To Brazil From Vegas, With Love

The story behind Las Vegas’s first-ever Brazilian festival

The organizer of Las Vegas’s first Brazilian festival isn’t Brazilian. But Dutch national Ramon Van Meer has immersed himself in his adopted culture, and is excited to share it with Las Vegans. “I met my wife four years ago and before that when I thought about Brazil I thought about about soccer and beautiful samba girls,” says Van Meer. “Then I realized there’s so much more to that culture. There’s so much passion in the music, the food, and it’s very diverse.”

Van Meer hopes non-Brazilians attending Saturday’s Vegas Loves Brazil fair at the Clark County Amphitheater will have the same realization. The daylong event will showcase Brazilian dance, music, martial arts and cuisine from local restaurants Texas de Brazil, Via Brasil and Boca do Brasil. We chatted with Van Meer, who worked with wife Charlene Santos and business partner Cliff Martin to put together the festival, about how he sees it as the first step towards consolidating the local Brazilian community.

How big is the Brazilian community in Vegas?

We have around 7,000 Brazilians but it’s really hard to find an accurate number because Las Vegas is a town where people come and go really fast. San Diego, for example, has over 30,000. The biggest [community] I believe is in New Jersey.

If I talk about my friends, a lot of them work at shows like Cirque du Soleil because they practice capoeira—it’s a martial arts form that’s also a dance form. Others work in the hotel industry as hosts.

Why a Brazilian festival?

Last year we started in a park with a group of 25 friends gathering, my wife cooked some Brazilian food and we would bring Brazilian music. It grew so fast and everyone had such a good time, we decided to make it into a real festival.

The Brazilian community here is very scattered. There’s nothing like in San Diego where you have several spots that each week, you can go there and hang out with fellow Brazilians. We have one Brazilian supermarket—we had two but one closed. So I hope with this festival it will open some doors for other people to come with ideas and create something for the community.

One of our goals is to open a Brazilian community center. We will have free classes—Portuguese for the kids or for people like me that want to learn the language, but also capoeira or samba dance or samba percussion. We want to find a good location that will be convenient for everybody to come.

Most non-Brazilians have heard of samba and capoeira. What aspect of Brazilian culture will they see at the festival that they might not know about?

We have different styles of music, it’s not all samba. The dance forró, it’s like a Brazilian version of salsa. Bossa nova is also a Brazilian style of music, we will have that as well. We’re going to have samba contests on stage where we grab people from the audience and teach them how to samba. We will keep the stage busy.

A guy I know saw your festival flyer and his first reaction was, ‘Dude, Brazilian women are hot.’ How do you combat the stereotypes?

Everybody loves Brazil. I never met a person in my life that had a negative feeling or idea about Brazil. But for sure people have the same [stereotype] I had before. When they go to the festival, I hope they will go home with a different perspective on Brazil.

But I think it will help us for the promotion (laughs). It didn’t hurt us.

Vegas Loves Brazil, 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 13, Clark County Amphitheater. Adults $5, children under 12 admitted free.

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