Every year, at a secluded cemetery hemmed in by soothing hills of sugar cane, hundreds of Brazilians converge on this factory town to throw a party, complete with deep-fried chicken and biscuits, corn bread and candied apples.

There's banjo music and billowing, Southern-belle skirts and lots of jokes, mostly good-natured, at the expense of Yankees. These Brazilian partygoers have names like Jones and Pyles and Steagall. And there are lots of Confederate flags.

"It's ironic, I know," said Allison Jones, who attends the April party every year, "that we come to a cemetery to keep our heritage alive."

The celebrants, whose ancestors abandoned the American South for Brazil after the Civil War, worry a lot about their heritage these days. They worry about being shunned by other Brazilians, for whom the American Confederacy represents racism, slavery and unwelcome controversy.

And they worry about today's generation of confederados, as these Brazilians of American ancestry call themselves. Many are not much interested in the history and traditions that their elders have struggled to pass on.

"I know about the outlaws and the racists [in America] who go around with the flag flying on their trucks," said Jones, 56, whose family was among the first to move here, in 1866. "I'm not one of those. That flag to me means the good memories and good habits cultivated and inherited from my ancestors. It's got nothing to do with racism and outlawness."

A few months ago, Americana officials decided to remove the St. Andrew's cross--the bars in the Confederate flag--from the town crest. Residents of Italian descent, who make up most of the population in this industrial city of more than 200,000, have argued that neither the size nor influence of confederados has earned them a place on the crest. They number just a few dozen here now, although hundreds are scattered among several nearby cities, and in Sao Paulo, 75 miles northwest of here.

But others say Americana is seeking to avoid the controversy that burdens the flag, even 5,000 miles from its original home.

Thomas Steagall, 23 and a resident of Sao Paulo, says he's careful about revealing his heritage to fellow Brazilians because, as one person told him: "The flag means racism in the United States, and it represents lots of bad things in the United States. And I say, we're not in the United States, we're in Brazil."

Steagall traveled to the United States for the first time in 1997. The Sons of Confederate Veterans invited him to explain to people that the Confederacy stood for more than racism and slavery.

In Kennesaw Mountain, Ga., he confronted the underbelly of the Confederate legacy. At a store that sold "everything from flags to buttons to guns," Steagall recalled, a sign in the front window read: "No Jews, No Blacks, No Dogs."

Steagall, stunned, told his hosts, "If you do this in my country, you'd be arrested. It's a crime."

And yet the computer science student refuses to condemn ancestors who supported slavery. "We can't condemn them because they were living in a place and under a constitution that said [slavery] was right," he said.

And Thomas's brother, Washington, is quick to note that the Steagalls and many other American Southerners did not take slaves when they settled in Brazil, even though the country did not fully outlaw slavery until 1888.

Brazil, like the United States, is a land of immigrants, and the confederados joined a rush of 2.8 million Italians, Germans, Portuguese, Japanese and others who trekked here between the 1820s and the late 1920s.

The Americans came to Brazil at the urging of Emperor Dom Pedro II, who longed to see them bring their cotton-planting expertise to his sprawling land. By the late 1860s, several thousand Southerners were steaming for Brazil from the ports of New Orleans, Galveston, Tex., Charleston, S.C., Newport News, Va., and Baltimore.

The Steagall family arrived in 1868. They came from Texas, and like many confederados, they drew comfort from the undulating landscape, the rich, red-clay earth and the balmy temperatures of their new nation. Brazil, at least this patch in the southeast, reminded them of home.

In a letter written shortly after her family landed here, Pattie Steagall wrote of a "pleasant climate and a pure atmosphere," of "excellent and plentiful water" and complained only about ubiquitous and "quite troublesome" insects.

The Americans found the land especially appealing, and they brought pecans and peaches, corn and cotton, and many other crops to Brazil. They introduced Brazilians to sophisticated plows and kerosene lamps. They also educated their girls, a practice foreign to their new compatriots.

Thomas Steagall, who speaks English with a Southern accent, finds that fewer and fewer confederados his age know this history.

He used to troll the Internet for anything that could enlighten him about the American South generally and his ancestors in particular. He has letters, title deeds and other ancestral documents. He has traced his family tree. He has participated in the making of a documentary about Americana. And he keeps an enormous Confederate flag folded in a dresser drawer in his home.

But today many young confederados do not speak English and are shaky on even basic questions, such as, "Who was Robert E. Lee?" Sometimes they even miss the party at the cemetery, known as the Festa Confederada.

Allison Jones finds the ignorance especially worrisome. His mother, Judith McKnight Jones, wrote one of the first histories of the confederados, and even today the family puts out a regular bulletin of news about their ancestral community.

"A lot of them have integrated into local habits," said Jones, who understands that, and says he considers Brazil "my country." Yet, he added, "a lot of them don't have any idea that they're descendants" of American Southerners.

The annual festival shows just how much the Americans have integrated over generations. Black beans and rice and other Brazilian foods now accompany the traditional Confederate fare. Sometimes young people will steal away from the crowds to listen to a soccer match. And many spouses and children of confederados are bronze-skinned and dark-eyed. In America they would be considered mulatto or black.

"I am a Brazilian and I love Brazil, but, I feel American somehow, some way, I don't know why," Thomas Steagall said. "I love Brazil. I love America. It's like one of my relatives used to say: Brazil is my mother country, but America is my grandmother country."

CAPTION: Washington, left, and Thomas Steagall display the Confederate flag symbolizing the heritage of their ancestors who came to Brazil from the United States after the Civil War. The "confederados" get together every year for a picnic with banjo music and corn bread.