Amalgamation of Cultures

Yazzie R

June 4, 2015

By: Julie Foong

Today, we started heading out of the hostel at 9:30am to meet Professor Brito’s friend, Cristiane, who is working on her degree in history and is a director of a public school, for a city tour. Our first stop was the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Homens Pretos (Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black Men) which was built 300 years ago and is one of the symbols of Afro-Brazilian culture in São Paulo. In its immediate surroundings, there was a statue of a mother breast feeding a child. In the context of slavery, the children that benefited from this lady’s breast milk would not necessarily be her own, but of her master’s children. This statue was a comment on the history of the mixing of race, as some masters would force themselves on their slaves. Often time, these slaves would take on the role of the mãe preta (Black mother), and care for the master’s children (Goldstein, 2013:41). In placing this symbol in front of a church, it also puts forth the idea that she was prepared by God for this role, to become a mother for all of us and she is seen by many Brazilians as a quasi Saint.

Along the way, we encountered buildings covered in specific graffiti. Professor Barnum recounted a trip 2 years ago, when he recognized certain buildings that were being occupied by Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (Brazil’s Homeless People’s Movement) which is loosely affiliated with the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, aka MST). The homeless would enter unoccupied buildings and stay in them for a period of time, which then allowed them to fight for the rights of the buildings to achieve housing and shelter. It is one of the largest and most successful movements in Brazilian history. Although MST has not managed to win the occupied buildings we passed, they were branded with the logo and it was evident that they have a footprint on the urban landscape.

Next, we had a juice break at a local neighborhood store. I was fortunate enough to sit at the table where Cristiane joined us and our professors provided the translation. Alejandro asked the first question: “What are you passionate about,” to which she answered that she was an educator, an elementary school teacher. She felt that she wanted to impact the next generation and help mold their attitudes regarding class, race, and other social factors before society solidifies the preconceived notions and prejudices that guide adults. This prompted my series of questions about what kind of situations could stimulate such teaching moments, how the children typically react, and a relation back to psychological treatments. Cristiane responded that the children she worked with typically come from bad situations and they have a tendency to enact the violence and language they observe at home and in their communities. When they approach their peer in the same way, she will get them to reflect about why it is not right, which usually influences the children to realize the impact of their actions and guide their future behavior. As a Psychology major, I was interested in her coping mechanisms as she deals with such tricky situations. She mentioned that it does get hard and she gets sad. Although therapy is an option for educators to pour their emotions out, it is costly here as well, at about US $100 per session (my guess of about 50-60 minutes). When limits get reached, some teachers cannot continue and choose to leave their profession. Despite the difficulties she shared with us, it was also heart-warming to hear of her determination and desire to help others. In the counseling profession, counselors typically have a clinic with a handful of other counselors who are able to provide professional opinions and a listening ear. It is my hope that educators will understand this and somehow apply it to their profession and colleagues.

During this time, another group of students had engaged in a meaningful conversation which was prompted by our visits to the multiple churches. Each was curious with each other’s religious beliefs and started to question how and why they believed them, given that many contradictions existed between and within the religions they were familiar with. They related it back to culture and shared their thoughts on how society impacted the religions, but also how the religions impacted society. This dualism has helped create the uniqueness of the many countries in the world, of which we were starting to notice in Brazil, where its people are mainly Catholic.

We did a few more other buildings and headed to the Municipal Market for lunch. The market displayed and sold many varieties of fruits that are not found in the United States. However, fruits like rambutan, dragon fruit, soursop, and mangosteen, can be found in my home, Singapore, and that made me really happy to see familiar fruits. The vendors even had raw cacao, from which cocoa is derived. It is commonly prepared as a fruit juice in Brazil, which tastes nothing like the manufactured product of chocolate. It has many health benefits like reduction of blood pressure and the protection of one’s nervous system (Wilson, 2014). The market was crowded with tourists, locals, and hungry shoppers. Eventually, we settled down at Mortadela da Cidade, which served Italian-style sandwiches, where the cheese was surrounded by plenty of meat and stuffed between a baguette. Fun fact, Brazil has the most Italians, Japanese, and Arabs, outside of their native countries and regions. We were satisfied and had good conversations that enabled us to continue on with our adventure.

In the early evening, we were offered an optional activity of attending the 15th Annual LGBT Cultural Festival. Besides Professor Barnum and Professor Brito, four of us decided to join them. White tents were set up, which we saw earlier in the day, were now bustling and hustling with activity, offering food, beverages, and souvenirs. There was also a stage in the courtyard nearby where drag queens and other performers were strutting their talents and entertained the crowd that gathered.

We sure have gotten to experience the many flavors of São Paulo and are excited to see what else the city will offer in our time here.

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

Wilson, S. (2014). Raw cacao vs cocoa: What’s the difference?. Retrieved from

Rediscovering and Exploring Afro-Brazilian Art

Syniec A  Sao Paulo

June 5, 2015

By: Khadeeja McSeed

We started our day around lunch time. We had our meal at Flor de Sumaré.  After our meal, we headed to the Metro Station, where we would be heading towards our first event of the day. We were at the Ibirapuera Park, where there were many people exercising by running, riding their bikes, roller skating, and skate boarding. This park was extremely active and lively. Within this park, were located the next two activities of the day; the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art and the Afro-Brasil Museum even though a majority of the people using the park were lighter skinned.

