Saturday, October 6, 2012

From Sao Paulo, with love.

(originally printed on the MEChA de Yale blog)

I'm writing to you from Florianópolis, Brazil where I am finishing up some research for a project I'm doing on informal economies. It was an exciting adventure that I've been planning and working on for a few weeks now, and well... here I am!

Being Mexican means I really spend a lot of time comparing this and every other Latin American country to the one that I know best. To be honest, though, Brazil is entirely unlike any other Latin American country I've been to. Besides the obvious -- everyone here speaks Portuguese first, and then more likely English than Spanish -- there are a number of differences I see in the cities here that we dont have in Mexico. Maybe in a good way!

I ended up understanding Portuguese even better than I expect to. Awesome, considering I have virtually no experience in this language. I found that speaking slowly and clearing in Spanish and having the other person do the same in Portuguese has made this experience possible. It's funny though -- I look like most of the people here. Particularly in this region of Brazil because there are so many tiny German towns in the mountains. And when I say German town, I really mean German Town.

I'm trying to see if I can get to Blumenau tomorrow, which is a small village in the mountains on this coast settled by the German immigrants who came to Brazil in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is one of a few German towns in this region. Best known for its knitting products and Oktoberfest... Strange, since we always think of immigrant villages in the US as being people of color. Here, it means they are very European.

And really... they blend in pretty well.

Something that has surprised me about southern Brazil is how European everyone looks. Today was the first time I had seen villages full of people with different racial backgrounds... and trust me, I've been looking...

When I asked a local professor why Mexico has such a mixed population compared to Brazil, he answered me very plainly: The indigenous people of Mexico had jungles, mountains and other areas of the country to hide in. Most of Brazil's indigenous people did not. Save some of the still isolated tribes in the Amazon. Many of our indigenous people died during colonization (at least, compared to Mexico).

An appropriate conversation for me to have, since Monday is Columbus day. Or really, as we've come to respect it through MEChA, it is indigenous people's day. It's a chance for us to celebrate the original cultures of this hemisphere -- or really, learn more about them. Since the US does a pretty good job pretending that they dont really exist. Ok maybe that is unfair. I do remember my 5th grade class spending the year researching different tribal groups in the US, including some who lived very close to me in Massachusetts. Still, we could and should all learn more. A lot of this rich cultural history of the United States is lost and overlooked in the regular curriculum.

More reason for Ethnic Studies! (We all know that was coming...)

So Happy Indigenous People's Day! I hope you take this chance to learn a little more about the ancient history of the United States.

Tchau e tenha uma bao noite!

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