All posts by barnuma

Você Pode se Identificar como LGBTQ na Bahia?

June 26, 2015

By:  Estiven Rodriguez

As our journey in Brazil slowly comes to an end, we woke up at 9am on a beautiful Friday morning and headed to Pelourinho for a presentation by The Bahia Gay Group.

During the presentation, by Cristiano Santos, the current vice-president of the organization, we learned about many of the issues that the LGBTQ community faces on a daily basis as well as the history of the Bahia Gay Group. The Bahia Gay Group is the oldest LGBTQ organization in the country, established in 1980 by Luis Mott.

Luis Mott created this organization because as he walked by Barra, where we have stayed in Bahia for the past 11 days, holding hands with his partner, he was approached by a stranger who punched him in the face because the stranger thought it was not acceptable to be gay. When Mott went to a police officer he was told that he got what he deserved.  Mott realized that Brazil had to become more open minded about the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, because at the time they were not even allowed to simply express themselves in their own country. However, we saw from Cristiano Santos’ presentation that Mott was not unique to the violence that the LGBTQ community faces in Brazil on a daily basis. Hate crimes in Brazil towards the LGBTQ community in comparison to the United States tend to be more prevalent. Many of the victims have had their heads smashed with rocks, have been shot, and have been stabbed and strangled. Professor Barnum told us a story of a father and a son that were attacked after walking out of a bar holding hands. The father was held down while the attackers cut his ear off, interestingly neither one was gay. In Brazil, hate crimes towards the LGBTQ community are a big issue, but the main problem is the amount of homicides towards the LGBTQ community.

In Brazil the assassination of the LGBTQ community is such a problem that every 28 minutes a member of this community is killed. In 2008, 115 LGBTQ peoples were killed, in 2009 there were 198 killed, in 2010 there were 260 killed, in 2011 there were 267 killed, in 2012 there were 338 killed, in 2013 there were 312 killed, in 2014 there were 218 killed, and in 2015 only half way through the year there have already been 112 reported murders. Out of these murders 71% are considered gay, 23% are considered travesties and 6% are considered lesbians (Grupo Gay da Bahia n.d.).  It’s clear and simple; the LGBTQ community in Brazil does not have their civil rights protected. The Brazilian government ignores murders related to the LGBTQ community because “73% of cases resulted in acquittals or no arrest” related to LGBTQ murders (Rodgers).  The government refuses to pass strict laws that regulate the protection of the LGBTQ community because recently when the law was going to be passed religious groups protested and the law was vetoed. Actually, had this law been in place, the 18 year old transgender that was shot and killed by the police in São Paulo, this week would have been better protected. The government ignores these cases because if people are not middle or upper class citizens then they usually don’t have the money to hire lawyers to persecute the killers allowing many victims to have their cases unsolved.  Therefore, the LGBTQ members that have been killed and are belonging to the working class are considered irrelevant because the government does not consider them important enough to solve their cases. Is important to note that even in the LGBTQ community race and class privilege shelters these upper class individuals from the discrimination and violence that many working class individuals face. In “Male Homosexuality in Twentieth century Brazil” James N. Green reveals that because of the hierarchical structure of class relations in Brazil the upper classes, are able to “remained protected from the inconvenience of police interference” (13, 1999) and “A prestigious family name and adequate political and social connections could usually shelter a transgressed son or husband from public scandal”(13, 1999). Therefore Race and class privilege among the elite allows them to be part of the LGBTQ community openly because of their wealth and family name. Even though the government has not made strong efforts to protect the LGBTQ community, certain religious groups have also had a strong influence in slowing the process of empowering this community.

In our presentation, it was interesting to hear that certain religious groups and their political representatives hinder the LGBTQ community from showing society that their lifestyle is not a sin, evil or illegal because of their constant protest and control of the media. In 2004, the ministry of education was going to distribute a packet to educate teachers on how to make the classroom more socially acceptable for students that identified as LGBTQ. Many of Bahia’s religious groups saw it as way to influence students to identify as gay so they decided to make their own packet using information that was misguided influencing the public to force the government to make the packet illegal. Every time the LGBTQ community and groups like the Bahia Gay Group make efforts to make the LGBTQ community safer from violence, they always face an obstacle that forces them back where they started. For example, in order to adopt, gay couples need approval of the government and in order for travesties and transgender people to change their name they need 4 years of therapy.

Bahia has the highest homicide rate of LGBTQ members because even though groups like the Bahia Gay Group focus and fight for the empowerment of this community it is still not socially acceptable to be LGBTQ in Brazil. This post has a lot of statistics that are alarming especially since great efforts are being made to make our society more acceptable to all.  However, there was a bit of a positive outcome today as 25 minutes after our presentation the Supreme Court of the United States ruled gay marriage legal in all 50 states. Now all members of the LGBTQ community can get married by law in any state in the US and all LGBTQ marriages prior to the ruling have to be recognized in all states. Finally, even though the United States has made a significant progress in making our society more acceptable it does not mean that we stopped fighting for LGBTQ rights all over the world. In the United States it is still not legal for gay couples to freely adopt children if they choose to while heterosexual couples have the privilege to freely adopt at any time. Many people in the United States still believe that it is not socially acceptable for people of the LGBTQ community to raise children. In conclusion it is not time to give up the fight for LGBTQ rights because around the world and especially in Brazil as James N. Green states in his article 79% percent of people interviewed in Brazil for a poll regarding questions about the LGBTQ community said that they would not accept their son going out with a gay friend (13, 1999).