The São Paulo Museum of Modern Art was extremely captivating with the different artists whose work was displayed, that depicted a kind of art that may be abstract to some and not considered art by others. In the first exhibit we went to, the artist had blown up a balloon and called it art. The tour guide explained that the artist wanted to express that just because a famous artist touched something, such as the breath of the artist it does not necessarily make it important or mean that it should be valued.  The artist in question Piero Manzoni, wanted to call into question what art was and why it was valued. There was another art piece where this artist had placed multiple white pebbles on a white piece of paper within a frame. The tour guide expressed that the artist chose not to use color because he wanted to use the absence of color to express art. We then proceeded to walk through the rest of the museum until we got to a number of chairs. The tour guide asked us to have a seat and we had a discussion about how easy or how hard it is for us to trust someone that we did not know. The tour guide said that for him personally that he would feel awkward and uncomfortable if he sat next to someone he did not know. He also pointed out that in São Paulo it is harder to make new friends while in Rio it is easier to make new friends. This was because people in São Paulo had assumptions about the kind of person someone was if he or she approached them, assumptions based on appearances of race and class.

After our tour of the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, we walked through the park to get to the Afro-Brazilian Museum. Our tour guide gave an introduction about his perspective on racism in Brazil and the shift of the presentation of art.  He also said that he received complaints about how much he talks about slavery in the Afro-Brazilian Museum, but he argued that without discussing the historical context of slavery, the art and cultural artifacts lose meaning. We learned that there are different orixás or saints that represent the elements of nature and these saints or forces were represented by art, paintings or sculptures. Also, when walking through the Afro-Brazilian Museum, one could see a shift in the art. The first section of the Afro-Brazilian Museum dealt with the representation of Candomblé, a religion that was brought to Brazil through the slave trade, and the second section was the Catholized Afro-Brazilian religious representation influenced by the Europeans.

Thus, the Catholized Afro-Brazilian religious representation was a syncretization of all of the different races in Brazil due to “whitening the country”. The tour guide then expressed how many people of African descent do not know where their ancestors come from but people of European descent do. The reason for people of African descent not knowing their ancestry was because the Brazilian elite destroyed all of the documents about the slave trade to erase slavery from the history of Brazil. He then showed us a woman who was extremely important because she knew exactly where her ancestors came from, they were royalty from Benin. This museum compared to some museums in the US, has not only rediscovered history but educates people about their ancestral and cultural past while some museums in the US focus on slavery and how horrible it was for people of color but not expressing a cultural history of the slaves that were taken from Africa.

In Tanya Maria Gloash-Boza’s Race and Racisms: A Critical Approach, she quotes Skidmore’s notion about how Brazilian elites envisioned whitening the country, it reads, “Brazilian elites believed that white genes were stronger than black or indigenous genes, and that intermarriage between whites and other groups would lead to a gradual whitening of the country” (Skidmore 1990 cited in Golash-Boza 2015). The Brazilian elites internalized this idea and projected it onto the natives and Afro-Brazilians and in time, this idea was incorporated in how the transformed society projected its assimilation. Gradually whitening the country leads to an eradication of ancestral and cultural history that was brought from Africa to Brazil and also the eradication of the ancestral and cultural history of Native Brazilians. When there is no remembrance of one’s history, it becomes easier to mold and enforce assimilation onto him or her. The Afro-Brazilian Museum represents the remembrance and gaining what has been lost, the identity of a people. This is why the tour guide accentuated that without discussing the history of the artifacts then how can people understand their meaning and value.

Brazilian Orgulho

Foong J

June 6, 2015

By: Robert Hill

Our learning experiences for today started around 9:30 this morning as we traveled to the Canindé Community. This was the same community that the first Afro-Brazilian writer Carolina Maria De Jesus lived. She authored the novel, Child of the Dark (O Quarto do Despejo), which was a compilation of her journal entries into a book that represented life in the favela. De Jesus was a trash collector who walked the streets to collect paper to sell in order to create income. De Jesus’ novel was one of the bestselling novels in Brazil’s history, yet, De Jesus died extremely impoverished due to her radical and revolutionary ideas, which excluded her from many social circles. Her book was the nation’s first glimpse into the struggle of the people of the favela and was an inspiring narrative for thousands of Brazilians.

As soon as we arrived at our stop at the metro, we were greeted by Alan de Loiola Alves who is a Professor of Social Work at a university in São Paulo. He guided us down the stairs to meet his student, Angela, a woman who recently graduated with her degree in social work and was a part of the black power movement and urban development in the Black Community. The tour began as we followed the footsteps of the author Carolina Maria de Jesus. De Jesus would walk miles every day from the community where she lived to the metro area which was at least ten to fifteen city blocks away, sometimes even further. As we followed the footsteps of De Jesus, there was a sense of déjà vu, many of the same disadvantages and lack of assistance present in similar communities in Rio, were again present and detrimental to the livelihood of the people in São Paulo. As we walked these blocks to get to the community we saw at least five individual pockets of homeless communities and only one homeless shelter with limited space and strict guidelines for who can and cannot be serviced by them. This reminded me of the article The Right to the City by David Harvey, where he defines this term as “a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power. . .” (Harvey, 2008:23). This definition was ever-present in my mind as I walked from the metro to the community because I couldn’t see how people from this area—even as a collective—had the power to change a city which allows for them to live in such conditions. Once in the favela this opinion changed drastically.

