Monday, June 23, 2008

Still Worried About Pedro

My one month stay in Rio is almost over. After a month and some reading and many questions, I am no expert on Rio or Brazil. In some respects I feel like I know less because the complexities become more evident. What I can say is that in one month I met no one – professor, student, waiter, grocery store stocker, etc, -- with what in the States we call an “attitude.” (The law students were spectacularly well-prepared and serious about learning.) I also witnessed a number of signs of informal expectations of honesty. If you rent a beach chair you pay later. If you go to a club you pay the cover charge later. I bought an item from a beach vendor but did not have my wallet. He left the item and came back much later for payment.

This not to say there is no danger here. People are mugged, there is drug violence in the favelas and I was warned not to go in certain areas. Still, your average Brazilian seems kind, polite, humble, and honest with little interest in chiseling anyone. There was little yelling or speaking in cell phones at top volume while walking down the street. People form lines for elevators and buses.

I have heard Brazilians say they do not have race problem. On the other hand, slavery did not completely end here until the 1880s and close to 40%of the Africans taken into slavery and brought to the Americas ended up in Brazil. (6% for the US) There were, in fact, no dark skinned people in the classes I taught. I suppose it could be a class issue rather than race but I think it must be both. What observed was integration of every color of skin except for the very darkest people. At a movie I saw the other night the preview was for a fair-skinned-upper-class-girl-falls-for darker-skinned-favela-dwelling-boy themed movie. So the race/class issue must be part of the culture.

What makes the race issue so complex is that Brazil is largely literally a nation of “people of color.” There are recent efforts to create quotas for “blacks” but what does it mean to be “black” in Brazil. At one university one identical twin was accepted as part of the quota while another was rejected.

Someone wrote or said something like “Brazil is the country of the future . . . and always will be.” I hope he was only half right.

(Do not be misled by the photo of the dog my local beach. The most popular dog in Rio, as best, I can tell is the poodle. This is followed by the dachshund which goes to show that bad taste in dogs is international (As a former owner of a dachshund I am permitted to say this).

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