Green, James. “Introduction.” Male Homosexuality Twentieth Century Brazil. Chicago, Illinois: U of Chicago, 1999. Print.

Grupo Gay da Bahia. N.D. “Gay Vivo Não Dorme com O Inimigo.’ Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Rodgers, Matthew. “Brazil Has Highest LGBT Murder Rate in the World.” Four Two Nine. N.p., 11 Mar. 2013. Web. 27 June 2015.

Santos, Cristiano. “Visit to Bahian Gay Group.” Bahia Gay Group. Pelourinho. Salvador. 26 June 2015. Lecture.

Salvador Beneath the Surface

June 25, 2015

By: Khadeeja McSeed and Marley Pulz

We woke up ready for another exciting day, starting at 10a.m., but it was pouring rain, so our departure was delayed. When we left, we swiftly travelled to the nearest bus stop where we would take a bus to the largest and most traditional market in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil named Feira de São Joaquim. This market is a place where people can buy livestock such as chickens, and goats, and also a multitude of fruits, vegetables, seafood, dried meats, and handmade objects including baskets, pottery, and cooking utensils. The venders at this market utilize the entire animal, we saw cow tongue, heart, eye, and leg bones that were being sold. This was a very unique experience for those of us who have only been to traditional farmers markets, where it is oftentimes already processed meat. Professor Brito bought a bag of acerola fruit for us to eat while we trudged through the puddle soaked dirt roads. Acerola is a native fruit to Brazil that is sour and looks like a cherry; some students really enjoyed this fruit and some disliked the sourness of the fruit.

After this adventure and some purchases, we went to another market, this one was a large municipal looking building that had restaurants and an abundance of shops. Here, they sold a variety of items ranging from small sculptures to bags that say Bahia and small sized magnets. This market was called Mercado Modelo, and here we had the best farofa (manioc flour) we experienced on the trip thus far.

After our delicious lunch, we traveled back to the hostel. We then had a discussion about the book, Laughter Out of Place by Donna M. Goldstein. Our discussion encompassed the main points about favela children and how the streets seem to be captivating to them for easy money when compared to working in a minimum wage job and as a result many children are prone to look to the streets for financial need and comfort. We also discussed the difference between nurtured children and nurturing children, and how the protagonist (Gloria) adopted children into her home, who were not hers. Nurturing children are poor children, who at a young age, take on responsibilities; such as bringing income to the mother, nurturing the household through cooking and cleaning; while nurtured children are the children of the middle class who experience a different kind of childhood as opposed to taking care of others (Goldstein 149).

After our discussion, we headed to our next activity, a tour of three neighborhoods and their restaurants/bars. At the first restaurant, the owner started it in his house and then expanded it to where he has a kitchen and numerous tables in the front, in addition to his regular house. This owner participated in a competition which includes 30 restaurant/bars and occurs annually, and for four years in a row he placed in the six best restaurants, while the past two years he was the champion of this competition. At this restaurant we had a pepper caipirinha which was voted best and shrimp cooked with cheese and coconut in a coconut shell, placed on a small wooden boat – the presentation was amazing. The second restaurant/bar, had a surfer’s vibe that made the whole place calm but this bar was still more business oriented, there were cards where your order was electronically placed. As a group we had cooked clams with garlic and tried many different flavors of caipirinha. The last bar we went to was Bar da Chica, which is considered to be a people’s bar. The tour guide discussed the background of the owner and how he lost his kiosk on the beach due to changes in municipal policy and then he created a restaurant/bar for himself, and came back from nothing. At this bar, the owner was very genuine – he wanted people to just enjoy themselves. This bar was known for a “Viagra soup” that was a combination of seafood and quail eggs – supposedly to give you strength and empowerment. The foods provided by this restaurant are the foods that were eaten by the slaves from the scraps the slave masters left them to eat. In Laughter out of Place, a woman that was interviewed by the author, discussed how a poor man’s bed is better than a rich man’s because of the food. She explained that the poor man eats a lot of soup made from the hoof of the cow and dried meats while the rich man only eats bread with jelly, cheese and butter (Goldstein 243). The woman shows that there is a difference in the way people have access to food based on who is poor and who is rich. The separation of class can be seen through food choices. The three neighborhoods we visited were different and unique because although they were in close proximity to each other, they accentuated different social classes of Salvador. The tour guide ended by saying that although we see business men in rich areas, there are also business men in simple areas and they are also important and that although their profit is much smaller it is oftentimes much more important to them and their communities.

