Learning from “the people”

The following is a post by Christian Albuquerque, an OU student who spent the Fall 2016 semester with OU’s program in Rio.  He offers observations from his course project and how it influenced his thinking about his own place in the world.  The photo is of Christian at the Iguaçu Falls, on the border between Brazil and Argentina, where we went as a group in November.

I have now been in Rio for 8 weeks, although it feels like much longer, and my time here has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. I have had the privilege to travel all over the city of Rio, with OU’s group and on my own, and the adventurer in me has been properly satisfied over the past 2 months. While early morning runs on the beach, and stunning hikes in the mountains above Rio have all been wonderful, there is something far more intriguing that I have been grappling with during my time here.

O povo” means “the people” in Portuguese and is a term often used in reference to the majority, or the common man of Brazil. This is what has fascinated me the most during my time here. A few weeks ago I started a research project with the goal of trying to begin to find practical ways to identify the sins of Brazil’s past, with the purpose of forging a better future. I wanted to ask “o povo” what makes Brazil unique and beautiful, and how can we use this to combat erasure of culture, and to reconcile past injustices for a better tomorrow. Being a Brazilian from the northeast of the country, I have always been skeptical of the south of Brazil (Rio, and São Paulo get ALL the attention; the northeast is always excluded). However, it was this skepticism that helped me empathize with my fellow Brazilians, as I delved into the subject of Brazilian identity.

Using the amazing city of Rio as my field, over the course of a few weeks I began to ask people from all different backgrounds, classes, and points of view about their perception of Brazilian identity, and whether they were proud to be Brazilian. I interviewed taxicab and Uber drivers, academics, students, and a few more who I met along the way. The sample was small, and certainly not anything to base serious conclusions on, but it did reveal a few central themes about the past of Brazil. Many of the things that Brazil is known for around world are direct products of our Afro-Brazilian past. Samba, capoeira, Brazilian soccer, and many foods are all directly connected to Afro-Brazilians from generations ago who were probably enslaved, and if they were not enslaved, they certainly were not treated as equal. Centuries later, neither past generations of Afro-Brazilians nor their descendants have ever received proper credit for their contributions to Brazilian culture.  By “credit” I mean integration into society, and equal attention and assistance from the state as compared to the rest of their fellow citizens. This was just one consistent sentiment that was echoed by most of the people I talked to, and certainly by all of the people of color. The general consensus among most of the people that I spoke with was that they were indeed proud of their nationality, proud of Brazil’s beautiful culture and nature, and that they hoped one day their government and politicians would show that they actually valued those same things too.

This research project revealed that all Brazilians have a duty to carry the burden of reconciling the past by helping the future of those people of color who have been marginalized for so long. The more I get to know “o povo,” the more I empathize with them, and realize how much Brazil truly owes them. As an immigrant myself and as the child of two parents who made incredible sacrifices for me and my brother, there is an immense pressure to validate their struggles and everything they did for me. It is a pressure that all immigrants and their children feel. I personally have been the victim of regional discrimination in Brazil (being from the northeast), and racial discrimination in the U.S. This has caused a great deal of confusion for me about my Brazilian identity, and what it even means. However speaking with Brazilians who have struggled far more than me, I am now more willing than ever to try and show the world the real reasons why Brazil is beautiful. This labor of reconciliation is as important as anything could ever be, and it is a task that I hope one day properly honors all those Brazilians from centuries ago who contributed to a culture that I am so proud of today.

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