Unexpected Insights

by Aron Lesser
July 26, 2013

Aron Lesser '15 is a Royce Fellow researching and creating a non-consumptive guide to sports and society in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 Research isn’t always in the archives.  Sometimes, you don't even realize you’re doing it.

Last night at 8pm we got off the metro at Liberty Square, Sao Paulo’s “Japantown.”  But we weren’t looking for Japanese food. Although most Paulistas (people from Sao Paulo) think Liberdade is a Japanese neighborhood, today mostly Chinese immigrants and Northeastern Brazilians live there.

It was the coldest day of the year, and we wanted Chinese soup dumplings.

We walked passed sliding doors into Rong He, dumpling paradise, and grabbed a table in the back of the restaurant. That’s where we met Clarice, a 60-something year old Brazilian of Japanese descent. She was having dinner with her husband, another 60-something year old Nipo-Brazilian, but we didn’t get his name.

We were meeting up with some American friends, so we were speaking English. That’s what caught Clarice’s attention.

In terrible English, she asked if we were Americans. We responded in Portuguese “mais ou menos,” or "sort of." Our mother is Brazilian and we’ve spent a lot of time in Sao Paulo. We never know what to say when people ask us where we’re from.

But she had no interest in our ethnic or linguistic heritage. Within five minutes she popped the question. She might as well have been on one knee, because when we said yes, she started announcing it to the entire restaurant.

“They’re Palmeirenses” she proudly declared. “They’re Palmeirenses!”

She roots for the Palmeiras, one of Sao Paulo’s three major soccer teams. And so do we. Our soccer allegiance was enough for Clarice to start listing off her single grandchildren. And mouth feeding us soup dumplings.

It didn't matter that she was of Asian descent, us of North American, and that this was our first meeting. We both came from immigrant families and root for the immigrant soccer team. That alone made us family.

We ended up eating together, and towards the end of the meal Clarice gave us her digits. And facebook. And email. All on a napkin. And the heading read: Clarice Oki, Palmeirense (A fan of the Palmeiras team).

We might have caused a scene. She might have caused a scene. The waiter definitely didn’t help.

He came over to see what all of the inter-table fuss was about, and when he heard the word Palmeiras, he began reciting what seemed like a well-practiced monologue about his beloved team, the Corinthians.

We laughed. She laughed. He cursed, and then laughed.

We ended the meal on his strong words:

“At least none of us are f*****g Sao Paulinos” (fans of Sao Paulo Futebol Club, the city’s third team).

We didn’t expect our dumpling night out to bring clarity to the relationship between sport and society in Sao Paulo. And it really didn’t. If anything, it complicated it more. It reminded us that even to a 60-something year old Nipo-Brazilian woman, soccer is identity, and she probably couldn't name one player on Palmeira’s current roster. But then again, neither can our grandma, and she always wears the Palmerias’ green and white on gamedays.