Sea Turtles and Saints

June 23, 2015

By: Janel Pineda

On a trip where the most important phrase we’ve had to learn has been the Portugese word for thank you, “obrigado/a,” today was yet another beautiful day indulging in Brazilian beaches and learning about an important social project dedicated to protecting sea turtles.

This morning, we boarded the familiar tour bus and made our way to Praia do Forte where we were able to learn more about the Tamar Project, one of the most successful social projects in Brazil. According to the Tamar Project’s website,  the organization aims “to promote the recovery of the five endangered sea turtle species that occur in Brazil by developing conservation actions, research advancements, and through social inclusion programs.” Though the area used to be a poor fishing village, it now serves as a crucial location for marine conservation.

At the Praia do Forte site, we watched an informational film which further discussed some of the goals of the Tamar Project, in addition to describing the dangers of turtle nesting beaches. The Tamar Project began in the 1970s, as the extinction of five endangered sea turtle species was becoming prominent. For every thousand sea turtles that were being born, only 1-2 were surviving. Many people had been using turtle meat and eggs for food, and making jewelry from the turtle shells. However, in 1980, the Brazilian government then decided to create the Tamar Project as a way to reverse the damage that had been done to these species. The very people who had been contributing to the sea turtle species’ extinction now had the opportunity to take part in their conservation by helping to monitor the beaches. While the project has saved an estimated 20 million turtles since its beginning, it has also served to engage the local community and thus keep people out of poverty by providing them with jobs without forcing them into the city. Now, members of the village can work directly in saving the turtles or in running the visitors’ center to help bring other people in the world of sea turtles.

The film encouraged local participants to level out sand castles on the beach, remove beach furniture, prevent littering on the beaches, and refrain from driving along the beach in order to create a safer environment for turtle nesting. As we made our way out of the Praia do Forte site, we stopped at the gift shop where many of us were able to purchase souvenirs; according to the film we saw, the profits made from Tamar Project merchandise goes directly toward supporting their cause.

Later on in the day, after lunch, we walked along the shores of Praia Guarajuba before settling down and going for a swim. We enjoyed the calm waves and cool weather, and were even able to spot a sea turtle poking its head out on the surface every so often.

In the evening, we headed to Pelourinho for our second Tuesday of Blessing. As we approached the now-familiar historical center, we were overwhelmed by the enormous amounts of people that were crowded before us in celebration of Sao Joao. We made our way through the lively festival with the ongoing firecrackers and stopped occasionally to listen to samba music and traditional Brazilian drums. Many food concession stands were available and offered a variety of traditional dishes ranging from beiju—something I’d like to describe as a sticky taco made of manioc powder, and filled with sweet toppings such as dulce de leche and chocolate or savory fillings such as chicken and cheese—to fried meat and rice. As we continued to enjoy the festivities, some of us broke off into individual groups and agreed on a meeting time and place.

Ravon and I decided to stop in shops to look at the unbelievable amount of beautiful paintings by Brazilian artists; many of the paintings depicted some of Bahia’s major landmarks such as Pelourinho itself, as well as the gods and goddesses of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble. As we made our way back toward the agreed-upon meeting place, we were inevitably caught up in the tangled mess of people entering and departing the festival. Clutching our newly-purchased paintings and hoping we wouldn’t lose the other in the crowd, we did our best to squeeze through. Finally, Professor Brito found us and helped to guide us through the overwhelming amount of people pushing and shoving from all directions. Eventually, we made our way out and were able to reconnect with the rest of the group.

Dichotomies and Intersectionality: System vs People

June 22, 2015

By: Julie Foong

Today was another off-day graciously granted by our professors. Many caught up on sleep before lunch and a visit to the beach. We gathered once more in the evening for a samba class and then a group dinner along the restaurants near the beach. As the four weeks sink in, we are beginning to string the pieces together. Brazil has taught us a great deal and will continue to do so in our last week. The many life lessons will stay with us and contribute to the discussions we hope to bring back to Dickinson.

Personally, I have been thinking of dichotomies, where dualism and intersectionality exist and some times cannot be explained. For example, for one to know what it means to be happy, one has to also know what it means to be the opposite, to be sad. It is the whole chicken and egg circular reasoning. Just because there is not a conclusion to it, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In the context of Brazil, I have been contemplating the relationship between the system and people.

In my opinion, the system is the structure in society that influences social rules, both spoken and unspoken, while the people would refer to the population who abide by or challenge these rules. In essence, Brazil’s system includes its governance, physical environment, culture, religion, and so forth. Some of our lectures handled information on Brazil’s demographics, history, and education system, which are structures that authorities have put in place. Our other lectures included discussions about culture, religion, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which encompass people and their choice of activities around the system. Often times, the system works with the people and vice versa, but in other cases, the two can disagree on the approaches taken and that is an intersectionality that is unique because I think that is when consciousness is gained and action is put into place. According to my interpretation of Paulo Freire (2012), he explains consciousness through an awareness of one’s life circumstances and a desire to balance the scale when the system puts one group at a disadvantage for another to succeed.

