Social Justice Work for the Silenced Voices


May 30, 2015

By: Alejandro Heredia and Ravonelle Yazzie

We were out the door by 10 a.m., headed for the favela named Vidigal. The favelas, or the “slums”of Rio de Janeiro, are made up of “largely less literate, urban, historically oppressed populations” (Goldstein 2013: 4). Since our course focuses on racial, gendered, and class inequality, we were eager to visit this community, where some of the city’s marginalized and poor people live.

At the Favela, we visited the association named Nos Do Morro, or “We From the Hill.” This cultural association provides an artistic space for children and young adults in its community. Nos Do Morro’s center is in a large green house on a hill, and it includes a stage for performance art rehearsal, a psychologist’s office, a social worker, and the only public library in the community. The association is particularly recognized for making theatre productions from William Shakespeare’s body of work, and for sending many of their actors off to work in soap operas and films. In fact, many of the actors from the critically acclaimed film “City of God” were trained by Nos Do Morro.

After our visit to the performance art center, we had lunch at a local restaurant. We ate white rice, black beans, roasted chicken, vegetables, and fried manioc (yucca), amongst many other dishes. Lunch at this community was very different from our other meals. We were far away from the tourist sites, the beach, and the hostel. Here, we were surrounded by people that embraced the waitresses when they walked into the restaurant, laughed at familiar jokes, and sat at a long table with other community members, even if they ate their lunch quietly.

We left Vidigal after lunch, and headed for our next destination. Our next stop was a Black women’s organization named Criola. This organization focuses on training black girls, teens, and women of all walks of life and identities to fight against the oppressions that might restrict their freedoms, such as sexism, racism, and homophobia. Further, the organization aims to educate black women about the laws and policies that affect their lives, so that they can be as informed as possible in their fight for liberation. Our instructor contextualized inequality in Brazil by telling us anecdotes and real life cases that have occurred throughout the nation, including an instance in which a Black woman was shot by the police in her own neighborhood, and then dropped out of the back of a police vehicle and dragged down the street when they attempted to drive her to the hospital. In the end, our instructor stressed that despite the fact that black women experience intersectional oppressions, these women already have many of the tools they need to challenge the structures that oppress them. The organization’s job, according to our instructor, is to help educate them so that they can apply their skills to a larger social/political context.

After the informative talk, we took a bus ride to the Sao Cristovão Market/Feira, a northeast Brazilian cultural center where Brazilian sweet treats, restaurants, trinkets, and live music are displayed for all to enjoy. Of the thirteen of us, we split up into two groups and maneuvered through the shops.  Every time we walked by an eatery, the host would come out to invite us to their respective restaurant. After a half an hour, we met back together and ate at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. This “buffet” was no ordinary buffet, instead of going to the food, the food was brought to us. After more than ten rounds of dishes, we asked the waiter to slow down.  In time, we finished our dinner with one of Professors Brito’s favorite desserts, cocada, a combination of coconut and sugar.

Vamos Para a Praia

Syniec A  Rio

May 29, 2015

By: Janel Pineda and Estiven Rodriguez

Today, we had our first morning free of events since our first activity, a discussion with a Rio public school teacher, wasn’t until 3 p.m. Some students decided to take this as an opportunity to wake up early and head to the beach. We only have 10 days left in Rio de Janeiro so anytime we can head to the beach, it’s guaranteed relaxation. At the beach, the water temperature was perfect while the waves were high and powerful. As we tried to get deeper into the ocean, the waves continuously pushed us back to shore. There were many street vendors  selling clothes, food and even umbrellas. Professor Barnum even joked that if we stayed at the beach for the whole day, we could probably end up fully clothed and with full stomachs. Since 64% of Afro-Brazilians live in poverty, it was not surprising to see that all the vendors at the beach had a dark complexion. From beach vendors that were selling camarão (shrimp) and guarana (Brazilian soda) many would be considered Afro-Brazilian in Rio de Janeiro.

For the students who chose to sleep in or stay at the hostel rather than make the trip to the beach, the challenge was going to lunch on our own. We were able to make our way to a restaurant along the beach and successfully ordered without the helpful translations provided by Professors Brito and Barnum. At the restaurant, the two groups of students reunited to enjoy lunch together.