As we entered the favela, we walked into the Canindé Community center where we met Paulo Felipe and Neide, two members of Angela’s graduating class and fellow social workers in the community. They were accompanied by members of the community, one in particular who knew de Jesus personally as she watched her when she was a young girl. The center was a small blue building with sporadically placed chairs and a projector in the middle for Angela, Neide, and Paulo Felipe’s presentation. Before they started the presentation, they read a piece of de Jesus’ book aloud where she calls the favela the “trash room of São Paulo” and therefore sees herself as trash from the perspective of the Brazilian society. Donna M. Goldstein talks about this transitive mentality. She says “In addition to giving poor women . . . a concrete symbol of “making it” to grasp on to, these relations serve to create and sustain among the poor a vision of themselves as inferior.”(Goldstein, 2013: 69). A lot of people in the favelas use a transitive rationale for understanding themselves and the world around them. It’s the ideology that if this is how I live then this must be what I am. In the presentation, they talked about how de Jesus had numerous books but none as famous as her first. Also the treatment and living conditions of de Jesus were discussed. They told us specific stories where when she wanted water she had to clean the faucet because it was covered in feces and that one time when she asked for food she was given a box of dead rats.

Angela, Paulo-Felipe, and Neide continued their presentation by explaining the difference between a favela and community. The favelas were created around 1896 during a period of civil unrest. The poor population in Brazil was being misrepresented and therefore revolted against the government. Brazilians during this unrest created houses on the hills surrounding the city. They named these communities “favelas” because that was the plant that was on the hill when they were first colonized. Now with the negative connotations that are applied with the original name, the “favelas” are making the transition to “communities” because it implies that they are a collective of individuals with similar goals. This mindset led to the communities around the nation to start to organize and demand more polices instead of the charity that was given before. This name change shifted the paradigm of the community and instilled a sense of pride in the people that lived there. One of the major things that I took away from the presentation was when the community Center director Wilson said: “When you come back it will be better.” That statement made me realize that the community has a level of resilience that allows them to create change.

After leaving the favela, we had a small break and then a talk about higher education and racial violence in Brazil by Dr. Sales Augusto. He gave the group statistics that were really powerful which helped put the seriousness of the problem into perspective. For example, from 2002-2012, White homicides have decreased by 24.8%, while Black homicides have increased 38% in the same time span. Looking at this in terms of youth, the numbers are even worst. For Whites between the ages of 15-28 from 2002-2012, White homicides have decreased by 32.3% while Blacks in the same age range and time span have increased by 32.4%. Dr. Augusto attributes this to the education system and how the most educated people in Brazil’s society perpetuate stereotypes and dehumanize Blacks. In a video he showed and explained to us, it showed the former minister of Economics describing Black domestic workers as animals. He closed his discussion by saying the topic of Brazilian inequality needs to transition from a swept under the rug conversation to one that is spoken about by everyone in the country .

Today we were educated on a lot of the dehumanizing agents that people of color face in Brazil. Still, throughout these experiences, the residents have demonstrated a sense of pride and appreciation for everything that they have. This encourages me to continue to learn and to understand their situation, as well as to exemplify and emulate their extreme pride and resilience.

The Growing Consiousness of Sexuality


June 7, 2015

By: Khadeeja McSeed

We began our day at 9 am. We went to the Catholic Mass at São Bento Monastery. Attending this church was an interesting experience because this first part of the service was spoken in Latin while the second half was spoken in Portuguese along with Gregorian chants. Within the church, there were statues of the disciples and in the hands of these disciples were the weapons by which they were killed. The way the congregation was set up was intriguing because church goers would sit in the front of the church and throughout the pews from front to back while the other people who did not fit stood behind and on each side of the pews. The service was about an hour and fifteen minutes and throughout the entire service there were a numerous amount of incense that fogged the front of the church and gradually made its way to the back of the church.