In the example of education, the government have set affirmative action policies to provide opportunities for public school students who may not have the financial means to pursue higher education. As discussed in a previous post, these policies have both social and racial approaches to implementation. This would be a system that informs how people try to get an education. It is only in the past decade that this policy was explored. Despite its good intentions and early development, there are things that are not being accounted for. In our travels to various NGOs that focused on citizenship, scholastic and civil education, we have learned about the work that people have dedicated their lives to, in order to help raise the next generation of scholars. Often times, the public school system may attempt to give the population some sort of basic education, but the quality offered does not prepare students for higher education. It could be due to the funding issue, since private schools are able to prepare their students with better resources and facilities. Nonetheless, the organizations that welcomed us gave us a perspective to consider. Even if circumstances do not permit them to start strong, and if the students are willing to work harder to catch up with their peers, the organizations are more than willing to be that bridge to help them cross the river.

Unfortunately, in Brazil, the system often triumphs and sets many obstacles that limit the education that people pursue. Of the youth we encountered in the favelas/communities, it is likely that only a small handful will make it through high school. As for the students we met through the organizations, they had a certain fire in them to succeed. Their determination and their educators’ passion for the sharing of knowledge are few of the reminders that I wish to emulate in my own life. Our greatest weapon is to keep learning, because that enables us to practice an open mind as well as gain a sense of humanity. As we meet others to learn their stories, we are reminded that they too have their own struggles. In watching them push for better circumstances, I am humbled at the effort they consciously choose to invest into themselves. In that way, I am also reminded that I don’t know enough and can likewise pursue more knowledge about the world and people.

The world may be a complicated place as the dichotomies challenge each other, but with a sprinkle of positivity, passion, and energy, I hope that humanity gets reflected in each and every one of us as we push forward and conduct a ripple effect to make the world a more livable place. The system may be the rules that we live by, but we are our own agents and that should not stop us from pursuing other ideas and working towards continuous improvement, whether it be us as people, or us as influencers of the system.

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

Stay Open, Remain Sensitive

June 21, 2015

By: Alejandro Heredia

When I first got to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I didn’t have many expectations of this program. I like to think that expectations restrict me, that if I expect something I will focus on what I want to happen, instead of what is actually happening. I only had two rules for myself: I wanted to stay open, and I wanted to remain sensitive, to listen to my emotions wherever I went.

In this post I don’t write specifically about Rio because my experiences there were superior to the other cities. Sao Paulo and Salvador have been incredibly rewarding in their own ways, yet I find that Rio forced me to face a lot of very difficult realities for people in Brazil and back home.

The first of these instances happened our first week in Rio. While we were at an indoor mall, a few of us in the group went to buy essentials, such as shampoo, toothpaste, or cookies and chocolates for those late night snacks. When I went to the front to pay for my things, I handed the cashier worker a 50 reais bill, and for the next five minutes we were stuck in a game of hand gestures and eye contact. It seemed to me that I had given him the wrong amount money, but he couldn’t tell me what was wrong in English, and I couldn’t ask him anything in Portuguese. Although eventually one of his co-workers came over to save the day, that instance of linguistic barrier was shocking for me. I felt disempowered in my inability to communicate, and most importantly, it reminded me of my mother, a Dominican immigrant who has lived in the United States for over fifteen years. Despite how long she’s lived in a mostly English-speaking country, Spanish still dominates her tongue, and she often needs help expressing herself effectively in English. In that moment, I hurt because I thought of all the instances she’s been stuck in similar situations, at a supermarket buying groceries or at a doctor’s appointment and I felt how isolating it must be, to navigate public spaces without words.

The second time I felt so emotionally pulled in Rio was at a lecture with a public school teacher. She spoke to us about how hard it is to be a teacher in Brazil, how the Public School systems don’t consider all the struggles that students must face outside of the classroom, especially students from a lower socio-economic class. What struck me the most was that she told us about how in a teacher’s strike, the police used physical force against their peaceful gathering. She said, “We’re just trying to have a better education. I felt like a criminal.” I was angry and sad that this phenomenal educator and the amazing work that she and other teachers do for underprivileged students was so undervalued by the Brazilian government.

Despite the hardships, the teacher expressed how valuable her teaching is to her, and told us that it is necessary to keep working in order change the Brazilian education system.

The third time happened in a community on the outskirts of Rio. We were on a walking tour of the community, and when we reached the very top, we met a boy of about ten years of age. Max was a brown boy with tight curls and friendly disposition. I think we all talked to him at one point, whether he was teaching us a handshake or trying to get us to buy more things at the community project’s gift store. Eventually, through one of our group member’s conversations with him, we found out that Max wanted to be a writer in order to tell the stories of his community.

I was struck by Max’s dreams because I was once a Dominican brown boy with curly hair, skin too close to ribs, and similar dreams that were beyond what was expected of my circumstances. Through a sequence of fortunate events and amazing people, I was able to immigrate to the United States, and a decade later, to attend a private college that provides resources for me to pursue my passion for writing. I felt angry when I thought of all the obstacles standing in his way, and the ways in which Brazilian society’s structure promises that most boys like Max would never make it out of their communities.