Once we were all together, we headed to meet with a public school teacher from Rio. She talked to us about her experience with public education in Brazil, and specifically, the problems that it poses. Though she holds a prestigious educational background, she chooses to teach at public schools because, as she said, she came from it. She understands the transformative power of education, and the importance of having good mentors. Overall, her teaching ideals align with those discussed by Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Specifically, the idea of student-teachers and teacher-students, in which “the teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow” (2012: 80).  She works with students who have been failed by the school system time and time again; many of these students are from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and have been marginalized by society. We discussed the fact that students who come from slums are typically dismissed as “lazy” when the reality is that there are foundational problems with the way education is presented in Brazil. Because the school system is so corrupted, she is not able to engage students in the material she feels they should be learning. She does, however, challenge her students to think about their status in society. One anecdote she shared with us was that of a student coming to terms with his blackness in class; because blackness is viewed so negatively, it was easier for the student to reject this aspect of his identity.

The woman we met with also discussed the lack of value placed on the teaching profession; in terms of salary, teachers only make an estimated $18,000 USD per year—and this is only if the teacher works 40 hours or more per week. When she and her colleagues joined together to protest for a more just education system, the police used rubber bullets and gas against them. The teachers were essentially treated as criminals. Although teachers have the constitutional right to protest, the government penalized every teacher who challenged the status quo via the protest. Those who protested are now under investigation, and their salaries and positions are being continuously threatened. The teacher expressed her continuing passion for education despite the challenges and ultimately identified education as the solution for social mobility to be possible. For the most part, the discussion challenged us to reflect on the importance of education in challenging social issues around the world. Many students left the discussion feeling inspired by what she had said; others expressed feeling emotional in response to the gravity of the problems which we discussed.

Afterwards, we headed to dinner, during which we were able to continue our discussion with the teacher. She told us about Brazilian culture—her favorite dishes, hobbies, music, etc. On our way back to the hostel, we walked through a street market where many of us were able to purchase souvenirs and trinkets. We concluded the day with a debrief at the hostel in which we all stated our highs and lows, like a true study abroad family!

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Ed. Donaldo Pereira Macedo. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum, 2012. Print.

Brazil’s Yesterday Sheds Light on Its Today

McSeed K

May 28, 2015

By: Aleksandra Syniec

With a pep in our step, at 9:30 a.m. we made way for Botafogo by bus. On most of these public buses you will find a male driver and a female “cashier” who you would pay to ride on the bus. In Rio, you will rarely  find a woman bus driver.

After a rather short bus ride because of limited traffic. Our female cashier led us in the right direction to our first destination, the Museu do Índio (The Indian Museum). This museum specializes in the history of indigenous persons of Brazil. A group that makes up less than 1% of the Brazilian population today. Inside of the exhibit there were photographs of various natives in Brazil. Prior to Portugal’s heavy influence in the Atlantic Slave Trade, native Brazilians were enslaved, partly under Jesuits, to perform various  manual labor needed by the missionaries (Skidmore 2010: 29). There was an interactive section of the museum where visitors could stamp on themselves a select few patterns such as the ones natives painted on their faces. It is hard to determine a certain pattern to a certain tribe because many native individuals created their own that varied from person to person. Part of the exhibit also includes video media of present day natives living and working on their tribal lands. Due to mass deforestation occurring on natives lands many have lost their traditional homes. This causes many natives to turn to the cities where they deny their background, because if you are an Indian, others in the favela view them as “not Indian enough” and society labels them as “lazy and stupid,” (Barchfield 2014: 2). These stereotypes along with the perception that all natives belong in tribal life, make it very hard for many natives to integrate into a larger scale Brazilian society.

After touring the exhibit, we went into the museum’s gift shop which sold items made by natives from many different tribes. The items included baskets and clay pottery as well as jewelry. Each piece had the name of the creator as well as their location. On the walk to our next location we saw graffiti that spelled out “Rua é Teu” translating to “the streets are yours”. This demonstrates a communal feel to the life of Rio, a vibrant city where much of the life happens outside of the fancy buildings, and in the streets but also hints at a feeling of unrest and a reclaiming of public spaces.