After the service ended, we then headed to lunch which incorporated a mini buffet with a main meat course. Once we finished supplying our bodies with energy, we headed for the metro where we would head to our next activity for the day. We attended the São Paulo Gay Pride Parade. This was the most exhilarating experience because everyone enjoyed the parade and there was a different atmosphere that the parade created around the topic of being gay in a mostly conservative country. This parade reminded me of one of the lessons that we had in Rio in particular by Dora, she said that transgendered individuals are perceived to have a hypersexualized behavior especially those who express their chosen gender, and this stereotype does not represent all transgendered individuals. The gay pride parade in a sense is a safe haven for queer individuals to embrace and express their sexual identity. James N. Green, author of Beyond Carnival: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth- Century Brazil, discusses the history of homosexuality and how homosexual individuals migrated to Rio and São Paulo but also the conceptualization of what it means to be homosexual. Although Carnival and the gay pride parade gives off an ambiguous stance on homosexuality, there seems to still be opposition against how a homosexual individual should act. Green states, “The effeminate homosexual, or bicha, acts as a marker that differentiates between his own “deviant” behavior and “normal” masculine behavior of a “real” man. By the nature of its binary opposition to the norm, the social stereotype of the “passive” and womanly man defines the “active” and “virile” man” (Green 16). The relationship between a man and his sexuality would be defined by if his behavior is passive or not. It seems as though Rio and São Paulo creates an environment with the parade where homosexual individuals are able to express themselves despite their passive or masculine behaviors in a country where they normally cannot. Paulo Freire’s notion about consciousness when applied to the gay pride parade, shows that the parade is raising awareness about different sexualities however, after the parade, these individuals whose sexual orientation is not heteronormative is suppressed and continues to be suppressed until the socially sanctioned times of transgression such as Carnival or the gay pride parade.


“To Resist is to Exist Which is to Take Action”


June 8, 2015

By: Robert Hill

Our day started with a trip to BM & F Bovespa, the stock exchange in Brazil. When we arrived we were greeted by Fabio Iwabe, Professor of Derivatives and Macroeconomics at BM & F Bovespa Educational Institute. He gave us a crash course in Brazil’s economic structure. Some of the interesting facts during his presentation were that out of all the BRIC* countries (excluding China) Brazil has the highest GDP at 2.2 billion. He also put into perspective the class structure in Brazil. Brazil is composed of five different classes; Class A, B, C, D, and E. Therefore the middle class, or C individuals, are the equivalent of the working class in America. To our surprise, the business world considers people of the favela middle class citizens, and active consumers in the market. He said that with the new government subsidies and funding, the people of the favela have more money and therefore are more active in the market. This was very confusing to me because coming from the perspective of a person who has been in the favelas and talked to many professionals that came from that area, much of their community development and general change was very organic. They have water and electricity (at times limited), but luxury items are not prevalent in the favelas. For instance, during our talk with Maria Amelia Vilanova, she told us about how difficult it was to get resources to people in those areas. Things such as gato-cable or borrowed cable from another resident are necessary for residents who want to have a luxury such as cable.

In one of our books, Laughter out of Place: Race, Class, Violence and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown, the author Goldstein says: “For Bourdieu, hegemonically constructed forms of cultural capital are a possession of the dominant class and are acquired through the process of class production and reproduction” (Goldstein, 2013: 91). Using this quote in the perspective of class, the ability to label groups of people A, B, C, D, or E is a privilege given to those amongst the dominant class. People in the favela have what they need on a basic level, but by my encounters with them thus far; I think they would disagree with the statement that they have enough to be active participants in the market. But either way, the dominant class retains control of cultural capital and thus of their class position in society.

After Fabio Iwabe’s presentation we visited one of the tallest buildings in São Paulo to see the entire city at a bird’s eye view. From there we had lunch in very prominent business area, where race seemed to be a prescient issue because our group had the only people of color both in the restaurant and in the immediate area. From there we traveled to the University of São Paulo. Once there we toured the campus and then had a talk with Professor Brito about the university and his experiences as an undergraduate. He said that being a person of color coming to the university out of high school was almost impossible. He explained that Blacks in Brazil face an extreme educational disadvantage because entrance exams for universities test on subjects that public schools don’t teach. He then went into more detail about the issue. In Brazil public colleges are free and private colleges the citizens have to pay for. So in the country what we have is the children of the rich who go to private schools can pass the entrance exam and go to public colleges for free. On the contrast, public school students have to go to private colleges with the easier exams and must pay for school. Professor Brito then talked about his own personal experience with the matter and how he was one of the only students of color in his class.

After leaving the University of São Paulo we went to eat dinner at a small diner and then to Samba de Vela. Samba de Vela was a Samba Event where the community sits in a circle surrounding the five musicians in the middle and serenades the guests with samba music until the candle in the middle burns out. The lyrics resembled the pride and resilience of the people of color in the country. One of the songs we sang had a line about how “to resist is to exist which is to take action.” It reminded me of a gypsy that was on the train playing music to make money. The government has outlawed such activities and has advised the people not to patronize the performers. Still, we were on the train many of the people, including myself, gave the performer money. The gypsy’s patronage and the powerful samba music we listened tonight are all forms of resistance. The people in Brazil perform every day, They know the system is unjust and revolt in their own ways.

*BRIC=Brazil, Russia, India, China otherwise known as the world’s emerging economies.

They Come in Waves: Social Movements in Brazil


June 9, 2015

By: Paul-Anne Robb

We began the day at 10:00 am and congregated in our unconventional classroom located in the hostel. Our speaker for the morning was Flavia Rios a professor of Sociology at the Instituto Federal de São Paulo. She met our group enthusiastically and ready to present. Her presentation was titled “Social Movements and Racial Equality Policy in Brazil.” She began by telling us the two objectives of her presentation, which were, the development of black movements since the abolishment of slavery in 1888 and the advancement of government policies as a result of the social movements. To put these social movements into more perspective, Brazil was the last country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery and these black social movements started as a result of this prolonged slavery.

