Thursday May 15:
We revisted UNESP today for a lecture and video on the Brazilian slave trade in colonial times and then spoke with a PHD student on her work in journalism and literature in the Amazonian state of Rondonia, a central-western state in Brazil that is still very indigenous.
First let me reflect on everything I have learned about the Brazilian slave trade since I came to Brazil with no knowledge of it’s history. 1530’s is when Portugal first colonizes the Brazilian coast in pursuit of gold. After failing to enslave the indigenous peoples of Brazil the Portuguese began importing Africans to South America to work as their slaves. This transatlantic exchange was in place from 1550’s to 1850’s and left an enormous, profound imprint on Brazilian society and culture. About 45% of the people of Brazil are of African descent and amongst these descendants we include the “mixed” population of mestizos who developed from the lack of white women and weak, insubordinate position of the African females. Unlike slavery/segregation in the U.S. which was actually recognized under state law, slavery was not technically abolished until 1888 in Brazil and racial segregation is still very much an idea carried out through society and culture.
Brazil’s history culturally and politically is VERY similar to that of the United States. Although both countries were invaded by European powers and built on the blood of African American slaves they developed very differently politically. (Quick political digression: The U.S. focuses much more on the idea of individuality and power in the individual states where as Brazilian politics have come to focus on the country as a whole and have kept power in the wealthy European elitists centralized on the coast. They have come to disregard western-central Brazilian states and that has created a huge divide in wealth and economy in Brazil). Since the US recognized segregation in the law it was much easier to fight to abolish it in modern history. The establishment of black colleges, laws against prejudice and discrimination, etc have helped the rise of African Americans with slave ancestors in North America. Brazil is a different story, since there is no real law against segregation nor was there ever, it is impossible to establish black colleges, discrimination laws, etc because under Brazilian law “all people are equal”/ “all people are simply Brazilian”. Culturally and socially that is not the case. There is enormous prejudice against non European/Portuguese Brazilians. Afro-Brasilians are looked down upon and are passed up for jobs that surpass janitor, maid, etc. Segregation is very much an issue in Brazil much like it was/is is North America.
My main point here is to point out that segregation is an issue in Brazilian politics, society, and culture. Slavery established a prejudice in Brazil just like it did in the U.S. and, like the U.S, it is still a work in progress.
ALSO, today we visited a Churascurria, which I call the biggest buffet in the entire world. 50 reals (about 25 American dollars) for any side dish you could imagine and any every cut of meat presented to you throughout the meal on a sword that is personally sliced off for you. Sounds like a dream at first, but then your eyes and urge to try everything gets so much bigger than your stomach that at the end you don’t know if you are eating lamb or chicken heart or whether or not you have the balls to take the very last bite of the ever-so-delicious fried plantains before you throw up. The food is amazing, but Churascurrias are not for those without self-control.
To finish off this quite lengthy post I must mention the dance club we attended tonight. Amazing. One of my favorite experiences. I battled some Brazilian freestyle dancers with the help of a caipirinha or two and must say I made quite an impression since you don’t very often see a white blonde “gringa” as we are called down here willingly throw herself into a real life Step Up Movie scene. I got a few oohs and ahhs before I tapped out because I wasn’t about to attempt any breakdancing (like I said…two caipirinhas in my system). Our friend Raphael wasn’t sure if we would enjoy the scene because it was Brazilian hip hop music and not American hip hop music, and I have to say I enjoyed this scene so much more than any American club. They actually do dance steps, they throw in grooves and house steps that groups get in on. It is very different from Midway or Big bar in Ohio where people think grinding is a way of dancing and a lot more fun in my opinion. I will definitely be back.