Instead of allowing anger to turn into pity for the boy, I decided to write to him. After we continued on our tour and left him behind, I ripped a small piece of paper from the journal I carried, and wrote, “I have faith that you will become an amazing writer one day. You are powerful!” I handed the note to one of our tour guides, who promised to deliver and translate the message for him later that day.

Today, I still don’t think that my message was nearly enough to change any of Max’s circumstances. I only wanted him to know that I believe in him, and that anything he might have to say about his experiences and community is worth hearing. I only wish I had gotten the opportunity to share my own story with him, so that he could see that someone with a similar background was able to make it to college, and still wants to pursue a career in storytelling and poetry.

I don’t know that my experiences in Rio would have been as rewarding if I wouldn’t have felt responsible to be open and emotionally invested. In addition to learning about the complexity of social inequality in Brazil, I think this trip has allowed me to focus in on what kind of work I want to do in the world. In addition to writing, I want to use the lessons I have learned from my mother’s experiences, a public school teacher, and an inspiring young boy to give back to the communities I come from.

Town of Resistance: Cachoeira

June 20, 2015

By: Edgar Estrada

Today, the group was ready for action and exploration at 8:30am with a 4-hour bus ride to our destination Cachoeira, Bahia. The town is approximately located within 110 kilometers from Salvador and it is one of the most important municipalities of the Recôncavo Baiano (Bahian Bay Area). The Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico Artistico Nacional (National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage) recognizes and labels Cachoeira as a National Monument and Heroic City. Furthermore, Cachoeira contains a historical architectural landscape that preserves Colonial Brazil and makes it the second largest collection of Baroque architecture outside of Salvador.  Furthermore, it played an imperative role in Bahia´s independence.

As we approached Cachoeira, there were a series of independent black female merchants on the sides of the highway selling freshly cut sugar canes in plastic bags. In an interesting socio-historical connection, it reminded me of the “sugar planting colonists”, specifically the Portuguese in Brazil, who controlled indigenous and African bodies to work the sugar cane plantations from the early 16th to late 19th century (Skidmore 2010, 34). Sugar cane remains and continues to be one of the few sources of income for many poor families who survive on agricultural produce.

Soon after arriving at Cachoeira, we stopped at a restaurant in a hotel called Pousada do Convento do Carmo a former convent. The food options included grilled beef, chicken, crab, and fish as the main entrée and sides of rice with Farofa (a toasted manioc flour that accompanies the rice), pinto beans, batata frita (french fries), steamed potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, and green lettuce for salad. After the delicious lunch, the students were given a 10 minute break to walk around and stretch. During my break, I was intrigued and attracted by a small art shop that was inside the hotel. I was drawn in by the beautiful paintings depicting the Afro-Brazilian heritage, specifically African deities through vivid festivals and celebrations.

Little did I know that I was walking into the artwork of José Goncalves. José is a native of Cachoeira, Bahia, Brazil and has various sculptures and paintings exhibited in numerous museums and galleries throughout Brazil and his work has also been shown at the Smithsonian Institution´s Anacostia Museum in the United States. According to José, he has been painting and sculpting pieces of Afro-Brazilian culture since the age of seven. His artwork represents a great sense of pride and contribution to Cachoeira´s Afro-Brazilian history. He is widely known and recognized for his pieces Water Spirits and Orisha, which convey the celebration and festivities of Irmandade da Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte that are held in mid-August.

A popular Afro-Brazilian religion in Cachoeira, the Irmandade de Nossa Senhora da Boa Morte (Sisterhood of Our Lady of the Good Death), was created approximately 150 years ago in the living quarters of African slaves during the sugar cane plantations. The sisterhood was formed exclusively by Afro-women who wanted to free African slaves from the arduous and unhealthy living conditions on the plantations. After the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, the sisterhood created a denomination from the Catholic Church and practices its religious traditions in four 18th century townhouse. The town is a great attraction to tourists because of the religious festivals, sponsored by the sisterhood, which involve special clothing, food, and rituals specifically connected to Candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion.

Cachoeira received the largest population of African slaves in the interior of Bahia. Subsequently, it contains a rich diversity of contemporary culture inspired by the mixture of Native, African, and European communities. Cachoeria won national recognition for its influential role through political leadership during the Independence of Brazil and Bahia during the 19th century. On June 25, 1822 Cachoerians developed and utilized a resistance movement to fight against Portuguese colonizers and declared Cachoeria free from Portuguese control and settlements. This strategic move allowed indigenous and African slaves in Brazil to create a vision of hope for a future of autonomy through liberty.

Cachoeira is highly influenced and shaped by African culture, particularly the Bantu-community of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Yoruba from West Africa which were a prominent labor force in the sugarcane mills of Bahia. The town is located around the Rio Paraguaçu (Paraguaçu River).