It has been thought that Brazil has been a racial democracy but even though the country had no formal segregation laws black people were still discriminated against and not tolerated in spaces of leisure like movie theaters and diners. Black social movements were needed to secure the rights of the black people in a country where they were not appreciated. Black social movements in Brazil came in three waves. The first wave started to combat the whitening of Brazil. Without this first movement, there was the idea that Brazil would become a white country rather than a country where more than 50% of the population is black. Flavia showed the painting “A Redenção de Caim” by artist Modesto Brocos which illustrated this whitening of Brazil through miscegenation, which is racial mixing through intermarriage and reproduction. The painting showed generations of a family with each generation lighter than the next. In the article Race and Racism in Brazil, the whitening theory is discussed and how it was accepted in Brazil with darker skinned Brazilians seeking lighter partners in order to have lighter children (Golash-Boza 2015: 434). The support for interracial marriage led people to believe that Brazil had a racial democracy. The existence of multiple Black social movements proved otherwise. The first wave of social movements also worked to promote citizenship for Black people with an organization of 30,000 members called A Frente Negra Brasileira that worked towards the literacy and advancement of young black children and created spaces and jobs for black people. This first wave ended due to the first dictatorship of Brazil.

The second wave of Black social movements was organized around Black culture. An activist in the forefront of these movements was Abdias do Nascimento. He created an experimental theater for black people, giving them a creative space to showcase talent. Nascimento especially did work with women who were domestic workers in Rio and São Paulo. Due to the coup of the democratic government by the military dictatorship the Black theater was banned and social movements had to be silenced.

During the military dictatorship groups joined and had a huge protest. The end of the military dictatorship was also the time where the third wave of social movements based in social clubs, and political groups began. In this third wave, black feminism started thriving with the presence of three black women, one of them being Teresa Santos. The rise of social spaces for black people were seen as an issue to those not in support and so the spaces were destroyed and participants were persecuted and even exiled. In 1995, Marcha Zumbi dos Palmeiras Against Racism, For Citizenship and Life, was held in order to demand black rights and political policies for the Black population of Brazil. These social movements, marches, and protests allowed for major accomplishments in the 21st century. A law to teach the history of Africa and the Culture of Afro-Brazilian in schools was passed. Also, a quota for the acceptance of black people in institutions of education, commonly known as affirmative action, was implemented. Although these accomplishments were great, in the year 2015 many issues are still present in Brazil. The third wave of social movements is still happening. With the genocide of young black people in large cities, student and liberal professionals have begun to demand racial equality and that the killing of young black people be stopped. As mentioned, the population most present in the social movements today are students and liberal professionals like lawyers, and professors. The poor youth, which consists of mostly black people, are not present in these movements because they are fighting for their survival against recruitment for drug trafficking. Some black people who are in higher social positions defend the fight for racial equality while others, like Pelé and Neymar, popular Brazilian athletes, avoid talking about the movements or even take on conservative roles and deny the existence of racism. What some of these Black elites may not realize is the importance of these Black social movements. The movements not only demand the equal treatment of black people but they also create spaces where black youth, especially black women, that are denied elsewhere the opportunity to learn and study in order to enter a prestigious school.

What Flavia presented to the group relates to what is happening in the U.S where there are Black social movements happening to demand the same things that Black Brazilians are fighting for. This illusion of a racial democracy in Brazil is being exposed right before my eyes as I see the similarities between what is happening in Brazil and what is going on at home in the U.S. These movements are important and need to happen in order for there to be change.

After Flavia’s talk, the group went to the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, where we viewed modern contemporary art. There were a few pieces that caught my eye but two pieces that depicted the migration of a family from the Northeast of Brazil really jumped out at me. The pieces titled “Criaça morta” and “Retirantes” were both painted by Candido Portinari. The first piece showed the family mourning a dead child as they stood in a desert with tattered clothes and hollow eyes, the second piece showed that same family without the dead child with look of despair in their eyes. These people had to leave their homes due to the lack of resources, drought, and perhaps a chance at a better life. Unfortunately, those who migrated were pushed to the outskirts and many end up in the slums of Brazil where they find themselves in a position of poverty. The paintings highlight some of the social issues and inequality that is seen in Brazil. After a walk through the museum, the group shared what their favorite pieces were and headed to lunch at a Brazilian steakhouse.

We ate until our stomachs were full and headed back to the hostel where some of us debriefed, some watched movies, and others napped. Each day is a day to think and learn with a side of fun and to remember that is the way to fully experience Brazil.

