Web site keeps Brazilian immigrants connected

Liz Mineo

When high school senior Sarah Pereira connects to the Internet, the first thing she does is click on her favorite social networking site, which has nothing to do with those favored by her American peers.

Pereira, 19, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Brazil, logs in to her Web page on Orkut, ("or-koo-chee" in Portuguese) the Brazilian equivalent of MySpace or Facebook, at least once a day to catch up with relatives, friends and acquaintances in Brazil.

"Nobody in Brazil knows about MySpace or Facebook," she said on a recent evening as she sat down in front of her computer at her Beaver Park Road home. "All my friends in Brazil use Orkut."

Such is the case with many Brazilians in MetroWest and beyond. While most here use social networking sites as an extension of their social lives, Brazilians use Orkut to stay in touch with family and friends.

Luciano Braz, who runs a Brazilian Web site out of Medford, said at least 80 percent of Brazilians in Massachusetts go to to correspond with friends and relatives 4,000 miles away.

"Brazilians are using the technology to keep in touch with their families and friends they left behind," said Braz. "In the past, the first thing they bought was a fax machine. Now they buy a computer, set up Internet access and open an account with Orkut."

Some might have used Orkut while living in Brazil, but once they come to America, it becomes a vital link. Being able to tell their friends everything that goes on in her life in one page, for all to see, is what Pereira likes the most about Orkut. She doesn't call her friends in Brazil anymore.

"I want to stay in touch with people I don't get to see," said Pereira, who joined Orkut three years ago in Brazil. "I want to let people know what I'm doing and at the same time I want to find out what they're doing, but I don't want to spend time on the phone."

Owned by Google, the site works like its American counterparts. Members set up profiles, post messages and share pictures and videos with friends.

Many Brazilian ex-patriots post pictures depicting their achievements and struggles as they build a life in a foreign land. They post pictures of their first car, their modest apartments, their jobs waiting tables or painting houses. And there is almost always a photo showing them bundled up in the midst of a snowstorm.

Created by a Turkish-born software engineer named Orkut Buyukkokten in 2004, Orkut became an instant hit in Brazil in early 2005, when Google made it available in Portuguese.

Orkut's site says 51 percent of its users are based in Brazil, 17 percent in the United States and another 17 percent in India. There are tens of millions of Orkut users worldwide, said a Google spokeswoman, who wouldn't give more details.

Alexa Internet Inc., a company that tracks down Web traffic, said Orkut is Brazil's most visited Web site. Nobody really knows why it thrives in Brazil, said the Google spokeswoman, who said it was company policy not to be quoted by name.

"The site is not catering to a specific nationality," she said. "It happened to take off in Brazil."

MetroWest businesses and organizations are taking advantage of Orkut. Among them are a real state company in Framingham, a Brazilian church in Waltham, and an English as a Second Language school in Milford.

Fabiola De Paula, a Brazilian woman who died after an illegal liposuction procedure in a Framingham basement, still has an Orkut page, as does Foneclub, a company started by a Brazilian immigrant that bilked thousands in a pyramid scheme.

Pereira, who came to the U.S. 2 1/2 years ago, says she's concerned about strangers peeking in on her page or asking to be added to her friends list. She blocks her page so that only her friends can open it, and posts responsibly, occasionally taking a break from cyberspace and deleting her page. She has done it three times. These days, she helps her mother manage hers.

"I told my mom she needed a page," said Pereira, who graduates in January and may pursue a career in the medical field.

Pereira's mother, Gilvane Magalhaes, 45, is thrilled with Orkut. She uses it to stay connected with her family in Sao Joao Evangelista, a town of 16,000 in Southeastern Brazil.

"This is better than (the) telephone," said Magalhaes. "When we didn't have a computer, it was very difficult. Now they see my pictures and feel happy. We feel closer."

With a click, she is back in Brazil.

Staff writer Liz Mineo can be reached at 508-626-3825 or

The MetroWest Daily News