We arrived to Cachoeira during a good time of the year. The ambience was lively with people lighting up fireworks, drinking traditional Brazilian flavored liquors, and eating at local food stands. The Festa Juninha (June Festival) was in session and people were celebrating the Festa de São João (Festival of St. John). Festa Juninha is an annual Brazilian celebration consisting of a series of daily festivals during the month of June, originally introduced by the Portuguese colonizers through the Catholic religion, where the nativity of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anthony, and Saint Peter are celebrated. Comparable to fairs in the United States, the festival included mechanical rides, food stands, games, and live music. In all, our day was an amazing experience that took us back one century into the religious festivals of the Afro-Brazilians in Cachoeira.

Skidmore E. Thomas. 2010. Brazil: Five Centuries of Change. pg. 34 New York: Oxford University Press.

Spirituality in Salvador

June 19, 2015

By: Paul-Anne Robb

At 9 a.m., the group left the hostel and made our way to the bus stop. Our destination was the Afro-Brazilian Museum and the Museum of Archeology and Ethnography, two museums located in the same historic building in the historical site of Pelourhino. We began with the Afro-Brazilian Museum which is run by the Federal University of Bahia. The first gallery displayed the injustices that black youth face in Brazil, including the genocide of Black youth and the attempts to lower the legal age to 16 so that more youth may be tried as adults. The tour guide encouraged us to be a part of the art by writing our thoughts about these injustices and placing them on a gate where many others already wrote their messages. Laughter out of Place by Donna Goldstein highlights the violence and brutality that Black youth are subject to in their communities. She speaks about the gang violence that takes the life of many Black youth but also the police brutality that also contributes. The lives of Black youth are unprotected and that needs to change, which is one of the main points in this section of the museum.

The second gallery in the museum consisted of African art and traditions. One of the first things we viewed was metalwork by Africans. Africans began doing metalwork before any other part of the world. The guide mentioned that the technological world we live in today can be traced back to the intricate metal work done by Africans. As we walked through that section of the museum, we saw wooden art that usually represented four things, ancestors, large animals, power, and reproduction. A really interesting piece of information was that the game that we now know as mancala originated in Africa. This section of the museum also showed the African contribution to textiles and clothing.

The next section of the museum focused on the African religion candomblé, more specifically, the messenger saint Exu, which represents the connection between this world and the spirit world. In Brazil, candomblé has corresponding Catholic saints. Due to Exu’s attributes like being a representative of sex, he was demonized and had no corresponding Catholic saint. The religion was criminalized and was illegal in Brazil until 1970. We were directed into a room where there were great wooden panels that had candomblé saints etched beautifully into them. Today, candomblé is celebrated in various Afro-Brazilian communities and the people take great pride in it.

After the Afro-Brazilian Museum, we were brought downstairs into the Museum of Archeology and Ethnography where we saw exhibitions of Indigenous cultures and archeological pieces found in Brazil. After the museums we grabbed lunch and headed to the community Subúrbio Ferroviário de Salvador where we explored the NGO CESEP. CESEP works with youth in the community and trains them in information technology. The organization guides the youth toward being able to start their own businesses and to become entrepreneurs. They also make sure that the youth are educated about waste management. We had conversations with some of the young adults in the program about cultural and social differences between Brazil and the U.S.

Afterward, we visited Patricia, one of Professor Brito’s friends, who took us to the terreiro of candomblé of which she is a member. This center is called Ilé Axé Omeleji. While there, we witnessed the preparation of a spiritual bath and were also able to speak with a man, the babalorixá in this specific center, who provides spiritual healings and reading for those who want. He told us about the presence of candomblé in the community as it provides a place of worship, hope, community, and assistance while asking for nothing in return. Before we left he offered to give us spiritual readings and tell us to which candomblé saint we belong. Many of us took his offer and we found he knew things about us that maybe only we knew. He gave us advice and guidance that we are grateful for. After that, we returned to the hostel tired yet appreciative.

Leveling the Playing Field

June 18, 2015

By: Paul-Anne Robb and Julie Foong

We set foot from our hostel at 9am to make our way to Steve Biko Cultural Institute in Pelourinho where we had two presentations. The first was led by George Oliveira, a director of the institute. He started us with the brief discussion on the history of Brazil and the education system. Once he explained the history, he began to explain how the education system affects the Black population in Brazil.

There are public and private high schools and universities. The public schools are paid for by the state, and the private schools are paid out of the pocket. However, in terms of quality of education and the preparation taken by the schools for higher education, private high schools contribute more social and cultural capital for its students to prepare them for the entrance exam for the universities. Unlike the U.S. where public institutions of higher learning are paid for by individuals, Brazil’s public universities are paid for by the state and are seen as prestigious, which makes them highly competitive, with roughly about a 1 in 25 chance of getting a seat. On the other hand, for private universities, in U.S. they are highly valued and expensive, while in Brazil, those who tend to be unable to get into the public universities have to pay for their education in the private schools.

