come here legally.

The only selectmen to attend the event were Chairwoman Katie Murphy and John Stasik.

Jayro Lessa, a Brazilian state representative, said the visit was important to understand the real situation of immigrants living in Framingham and to better the image immigrants have back home.

"Despite their enormous contributions to our economy, immigrants are not recognized," said Lessa.  "What they send helps create businesses and foster investment in commerce and other economic activities, but their contributions have yet to get the recognition they deserve."

According to Lessa, Valadares receives $10 million every month in remittances, or money sent from abroad.  Nearly 30,000 Valadares natives, who represent 10 percent of its population, have emigrated.

For Jose Alvaro Pimenta, president of the Valadares Chamber of Business Owners, the money sent by Valadares natives from abroad represents a real force in the local economy.

Much of those remittances, which can't be precisely totaled, are used in building homes and apartments for rent, and while that has stirred a wave of construction projects in Valadares, Pimenta and others would like to see more investment in creating industries and jobs, which could help prevent the flow of emigrants.

Lessa said many people in Brazil are concerned about the difficulties Brazilian immigrants face from the moment they come here, putting their lives at risk in dealing with smuggling rings that operate in Brazil and Mexico.

"They come here illegally, but once they're here, they devote themselves to work," said Lessa.  "They don't come here to commit crimes.  Working is not a crime."

Mourao said he feels confident Brazilian immigrants have been welcome by Americans due to Brazilians' work ethics and entrepreneurial spirit.

Mourao is committed to give Valadares immigrants their due, and said his trip here is part of that effort.  Mourao plans to build a monument to the immigrant in Valadares and create an association of relatives of Valadares immigrants.  Doing that, said Mourao, will be beneficial not only for Valadares but also for the community where so many Valadares natives live now.

"We have a settlement here in Framingham and in this country," said Mourao.  "We want to help them organize themselves so their contributions can better benefit the community they were born in, and the community that has received them and where they live now."

On Tuesday, the delegation visited several Brazilian shops downtown to see firsthand their dominance in the area and meet Valadares immigrants who now call Framingham home.

The first stop was Padaria Brasil, a bakery on Concord Street, one of the most patronized businesses by immigrants.  The group also visited jewelry shops, a real estate agency doing a brisk business selling homes to Brazilians and a tax preparation firm owned by a Brazilian entrepreneur.

Mourao was joined by 17 people, among them a house representative from Minas Gerais, the state where Valadares is located, a state representative, two councilmen, and other Valadares officials representing health, education and business associations.

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