Next up was the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janiero. This garden had many native Brazilian plants as well as international plant life from Japan, and even America. The landscape was beautiful, monkeys even jumped from tree to tree. Janel and Ravon led a reflection discussion where we all shared our initial impressions and feelings about being outside of the U.S. and about Brazil. The group shared it’s ideas of race and being conscious of our own privilege as we develop sociological awareness on this trip. It was nice to see what everyone was thinking, knowing we were all taking in so much. This group reflection allowed everyone to open up. Our spirits were then as high as the trees as we set out for lunch.

Lunch was served group-style where we all shared beef still sizzling on a skillet as well as traditional rice, beans, and some Guaraná (a natural Brazilian soda). We all were happy and full and shared some of our favorite things about the trip so far.

After a successful lunch, we all headed to the Moreira Salles Institute to view the “Rio: First Images-Visions of the city since the beginning of photography (1840-1930)” exhibit. This exhibit emphasized the technological developments of cameras and also allowed us to see a different Brazil, one without the Christ the Redeemer statue and large buildings. Today was filled with a lot of incite to the past that will help us to understand Brazil’s present as we travel on.

The bus ride back let us experience to the chaotic traffic in Brazil. Standing on the bus we all rode until we were back in Copacabana. We stopped at a park where many were playing checkers or cards. There we had a discussion of the two articles we had been assigned that involved the indigenous population of Brazil. We talked of hardship and of the exclusion of these persons in Brazil both in the past and in the present. After this conversation, we began discussing the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. This book deals with the ways in which we teach and learn and how many times, education was used to oppress those who were already in that predicament, even more so.  Freire believed that everyone has the ability to reach consciousness and that to be liberated we must work together.

Our day concluded with a late dinner back by the beach. The restaurant, Deck, that offered rodizio, which is a Brazilian dining style, where food is brought to the table, offered, and accepted by the guest. This restaurant was special because they did so with pizzas. Waiters brought out various pizzas with toppings such as dried beef to shrimp to chocolate. During our meal a Brazilian man who worked amongst Americans spoke to us, asking if we were from the US. He shared with us how he worked with people from Tennessee and Missouri. We laughed along with him as he mimicked southern accents. The meal left us all full and satisfied. But still hungry for another adventure tomorrow.

Barchfield, Jenny. (2014) “Brazil’s Indigenous seek out city, end up in slums.” Native Times. Web.

Skidmore, Thomas E. (2010) Brazil: Five Centuries of Change. “Peoples and Dramas in the Making of the Colony.” Oxford University Press: New York.

Diving into Brazilian Culture

good shit

May 27, 2015

By: Janel Pineda

Today, we began our tour of the city’s many museums—we learned about Brazilian history and artwork, in addition to continuing to immerse ourselves in Brazilian culture.

At 8:30 a.m., we dragged ourselves out of the hostel and proceeded to make our way to the bus stop. At the stop, an elderly Brazilian woman had a table set up with clothing and accessories for sale and told us that she had moved to Rio from the poorer northeast of Brazil with the hopes of gaining more economic security in the city. She made jokes about herself, specifically about her body and age, and wished us good luck as we continue with our travels. Her jokes were particularly striking, especially in relation to Donna M. Goldstein’s discussion of humor in the introduction to Laughter Out of Place: “humor is a vehicle for expressing sentiments that are difficult to communicate publicly or that point to areas of discontent in social life” (2013: 5). Like many others in Rio, this woman has lived a life of economic hardship, yet she chooses to make light of her circumstances through humor.

Prior to making our way to the museums, we discussed the films we had been assigned to watch before the trip began; thus, we had to confront American stereotypes of Brazil and reflect on how they aligned with our experiences. We also briefly discussed neocolonialism, neoliberalism, and capitalism as significant forces which contribute to the current state of poverty in a globalized world.

Upon our visit to the Museum of Natural History, we were able to trace the history of Brazil from its indigenous roots to its European colonization and thereafter, the expansion of slavery. The exhibit on Afro-Brazilian culture featured jewelry, dress, and the martial arts/dance form of capoeira. We proceeded to have lunch at the museum’s restaurant, The Line, during which we continued our discussion of Brazilian stereotypes.