In Brazil, those who are unable to get to the public universities are the students who attend public high schools, where the population consists of mostly poor and Black students. To combat this disproportionate number of poor and Black students entering public universities, Brazil introduced affirmative action. This meant that the public universities would need to fill a quota of students from public schools. The federal government decided to set aside 50% of the seats in public universities for students who come from the public schools. This 50% is further split into two approaches: racial and social.The way this works is that within the 50% of seats set aside for students from public schools or students from lower economic backgrounds the seats are divided by the percentages of racial make up for that particular state. In Bahia, this equates to 80% of the 50% of seats reserved for public school students being reserved for Black students because 80% of the population in this state is Black. Other states would alter the percentage accordingly. For example, São Paulo, it is 35% instead of 80%.

This policy was met with criticisms. The question that surfaced was what it means to be Black in Brazil. In terms of self-identification, Brazilians generally look at phenotype rather than genotype, where physical appearance determines whether a person is Black. There was a case where a pair of twins were born one White and one Black. This caused a lot of controversy over the affirmative action policy. Both had the same family income, same schools but only one was eligible for the racial and the other for the social category within the quota system. Also, as race is self-identified, some would take advantage and identify as Black to gain a seat in the racial approach. Due to this, a committee was created in order to evaluate a person’s self-identification. However, this approach was also controversial and was discontinued.

After a lunch break and quick trips to some local shops, we returned for a second presentation. This presentation focused on the institute itself and the programs it offers. Their main goal is to educate students on citizenship and Black consciousness while preparing students for the university exam, and ultimately for life in a racist society. The Steve Biko Institute believes that “education is the most powerful weapon to fight inequality.” In connection to Paulo Freire, he would be in agreement with their mindset that education is a tool for the oppressed to challenge the oppressor (2012). In conquering mental slavery, the institute also aims to boost self-esteem in the process. Due to the imbalance between the skills and knowledge obtained through the public and private high schools, they set up classes to level the playing field for those with less privilege to give them a chance to pass the exams that guarantee access to higher education. In order to enter the universities, students have to take an entrance exam that spans across various subjects and is known to be quite difficult. The stress is high especially considering the number of seats versus applicants. In Federal University of Bahia, in one year there were 157,000 applicants for 6,000 seats. Other things that the institute organizes include programs on anti-racism and human rights, STEM courses (including robotics and other sciences), labor market issues, politics of the carnival, and international exchange with other colleges in U.S..

These programs have other consequences including disputes at home because the students who gain a consciousness of what it means to be Black in Brazil bring it home with them and start questioning things that they didn’t before, which may not match up with their family’s beliefs. But in this process may also encourage their families to question these social issues as well. In addition, they also made a note about how poor and Black students who study at the universities choose humanities over sciences because there is a sense of inadequacy from their high school education as they had fewer resources and exposure to the STEM fields. These inequalities come from various sources and hopefully the work that Steve Biko Cultural Institute does will help bridge the gap and enable the youth and leaders of tomorrow to gain equality.

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

 

 

Quilombo: Runaway Slave Village

June 17, 2015

By: Robert Hill

Today we left at around 9:00a.m. to travel to a Quilombo, a runaway slave community about an hour away from our hostel. Quilombos originated in the sixteenth century as a community of slaves that fled to the backlands in order to escape the cruelty of the slave owners and the horrendous living conditions associated with slavery. In Five Centuries of Change by Thomas E. Skidmore he discusses one of the largest known as Palmares which “At its height numbered some twenty thousand inhabitants”(Skidmore:2010,36). This is just an indicator for how vast the communities were at their inception. As we arrived in the quilombo known as Morro de Tororó, we were greeted by our guide Luicanna Reis, a community organizer, and immediately jumped into to learning about the culture of this quilombo.

Our first activity was a capoeira class in the local community center. Our instructor, a mestre, gave us a brief introduction to the art form before we began to learn the techniques behind capoeira. Capoeira was created in order for the slaves to learn how to defend themselves from the slave-owners. They disguised their practice of the art form by pretending to dance while the slavers would walk by so that they could continue training. Capoeira practices are traditionally taught while listening to music which both inform the practitioner of the rhythm of the moves but also tell the story of the martial art. Once we started I noticed that the movement of the martial art was very fluid. It was all about momentum and flexibility; it was as if your body was moving on its own. As the music played the body moved, it was very much a simultaneous action. After our hour and a half long class, we were shown an amazing demonstration by the students of the capoeira class. Their skill and movements were amazing, we even where invited to spar with them. They were easily out of our league but it was definitely fun. After the demonstration they did a traditional stick fight dance. According to capoeira tradition, after sparring the warriors perform a traditional stick ceremony to release their anger with the slave masters. The harder they smacked the sticks the more anger was released. The ceremony was beautiful.

After our capoeira experience we ate at the community kitchen, where the women of the neighborhood learn professional culinary skills in order feed the community and their guests as a form of community development. After we ate, one of the women in the community came out and spoke to us about the history of the village and the current problems that they face. One major problem was the privatization of public space around the community. Their traditional lands have been taken by the Brazilian Navy. It has gotten so extreme that they have fences which represent what land is theirs and what land is the governments. Marines even sometimes patrol the community with guns just to intimidate community members in the hopes they will move. This fence separates the community from the soccer field, fishing routes, their farm lands and even access to the city. This reminded me of quote from Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation. In this article, Caldeira says “Enclaves provide a sense (perhaps an illusion) of control and protection over ones surroundings”. The government creates this ideology of control by putting up the gate around the community. After our talk with the women we began to go in groups on a boat tour of the nearby fishing areas. From the tour, we saw the majestic image of nature that surrounds the community. We also saw the navy base, a modernized building which represents the hardship and difficulty for this community in regaining access to their land.

