Twenty-seven-year-old Heidi Amstalden Albertin lives in Helvetia, Brazil – a Swiss colony that her ancestors helped to found. Today, she helps keep Swiss traditions alive through food, festivals and folk dancing.
swissinfo.ch: You were born abroad: why are you Swiss (through your mother, father, or both)?
H.A.A.: I am a Brazilian citizen of Swiss descent on my mother’s side. I also have Italian citizenship from my father’s side.
swissinfo.ch: What kind of relationship do you have to Switzerland? When did you start to feel Swiss? Why are you interested in Switzerland?
H.A.A.: I live in Helvetia, a Swiss colony in Brazil founded in 1888 by four Swiss immigrant families: Amstalden, Ambiel, Bannwart and Wolf. The Helvetians, ever since the founding of Colônia Helvetia, have preserved its connections with Switzerland through music, folk dance, food, celebrations, and contact with family and friends who live in Switzerland.
I have also been a member of a Swiss folk dance group (Tanzgruppe Helvetia) since I was four years old, and in 2010 we took part in the Eidgenössisches Trachtenfest (Swiss National Costume Festival) in canton Schwyz.
For all these reasons as well as my family, my Swiss side has always been very strong and constantly present in my life.
swissinfo.ch: Where do you live at the moment, and what's the food like there?
H.A.A.: Helvetia is in Indaiatuba City in Brazil’s São Paulo State, approximately 100 kilometres (62 miles) from São Paulo City and 10 kilometres from my work.
Our gastronomy is essentially Brazilian: vegetables, rice and beans, meat, pasta. Sometimes, these foods are complemented by Swiss recipes inherited from our ancestors, such as schnitzwecka at Easter, apfelmus, spätzle and, on some occasions, schüblig, fondue and raclette.
swissinfo.ch: How important are Swiss traditions in Helvetia? Do you still feel a sense of Swissness in everyday life?
H.A.A.: Our traditions keep us united and define us, and therefore we keep them alive. Tradition is present even in the name of our main celebration to commemorate the Swiss National Day: “Festa da Tradição”, which translates to “Tradition Party” or “Celebration of Tradition”.
Traditions also have an impact in our daily life, since we need time to rehearse Swiss music and dance, as well to organise parties and events.
swissinfo.ch: The Amstalden family is one of the four founding families of the Colônia Helvetia. Given your family name, do you feel a particular obligation to keep Swiss traditions alive?
H.A.A.: My great-great-grandfather, Benedicto Amstalden, was a Swiss citizen from Sarnen in canton Obwalden and one of the founding fathers of Colônia Helvetia. To carry his name is a source of pride and a way to preserve his heritage, heroism and great accomplishments. I will keep working to keep the traditions brought here by him alive.
swissinfo.ch: What do you do for work and for fun?
H.A.A.: I graduated from law school and worked as lawyer for a while. Now I am a public servant, more specifically a judge’s assistant at the Tribunal de Justiça do Estado de São Paulo (Court of São Paulo State), and I am very happy with my job.
My hobby is photography, and I’m a member of a photographer’s club (FotoClube Salto). I travel with this club throughout Brazil looking for nice scenes to take pictures of. I appreciate it even more when my pictures show the cultural differences between people here and abroad. I love photography!
swissinfo.ch: In what ways do you prefer Brazil to Switzerland?
H.A.A.: We have big popular celebrations in Brazil, such as the Carnival and June’s parties (originally celebrations for Catholic saints in the month of June). We also have beautiful, large beaches. The biggest differences to Switzerland are the lack of security and economic instability.
swissinfo.ch: What's your impression of Switzerland from abroad?
H.A.A.: A beautiful country with friendly people and high quality of life that is famous for its chocolates, watches, cheese and banks.
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The points of view stated in this article, especially about the host country and its politics, are the interviewee’s points of view and are not necessarily in line with swissinfo.ch’s position.
swissinfo.ch (based on a written interview)