Sonia Costa posing in her living room. She loves cooking Brazilian dishes and she hopes her business can continue growing so that she can share her culture with many different people in Gainesville. (Maite Sastre/WUFT News)

The Brazilian community in Gainesville: bringing culture and investment into the area


Standing in her kitchen, Sonia Costa can smell the rich scent of one of the many foods that defines her origins and her culture.

In the oven, little buns of cheese and joy grow slowly, warming her heart as the heat warms their dough. She has been living in Gainesville for the past 16 years, but every time she makes Pao de Queijo, she is taken right back to her home country, Brazil.

“Cooking gives me an opportunity to revive my roots in small ways,” Sonia Costa said.

Costa, like many other immigrants, moved to Gainesville to search for a better life for her and her family. Immigration comes with many hardships, which families and individuals look to overcome in order to eventually reach the ultimate goal of building a better life.

Brazil is one of the largest sources of immigrants that live in Alachua County. There are a little under 1,000 foreign-born Brazilians in Gainesville, making Brazil the 9th country with the highest number of immigrants in the city. This figure does not include descendants and students living in the area temporarily.

Brazilians in Gainesville try to help newcomers with the challenges in their journeys.

“Brazilians in the area have definitely made my move easier,” said Danillo Nisio, a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida. “Recently, a Brazilian woman I met took me to get my driver’s license and even let me take the road test in her car.”

Lobster pie and pineapple and coconut cream pot-cake made by Sonia Costa. She is being able to use Brazilian social media communities to advertise her business and continue cooking. (Maite Sastre/WUFT News)

Social media has allowed Brazilian immigrants to create a community within Gainesville. Through Facebook groups like Brasileiros em Gainesville Florida and Classificados Brasileiros em Gainesville, local Brazilians get to connect with each other. On these social media feeds, they get to offer services, ask for advice, promote events, and many other things.

“I moved to Gainesville because of my husband,” said Vivi Poit, a Brazilian Gainesville resident. “He was already living here, we met in São Paulo and I moved to be with him.”

In her journey to start her life here, Poit is making use of Facebook and Whatsapp groups to connect with other Brazilians in the area.

It’s through these groups that Sonia Costa gets in contact with many of her clients.

Costa moved to Gainesville with her husband and children 16 years ago.

“I got married very young, I was twenty,” said Costa. “My husband worked for a company that moved him around a lot. It was kind of an adventure, it was always something new.”

The company her husband worked for entered a partnership with an American company a few miles away from Gainesville. So, the family relocated to the area and has been here since.

“In the beginning, it was hard,” Costa said. “We didn’t have all this technology we have today, and it would get a little lonely at times. Now it’s way easier to connect with people.”

Costa, who worked as a teacher and psychology college professor in Brazil, had to take on a variety of jobs when they moved. She wanted to help her husband pay for their son’s tuition at UF. She started working by walking dogs and cleaning houses. Eventually, she got her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) license and started caring for the elderly.

“I’ve always loved working with people,” said Costa. “In Brazil, I would always volunteer to go into impoverished communities and teach there. At one point, I even got a hairdresser license and would cut kids’ hair for free.”

Through her job with Gainesville’s elderly, she got to fulfill her altruistic drive and care for people who needed it.

For a long time, there was a piece of her life missing. Her oldest son was not able to come to the U.S. under her husband’s visa and he was living in Brazil with his wife and daughter, 3,506 miles away. After 15 years of trying to get her son closer to her, he was able to move through a work visa of his own.

Now, Costa can see them every day.

Overwhelmed by joy, when her daughter-in-law mentioned that she had a life-long dream of owning a coffee shop, Costa jumped at the opportunity to work with her recently-moved family members. Costa always loved cooking and now they could work together making Brazilian pastries and sweets.

“My Pão de Queijo has a history,” Costa said.

In one of her husband’s many relocations, she got to live in Minas Gerais for a while, where she was taught how to make an authentic Pão de Queijo Mineiro.

The duties that came with the new venture and her previous Certified Nursing Assistant job became too much to bear and she decided to dedicate herself completely to her bakery delivery business, Sonia e Manu. They have been advertising on Brazilian Facebook and Whatsapp groups, where they have been fortunate to find clients.

Although she is excited about the new business, she continues to face a few hardships to get fully established.

“There aren’t Brazilian markets here,” Costa said. “There are Latino markets that have some Brazilian products and Publix sometimes has small sections dedicated to Brazilian foods, but sometimes I have to go all the way to Orlando to find things I want or need.”

While some of the social media groups have been helpful to create connectivity, a lot of them are mostly used to advertise businesses like Costa’s, which isn’t always useful to some members of the community. It makes it more difficult to make social connections online.

“Most of my contact with Brazilians in the area are just through friends and friends of friends,” said Bruna Censi, a local Brazilian. “The groups haven’t helped me much.”

UF students of Brazilian origin or descent have a little bit of an easier time creating social connections. Clubs like BRASA UF allow for greater interaction between members of the Brazilian community living here.

“They organize events from time to time and I get to listen to music and be a part of my culture,” said Amanda Nunes, a junior at UF. “It’s nice to be able to feel more Brazilian from time to time.”

As the community continues to grow and flourish, they help Gainesville grow with them. In a 2021/22 study by the Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Initiative, they found that immigrant residents make up a quarter of Gainesville and Alachua County’s growth, and almost one in five new businesses come from immigrant communities. Businesses like Sonia and Manu allow for economic growth in the area as well as cultural enrichment.

About Maite Sastre

Maite is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

Check Also

Alachua County student competes in Scripps National Spelling Bee

Update, June 1: Martin made it through to the semifinals on Wednesday afternoon, where he …