Recognizing the Silenced

Syniec A  Sao Paulo

June 10, 2015

By: Ravonelle Yazzie

Our first activity began at 10am with a talk by Jackeline A. F. Romio. Romio is a PhD candidate of Demography at the University of Campinas who spoke with us about data regarding demography, violence, race and gender in Brazil. Her presentation highlighted “femicide and racial relations in Brazil”. Femicide is the intentional murder of women because they are women. In fact, Brazil is the 7th country in the world that kills women with Colombia being the first, among those countries from which data is collected. Romio stated that women have been less represented in the census data of Brazil while men had more representation in questions of demography. Speaking of a lack of representation, Romio noted that Indigenous people were not counted in Brazil’s data until 1991. Romio’s studies look at the changes in population size, social mobility, immigration, mortality, and the like in Brazil. Due to the nature of her research she has had more success publishing outside of Brazil.

Our next scheduled activity was traveling over an hour to visit the São Paulo Indian Museum. Prior to our departure, we walked down a street market near the hostel which sold various vegetables, fruits, meats, and cooking utensils. It is a common occurrence to see fresh fruits and vegetables being sold and purchased in Brazil. We stopped by two booths where they sold fresh pastels and freshly squeezed juices. Pastels are a fast-food Brazilian dish consisting of rectangle-shaped pies with various fillings like pizza, chicken, shrimps, and fried bananas. We each ordered our own pastel and to complement our “snack” we had sugarcane juice to go along with it.

Once we finished, we made our way to the Metro. In the midst of transferring from the Metro to the bus, we walked along storefronts of São Paulo where we noticed red heart-shaped balloons being showcased. Brazil celebrates Valentine’s Day on June 12. Finally after two people-packed metros, one bumpy bus ride, and a steep inclined walk, we made it to the São Paulo Indian Museum. We were greeted by Kimy Otsuka Stasevskas and Walde-Mar who both warmly welcomed us into their space. Upon introductions, Stasevskas enthusiastically told us a story about the museum’s history. It started out with Walde-Mar, a painter, who has focused on Indigenous people since 1968. Over the course of time and contact, Walde-Mar was able to accumulate two floors full of Indigenous paraphernalia through the engagement of gift giving with the Indigenous people of Brazil. These gifts from various tribes now compose the Indian Museum of Embu das Artes. The first floor consisted of everyday tools and objects like woven baskets, clay pots, cooking utensils, musical instruments, boat paddles, bows and arrows, and clothing. The second floor entailed more celebratory and decorative pieces like necklaces, brushes, headdresses, and ceremonial weapons. The tour guide constantly reminded us that each piece was made decoratively with the process of spirituality and art.

Not only did Staveskas talk to us about the museum’s history but she left us to challenge the idea and theories of evolution. By the end of the discussion she said regardless of how you think life happened, it happened and that we are all human and we all come from the same root. She then talked about the Indigenous people’s values. She spoke about our very strong sense of community and our love to laugh. This idea of laughter and humor relates to Goldstein’s concept that laughter is a way to “unravel the complex ways in which people comprehend their own lives and circumstances” (2013:3). Considering the detrimental treatment the Indigenous/Native people endured, we are still able to remember and engage in these values to this day. Without notifying Skavesktas of my Native American (Dine) background, I was taken by surprise when she told me that right off the bat she knew I was Indigenous. (Anywhere off of the reservation, I am perceived as Asian). Personally, it was a moment of pride and acceptance.

The Movement of Ideas: Education and Immigration

Yazzie R

June 11, 2015

By: Aleksandra Syniec

We awoke to the sounds of dogs barking, roosters crowing, and our alarm clocks going off in the city of São Paulo.  With tired eyes we stumbled out of our hostel at 6:30 a.m. to make it on time for our first activity.  After a Metro and bus ride, we arrived in front of the gated middle school, EMEF Professor Roberto Mange, where we went inside to meet some public school students aged thirteen to fourteen.  We sat down in a room designated as an auditorium, and before we knew it, the room was filled to the brim with about 40 students.  It’s safe to say we were pretty intimidated by these energetic young adults.

A girl shouted across the room at another student, “Favelado!”  This is a term that is associated with someone that lives in a Favela.  The word “favela” itself is very discriminatory and associated with someone coming from the lower class.  We’ve learned from our visits to favelas, that the word “communities” is a word that is more synonymous with the citizens and their homes; whereas the word “favelas” has a negative connotation.

After the professors were able to quiet down the students, Professor Brito introduced himself as a native Brazilian, pointing out to them that he was once in their shoes, and his current status as a professor in the United States.  The students roared and a couple of the school’s professors clapped triumphantly.  Our professor exemplified success in that moment for these students.  Soon it was time for us to make introductions. Shortly thereafter we broke off into smaller groups to answer and ask questions.