On our way to the Art Museum of Rio de Janeiro, we stopped at the Candelaria church, which is known for the 1993 massacre of homeless children by police; this tragic event is a clear indication of the power imbalances and the stigma on those of the lower classes.  As we made our way through the streets, careful to steer clear of the ongoing traffic as we crossed the road, we came across an alleyway shopping center. The class difference became very apparent here between the vendors we saw in this shopping center and the high-end shops at the mall we visited yesterday.

The Art Museum of Rio de Janeiro’s sixth floor allowed us to catch a glimpse of a huge urban project with Rio is currently undergoing, in an attempt to modernize the city. As we moved into the museum, one exhibit featured the artwork of Brazilian women and represented women from many different walks of life. Among the artists featured were Tarsila do Amaral’s paintings and Clarice Lispector’s stories. One of the most striking art installations was JR’s short film 28 Millimetres, Women are Heroes, Action in Morro da Providencia.  The short film looked closely at the people living in favelas. It described the hardship and poverty, as well as the devastation of police violence based on racial profiling.

With broadened perspectives and tired legs, we returned to our hostel briefly before finishing off the night at the all-you-can-eat restaurant, A Mineira at which we were able to try a wide range of Brazilian foods.

Goldstein, Donna M. (2013) Laugher Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality In a Rio Shantytown. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA.

Christ the Redeemer

Brito E

May 26, 2015

By: Marley Pulz

Once we pulled out of the airport in Brazil, the first thing we saw was a palm tree. Our taxi drivers easily maneuvered through the busy night streets of Rio de Janeiro. We arrived to the hostel, named “El Misti House”, where we will be staying for the next week and a half. With twelve students and two professors, we sleep six to a room. Since we are only four blocks from the famous Copacabana beach, we decided to take a night stroll. We eventually found ourselves eating traditional Brazilian dishes: cheese, beef, and fished based dishes while looking out on the ocean. Surprisingly, the music playing at the eatery was very Americanized- Bruce Springsteen, The Killers, Lana Del Rey, and Michael Jackson. After eating, we retired to our hostel.

We woke for a 9am breakfast which consisted of; melon, papaya, bread, ham, cheese, coffee, cucumber water, and guava juice. Our first “activity” of the day was completing organizational business so we walked to the beach and sat for a few hours learning Portuguese and designating different blog entries to the students. While walking, we saw the sidewalks were very unique because they are cobblestone and set with white stones as the background and black stones that form a type of wave, this design has turned into a symbol of the city. For lunch we went to a nice restaurant named Rondinalla where most people shared a dish. The meals consisted heavily of meat, rice, and potato. It was delicious! As we ate, we were approached by numerous street vendors who sold items that ranged from jewelry and license plates to selfie-sticks. We saw inequality among the street vendors versus the people who walked around for pleasure on the beaches. Oftentimes, the street vendors are dark skinned working long, physically tiring hours because this is how they can make a living.

Our main event of the day was going to see Christ the Redeemer. In 1922 the production actually began and the statue was completed in 1931. It stands as the Largest Art Deco statue in the world. We were first transported in taxis and then we took a trolley up the side of the mountain. This trolley was filled with different types of people; tourists, school children, and religious people (they paid their respects to their Christ). The Christ was magnificent; the architecture was beautiful and the view looked over much of Rio de Janeiro. Inequality is present in this aspect of Brazil, where some Brazilians have never gone up to see The Christ because it costs too much. This shows how a person’s socio-economic class can affect their leisure activities and their cultural capital. In reference to the school students, they are more likely to be wealthier since they are provided with the opportunity to take field trips, and have it chaperoned by a teacher. Whilst looking out over the view on top of the mountain, we could see the structurally different sections of Brazil. Some areas have beach access and others are run down and decrepit. Although important to many religious Brazilians, some can only appreciate The Christ from afar. As a very religiously important landmark for many Christians, The Christ is lit up at night that can be seen from miles away, as if he is watching over the whole city. Before returning to El Misti House we stopped at a trinket store where many students purchased little objects for family and for themselves.

Cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings!