IN JUNE 1969, just three months prior to his Peace Corps project termination conference in Brazil, Frank meets a young Brazilian girl with beautiful blue eyes at a James Bond movie, and twelve days later he asks her to marry him.
Brooklyn, NY to Bocaiúva, Brazil tells the story of the unlikely chain of circumstances which led to Frank meeting Lena. The author traces these circumstances all the way back to his childhood in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he experiences the closeness of his extended Jewish family and the warmth of Puerto Ricans with whom his father came into contact. A homestay with a family in Mexico, in 1964 as part of his undergraduate major in Spanish, heightens his fascination with Latin American culture.
Frank tells in a lighthearted manner of his adventures and blunders while hitching rides around Europe in the summer of 1966 and as grad student and part-time hippie and political activist in Berkeley, California in 1966 and early 1967. When his student deferment ends, Frank renews his long-time interest in joining the Peace Corps as alternative to being drafted and sent to Vietnam. The narrative relates the drama of his draft board ordering him to take physical exams prior to receiving an invitation from the Peace Corps. His invitation from the Peace Corps comes just in time.
Arriving in Brazil, Frank has to deal with culture shock of life in a small Brazilian town. He tells of successes and failures in organizing agricultural youth clubs, and rural health and school-to-school projects; the loneliness he faces; the agony he feels with the news of the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy; and the tensions of political turbulence in the context of the Vietnam War and United States government support of Brazil’s military dictatorship.
In early June, 1969, Frank meets Lena and soon after is introduced to her Catholic family in Bocaiúva. They marry just two months later and move to New York, where Lena first meets Frank’s Jewish family.
There the young couple must cope with the stress of Lena’s culture shock of life in Brooklyn, and the nightmare that Frank could still be drafted and sent to Vietnam. Frank begins work with a regional anti-poverty agency in Boston and the young couple begins to raise a family.
In 1980, Frank and Lena decide to move back to Brazil, once again starting over and facing new challenges in yet another chapter of their bicultural lives. Frank is hired by a Brazilian university and his career lasts until retirement in 2010.
In 1965 Frank graduated with honors in Spanish from Brooklyn College, and obtained an MA in Latin American History from the University of California-Berkeley, in December 1966. During the period of 1989 to 1993, while on leave from the Universidade Federal de Viҫosa (UFV), Brazil, he obtained MS and PhD degrees in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a professor at the UFV, he received honors for work with people displaced by hydroelectric dams.
After retirement in 2010, Frank felt nostalgia about his experience with the Peace Corps. In browsing the Internet, he discovered Peace Corps Worldwide and decided that he could write his book and have it published in the United States while living in Brazil. Writing the first full draft took him about one and a half years, with an additional year for revisions.
Frank says that writing a book was a great retirement project, since he had time to recall, reflect, and review his Peace Corps experience. He often had important recollections during early morning hours in bed, while still half-asleep. He usually worked at the computer in a block of at least two hours at a time. Several times he did hand-written sections of a chapter while away from the computer.
Early in the writing process he called on several friends — an author of children’s books and two longtime friends, one from the Peace Corps, the other from his student years at Brooklyn College and at Berkeley. The latter two read the entire first draft and provided critiques and suggestions that helped in emphasizing certain aspects, such as writing more about Lena and her family.
In writing the second half of the book, Frank often called on Lena for her recollections, to learn more about her life before they met, to bounce off ideas and emphases in his writing, and to help choose photos. Frank notes that Marian Beil, of Peace Corps Worldwide, was very helpful in influencing him to omit much detail unrelated to the primary story line as well as providing assistance in improving the quality of old photos.
Brooklyn, NY to Bocaiúva, Brazil: A Peace Corps Love Story
Franklin D. Rothman (Brazil 1967–69)
Peace Corps Writers
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