Every group shared different and interesting questions with their classrooms; but most of the questions the students asked focused on violence, drugs, and racial prejudice in the United States.  The students were interested to see if we dealt with similar problems that they were exposed to.  We too asked questions regarding to such topics, including race.  When asked what race the students identified with, blank and puzzled expressions emerged. “In Brazil, it is race and racism that people are generally uncomfortable speaking about,” (Goldstein 2013:103).  Many probably haven’t considered what race they belong to.  On the other hand some were hesitant to identify as black. “Blackness was—and still is—associated with slavery, dirty work, and ugliness,” (Goldstein 2013:107). Hence even fewer identified as black.  The students also critiqued the quality of the education they were receiving.  One group expressed that they felt like they were not learning anything.  This is a common trend in the quality of public schools in Brazil, making the reality of going to a free university almost impossible for public school students because of the difficult entrance exams.  Professor Brito revealed that out of the room of 40 students we met, possibly only 5 will continue to university, while half may get some form of employment.  The reality of a pedagogy freeing the oppressed looks bleak in such circumstances.  Especially since school here is held in three sessions.  The students we saw this morning arrived at 7:00 a.m. and then headed home at 11:00 a.m., needing to return to a home life where they know the realities of violence, drugs, teen pregnancies, and prejudice.

After a great game of volleyball and soccer with the students, and many “Don’t leave”, we set out for our second activity of the day, the Immigration Museum.  São Paulo amongst many things is known as a destination for immigrants.  Our Ellis Island is comparable to São Paulo in terms of flows of immigrants.  The large and beautiful building that is the museum is actually only part museum.  70% of the building is used to provide shelter to immigrants today; many of which are from Africa.  This support for immigrants in Brazil emphasizes the museum’s message to show that immigration is still very prevalent in Brazil today, not just a history.  The tour of the museum started with an artistic interpretation of migration.  Our tour guide linked migration to a natural expression of man and freedom.  The next part of the museum focused in on the indigenous population of Brazil.  Many tribes were located on the coasts of Brazil, but with the incoming Portuguese, many migrated across the country to the Amazon area.  The next group of “migrants” who arrived were those from Africa, forced to come as slaves to Brazil.  These groups comprise the three main ethnic groups of Brazil: the indigenous, the White European Settlers, and the Enslaved Africans.  The last two exhibits we saw were very interactive and exposed immigrants from all over the world that came to Brazil to seek economic growth, political freedom, or a new way of life.  As we left the museum, we saw some of the immigrants that also call this museum their home, enforcing the impending struggles of race and class, but this time in the context of immigrants.

Cities, Storytelling, and the Power of Representation


June 12, 2015

By: Alejandro Heredia

Today started with a quick lecture on the article “Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation” by Teresa P.R. Caldeira. In her article, Caldeira argues that the presence of privatized, gated communities promotes class separation. This is to say that since these gated communities are often very self-sufficient, higher class people don’t have to leave these spaces very often, and therefore seldom interact with lower class people. We also talked about the ways in which this class separation perpetuates stereotypes about lower class communities.

After our lecture, we had an impromtu visit from the President of the International Storytelling Center, Kiran Singh Sirah. Yesterday, Rob had a long conversation with him about his life and work, and when he told the group about their conversation, we were excited to ask if he could talk to us the next day, before he left the hostel. Kiran first told us his story, which began with his Indian parent’s immigration from Uganda to England before he was even born. He also told us about the prejudices that he experienced as a brown boy in England, and how his own experiences with racial oppression inspired him to work against injustice in his adult life.

Kiran’s work revolves around advocacy for storytelling in the realm of social justice, particularly as a tool for conflict resolution. He told us that one of the only things that can change a group’s strict views of another is by sitting in a room and experiencing their individual stories through mediums like visual art, poetry, music, or dance. Among his many accomplishments as a teacher, curator, and artist, in 2012, Kiran was invited to give an address at the United Nations Headquarters titled “Telling Stories That Matter.”

I was particularly moved by Kiran’s conversation with us because his work aligns with the work I hope to do in the world. As a poet and fiction writer, I write to liberate myself first, but I also write to guide others to liberate themselves. When I leave Dickinson, I want to provide creative spaces for New York City youths to write about their experiences and help them imagine the kind of world they want to live in. It was an honor to meet someone who uses storytelling and art to lessen social justice issues that affect oppressed communities around the world.

After lunch with Kiran, we left him to visit two museums. The first, Museu da Língua Portuguesa, featured the history of the Portuguese language, especially Brazilian Portuguese. It also demonstrated that Brazilian Portuguese has Italian, African, Japanese, and indigenous influences, due to the large diversity of the Brazilian population.

We also visited Pinacoteca de São Paulo, a modern art museum right across the street from Museu da Língua Portuguesa.  The permanent exhibition at the museum aims to highlight over 300 years of Brazilian art, from the colonial period to the mid-twentieth century. Two of the pieces that stuck out the most to me were “Africa” and “America,” by Stephan Kesller. These paintings were made in the 1600s, and they depict European contact with African and Native American communities, respectively. In “Africa,” the artist depicts a peaceful encounter between a European and an African man, and they are surrounded by symbols and participants of “African” culture. First, this painting conflates the entirety of the continent into a homogenous “African” culture. The painting also suggests that interaction between these two groups was as peaceful as the painting depicts.

The second painting shows a similar interaction between the European and Indigenous populations.  In addition, in the center of the painting, there is a fire pit cooking human body parts. This perpetuates the stereotype that indigenous people around the world are cannibalistic, wild people that needed to be guided by European powers. As we left the museum, I thought about people of color’s long history of oppression, and how much work still needs to be done today to continue to liberate the most disenfranchised individuals in our communities.