Once we returned to the village we went to the local community terreiro or a Camdomblé center. Candomblé is a religion found in Brazil that is strongly influenced by religions from Africa, which came to Brazil by means of the slave trade from the 16th to 19th century. The religion has a strong Catholic influence and is very popular amongst the Afro-Brazilians. Once in the center we met various women dressed in traditional clothes and they made acarajé for us. Acarajé is mashed black eyed peas fried in ball form, it is served split in half and stuffed with vatapá and caruru – spicy pastes made from shrimp, ground cashews, okra, palm oil and other ingredients. While there we ate and talked about our day so far. Afterwards, we said our goodbyes and headed towards the hostel.

After our time in the village it was amazing to see how strong of a community identity the quilombo has. Everyone there was fully invested into the community. There was one point where we saw the capoeira master drop off one of his students. Professor Brito asked him if the student was his sonand he said “no but I am his teacher so I feel like his father”. In the community there was this group mentality where everyone needed to be well off so that the individual could be happy. It was truly beautiful to be amongst them today and it just made me want to bring that same kinship back to my own hometown.

 

Salvador: The City of Color

June 16, 2015

By: Marley Pulz

We arrived to Salvador yesterday, and already we are engulfed in color and liveliness, this city varies drastically from the past two cities we experienced. Salvador has a population of three million people where 85% of the population is black with an average temperature of 28 degrees Celsius in the winter and 38 in the summer. September 7th, 1822 is the official day of independence for Brazil, but central Bahia was still not free, this area was not free from the Portuguese until July 2, 1823. In the Colonial times of Salvador, many economic activities helped the city to thrive, including farming sugar cane which has been important since the 16th century, participating and being a huge part of the slave trade, mining diamonds and gold, creating safe ships, and hunting whales for their oil. Whale hunting started in the 16th century and lasted about 200 years because it was used in civil, military, and religious activities. All these activities helped to develop Salvador and its wealth helped it to develop a Baroque influence in buildings, with over 3,000 buildings created in this style still standing. Because of this economic success and stability, Salvador was set to be the first capitol of Brazil, and was such for 200 years but in 1763 the capitol was moved to Rio de Janeiro. Barra, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods is set on a “barra” or slope of a hillside and so on the “Victory Corridor” where the English people first settled in the 19th century, we saw that many of the “flats” or apartments were occupied by wealthy people who had cable car access to their own beach. We see similarities here to São Paulo and how the wealthy are physically segregated from the “povo” or people. This phenomenon can be seen through the article “Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation” by Teresa P. R. Caldeira, where she delves into a comparison between São Paulo and Los Angeles, USA because these new communities that are gated are completely removed so wealthy people never have to leave. This situation encourages “their aim to segregate and to change the character of public life by bringing private spaces constructed as socially homogeneous environments those activities that has been previously enacted in public spaces” (2005: 331).

The city of Salvador is divided into the Upper and Lower city, and the Upper city is situated at 17 meters high, whereas the Lower city is at sea level where the ports are; this created easy access to trading, which is why Brazil was so successful in the slave trade. They took African slaves and forced them to become Catholic since everyone was supposed to declare the Catholic faith, but slaves incorporated African Gods and Goddesses into Catholicism, so we saw Goddesses representing the Candomblé religion.  For example, the Goddess Oxala always dresses in white and is associated with Jesus, because of the influence of Catholicism.

We visited a church named Nosso Senhor de Bonfim, which is covered in ribbons that people tie three knots into, each time a knot is tied, the person is supposed to make a wish or prayer. These ribbons are very interesting because they cover two devotions, Catholicism and Candomblé; each of the different colors represents a different African God. “Bonfim” means “good end” and inside there was a room for miracles, where people taped pictures of loved ones who need help onto the walls in hopes that these two devotions will come together to aid them. Lastly, we went to Pelourinho which is a square and was the hub of the slave trade when it took place and also the place where slaves were punished by tying them and them whipping them. During the day we looked at all the different market items to buy and had lunch. The amount of colors and music surrounding this square was phenomenal. At night, since it was a Tuesday, we attended a Catholic Afro-Brazilian mass in which many people were singing and clapping along. The sermon was done in a traditional manner, but the singing and music were all performed in an Afro-Brazilian style, accompanied by incense in between each song and prayer. Whilst leaving the square, we ate traditional food called acarajé and watched live street performances by drum groups and ended the evening with live “forro” music, a traditional type of music from the Northeast of Brazil.

Calderia, Teresa P.R., (2005), “Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation”, in The Urban Sociology Reader, JanLin + Christopher Mele, Routledge: New York