Letter from Brazil

by Gary Dotterman


Growing up in Oklahoma was a great education in life, as it opened my eyes to the racism, classism and hate in the world. Being born into a working-class family and living in an apartment in a working-class neighborhood taught me the meaning of justice and the struggle to gain it.

In the Fifties, I became an active member of the Democratic Party, to fight for a better way  of life, one that put people ahead of profits. This introduced me to the Civil Rights movement and its proponents—groups like CORE, the NAACP, the SNCC and others—and took me to the streets of Washington D.C., to places in the south like Mississippi and Tulsa.

Learning and working in a multicultural world was an education that could not be had in a classroom. Being arrested in the cause of justice changed my outlook. Oklahoma taught me a lot about people—their hatred and greed, but their hopes and dreams, too.

Today, my life is in Brasil, which is a lot like living in the Oklahoma of the Fifties and Sixties. I struggle to learn life lessons, while people here struggle to become a part of the first world as defined by the likes of the United States. As the first world grows, the third world is always at hand.

I now live in a steel city, but I grew up in an oil city. The similarities are striking. I lived awhile in Boston, too, and, unlike Brasil and Oklahoma, people in my neighborhood there never interacted. Here, everybody knows everything about everybody else. BMWs share the road with mule-drawn carts. The classes cannot escape each other.The biggest difference between Brasil and Oklahoma is that Brasil’s working class are more informed and political.

Lately, I have been working to build a small factory to make cement blocks in the city of Timoteo, in the Minas Gerais state. This would create four jobs and allow me a small income. I hope to be making the blocks by mid-April.

The time I spend working and learning is keeping me alive. I find that building a business in a nation with a new president is keeping me young, busy and productive. Brasil is a country with 180 million people and nearly 13,000,000 (7%) unemployed. Although the unemployment rate seems low, jobs here can pay very little. The government just raised the basic salary to R$540.00 a month, about $328 American dollars. Still, workers here are paid for 13 months a year and get one month of vacation.

The people here are creative in finding way to make work for themselves. In places like Rio and Sao Paulo you will find people bagging. In Ipatinga and other places you will find people selling sundries, pen and paper.

Some people at stop lights will sell candy or water.

My husband and family as well as our community welcome us with open arms, not the hate I found in my home country that surrounded immigrants and gays.

From Brasil with all my love,


Former Tulsan Gary Dotterman married Brazilian Geraldo Ribeiro Dias in 2005. He is the first gay man to receive permanent residence in Brazil by marrying a Brazilian man.