Walls for Safety or for Separation?

June 13, 2015

By: Aleksandra Syniec

After a scrumptious breakfast at Café Hostel, we headed out to Universidade Nove de Julho (UNINOVE).  Unlike the University of São Paulo, this is a private university, meaning that most of the students we saw in attendance come from a working class background.  In Brazil, public universities offer the best educations and are free; but institutional discrimination permits an almost impossible entrance exam into such universities, barring students of color and of working class backgrounds to enter.

Our purpose for coming to UNINOVE was to meet with Professor Alan de Loiola Alves, who has his degree in Social Work, and to hear his research on child and adolescent sexual exploitation in Brazil.  Professor Alves exposed us to a lucrative business where children from birth to twelve years old, as well as adolescents aged twelve to seventeen are exploited in prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, and sex trafficking.  Exploitation happens in one of two ways; either in organized networks or disorganized networks.  In organized networks, there are set prices for sexual acts as opposed to the disorganized networks that have less structure.  Similarly to any other job market, females are paid anywhere from seven to twenty reais (US $2 – $6) whereas a male earns fifty reais (US $16).  The same is true for race where a white child will receive more money than a black child.  Brazil’s “symbol of beauty… has blond hair and blue eyes,” (Goldstein: 2003: 122).  A lot of times these children are priced higher depending on their sexual maturity.  Many take supplements such as steroids, sexual stimulants, and other drugs to perform sexual acts numerous times per night.  In the end, however, even if the profit is 250 reais (US $80), they owe their “pimp” or “agent” more than this, trapping them in a cycle of debt.  Another key component of child exploitation is the gender identification of transvestites.   Young boys, mostly in unorganized networks, going through the transformation from male to female, are thrown into this line of work because of rejection from family, the educational system, and society.  In lower classes, mothers push their children into prostitution because of the profit it can bring in for the family.  Social workers therefore play a vital role in attempting to remove these children from this sexual exploitation and place them into new homes and schools.  Policies have also been enacted starting in 1990 to protect children from such work.  Prostitution is legal in Brazil as long as it is an adult selling their own body; however in those cases where the sex worker is being exploited, the blame and illegality fall on the client not the prostitute.  Therefore social workers are determined to take preventative measures to deter children from remaining in the sexual exploitation network by providing them other options.  At the end of the lecture we discussed with the university students some similarities and differences between the sex market in the US and in Brazil.

After the presentation, we hopped onto the Metro and then a bus to return to the University of São Paulo. But this time it was to see what lies next to the university: a favela named São Remo.  We learned from Ms. Janeide de Sousa Silva, who hosted us along with her sister, Janete de Sousa Silva, for lunch, that she preferred to call her community a favela.  She discussed the political connotation of a favela.  For example, when applying for jobs, one can be denied the job if they are associated with living in a favela.  But on the other hand, if the residents of the favela call it a community instead, they ignore many of the problems in the area.  Janeide had pride in calling São Remo a favela and also acknowledged the advancement of the area.  She stated, “If you can’t speak about where you come from.  You can’t fight to have better.”  She herself does not live in São Remo because it has become too expensive.

Both Janeide and Janete had worked on lunch from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., and boy was it delicious!  It was a traditional Brazilian bean stew (feijoada) with sausage and beef, served with oranges, rice, and Brazilian style collard greens.  We all were full and satisfied from the meal, which we ate on the roof of the Projeto Alavanca building.  After this lunch we were led downstairs to learn more about the project and its goals.  Janeide explained to us how she works alongside her sister and other community members to organize a “Sarau da Remo” every month.  A “sarau” is an open space for expression, whether it be artistic or cultural, for the people of Remo.  This space has promoted the idea of “Na Voz, A Vez” which means, “by having your voice, you have your turn.”  Now people of the community can come together to share their ideas and be heard; once voiceless, now loud.  Since the neighborhood has very few public spaces, this space is one of diversion as well as expressing a political voice.

We then had the opportunity to walk around the community.  There was a soccer championship going on between the community teams; dogs roamed the streets; children road on their roller blades; and men were building a home.  The community was alive, with music in the streets.  We stopped at Dona Maria José, a community leader.  There we were accepted with open arms and given coffee and cookies.  The women started to speak about the relations with the university and the favela.  Many including Dona Maria José have been working at the university for years.   However the women also discussed how the community was not always gated, before children could play on the campus grounds.  The University of São Paulo is the best in Latin America and has many upper class, white students.  This highly contrasts with the population of the favela.  Hence a wall had to be built; a space had to be protected. “In a context of increased fear of crime in which the poor are often associated with criminality, the upper classes fear contact and contamination,” (Caldeira: 1996: 330).  The women also spoke before the bus that made rounds about the campus was free, but after many complaints from the students and the construction of a nearby metro station, the bus instated a fee to keep the poor from using it.  Currently, São Paulo is planning to redesign the area, but it has never consulted the community on what it wants.  The residents are eager for the city to intervene to have better infrastructure within the favela, however is fearful of what the city really plans to do with their homes and whether they will be able to afford to remain in them.