Tag Archives: Brazil

  • Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos

    Guest post by Mary Lorena Kenny

    Mary Lorena Kenny is Professor of Anthropology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She is the author of Hidden Heads of Households: Child Labor in Urban Northeast Brazil (2007) and Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos 

    Over the course of three hundred years, Brazil imported over five million slaves, more than any country in the Americas. One hundred years after abolition, the 1988 constitution included a clause guaranteeing quilombolas (federally recognized descendants of self-ascribed, traditional Black settlements) collective land titles as a type of reparation. Thanks to an international collective of scholars and activists, reparation policies and projects are gaining momentum.

    There are an estimated four thousand quilombo communities in Brazil. The quilombola heritage policy (ideally) offers a legal instrument for enhancing social and economic inclusion, as the daily life for quilombolas is marked by a troubling history shaped long ago by slavery and colonialism. It is manifested today by some of the worst indicators in terms of access to healthcare, schooling, and basic infrastructure. Three quarters of the families living in quilombos are categorized as living in extreme poverty and receive public assistance. Deeply Rooted in the Present: Heritage, Memory, and Identity in Brazilian Quilombos maps some of the ways these communities address the still unresolved legacies of slavery through empowering narratives of resistance, land rights, material practices (heritage), and activism. I felt it was important to highlight how past practices are linked to contemporary conditions of exploitative, slave-like labor practices, violent conflict over access to land, and police violence targeting people of color. Woven throughout the book are discussions of how quilombola heritage policies are tied to these social, economic, political, and racial realities of the country.

    The book is for general readers rather than specialists in anthropology or Brazilian studies.

    The chapters focus on the history of slavery in Brazil, the quilombola movement, and a case study to examine some of the issues and challenges for these “maroons” (communities formed by persons fleeing slavery). Since their inception, the quilombo heritage policies have been stalled by bureaucratic obstacles, violent conflict over land rights, and shifts in the definition of quilombola. One of the first chapters discusses some of the trials and tribulations of field work, which in my experience garners many questions from students. At the end of the book, there is a section of further readings for those who would like to explore more deeply some of the issues raised.

    Overall, the material can be useful for generating discussions on how people give meaning to where they have been, who they are now, and (ideally) where they can go in a shifting political, economic, and social context. Re-conceptualizing “who we are” has disrupted some core historical and cultural beliefs. How quilombolas see themselves does not always coincide with how others view them. Opponents claim that the land grant program is unconstitutional and illegal. They argue that slavery ended 130 years ago in Brazil, and that quilombolas are irrelevant in the twenty-first century. They assert that acknowledging a quilombola ethno-racial claim to land as a land reform strategy is corrupt because it provides free land to undeserving recipients, is exclusionary because it encourages groups to invent an identity that did not exist before, and excludes poor, non-quilombolas. This policy, they argue, encourages racial polarity, which is seen as un-Brazilian and imported from a US model that does not correspond to the Brazilian reality of race relations. They contend that it is misguided and does little to help the quality of life for residents in traditional Black settlements. Strong, vocal objection to the reparations program is made by powerful people: agro-industrial oligarchs, logging and mining companies, the military, real estate developers, and, most recently, those responsible for preparing roads and stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, during which time quilombolas were threatened with expulsion and activists have been murdered.

    Students will recognize the generational differences in how groups articulate their reality, with some younger members questioning the usefulness (politically, economically, and socially) of “taking on” this identity. The material is framed by key questions in anthropology about identity, heritage, and culture. It includes an appendix that lists ways students can explore their own heritage and identity, including virtual, online communities, and contemporary issues such as gun control, gender, and BlackLivesMatter. In-class or field projects can explore how heritage is expressed in material objects or physical and oral forms. Since so much of the history of enslaved and marginalized groups has been muted, invisible, outlawed, or excluded, students can explore places, monuments, or rituals that have significant religious, political, or social value for different groups, noting which ones have a louder voice or bigger “footprint.” They can tie their own family histories to changes in their community (e.g., the closing of car or textile factories, urban renewal, extreme weather conditions, forced relocation, or resettlement) and note how this larger context has shaped the lives of the members of the community. Students can identify cultural practices in their own community that have continued, disappeared, or reemerged in a new way (e.g., death and burial practices, dance, music, language, food). Which ones have led to a revalorization of social identity, or new source of income? Can they identify development projects that have led to impoverishment, social dislocation, and the erosion of heritage (e.g., oil pipelines and dams built on Indigenous sacred territory)? They can also investigate how development projects have led to clashes over cultural heritage, e.g., construction of a building that unearthed a graveyard, or a heritage building scheduled to be demolished for modern development.

    Overall, the book shows how social action can lead to change, how groups give meaning to who they are, and in the process, disrupt historical narratives, re-articulate social relations, and foment political agency.

  • Learning from Latin America

    To mark the recent publication of Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development, authors Felipe Arocena and Kirk Bowman provide an overview of what inspired them to write the book, and Kirk Bowman discusses the benefits of using it in his Latin American politics course.

    lessons from latin americaWe were inspired to write Lessons from Latin America largely by one of our students on a study abroad more than a decade ago. We visited the United States embassies in Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina with twenty undergraduate students. At each embassy, a series of government officials would spend about thirty minutes explaining their job and some of their impressions. When each speaker was finished, one determined and perspicacious student would always ask the same question: What lessons could the United States learn from Uruguay (or Argentina)? The response was invariably a look of disbelief and some statement that the question was ridiculous or not serious. How could it be that the United States could learn anything from Latin America? The United States is the model to learn from. Latin America is the failure to avoid.

    We reflected regularly on that experience as our paths crossed in Montreal, Atlanta, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Montevideo. As researchers, we wanted to write a book that included original scholarship, where each chapter would be self-contained and article-length, and include an introduction of some important literature and original scholarly analysis. As teachers, we wanted to produce a book that was accessible to undergraduate students and that would cause students to think about the lessons of Latin America in politics, culture, and development and to challenge the conventional wisdom that Latin America is beneath the United States and Canada and a region of negatives—corruption, violence, hyperinflation, coups, and laziness. We also wanted a book that would explain the past, but also inform the events of today and perhaps even help students and readers make predictions about the future.

    After using the final book in a Latin American politics class for the first time this semester at Georgia Tech, this unique format is surpassing my expectations. There are a number of positive benefits of using this book. Some were not anticipated.

    • The readings lead to excellent classroom discussions. The book is explicitly comparative with many cases from Latin America in most chapters. The book is also comparative with the advanced industrial democracies. For example, Chapter 3 presents the lessons from Latin America in aggregating preferences and holding elections, and it is clear that the United States has much to learn from places like Brazil and Costa Rica. This flows into a conversation about power and why the United States maintains an electoral system with clear weaknesses. The questions at the end of each chapter are very useful for class discussion.
    • The book allows students to better understand current events in the region and to make informed predictions about future outcomes. After learning about the Conditional Cash Transfer programs in Brazil, the reduction in income inequality, the substantial increases in the minimum wage, and the lifting of 40 million people out of poverty, students could predict not only the Dilma electoral victory in October 2014, but could identify the Brazilian states that would likely vote overwhelmingly for the Workers Party (PT).
    • The cases highlight not only the well-known and large countries, but also introduce the readers to the innovative policies of many of the ignored cases such as Panama and Uruguay.
    • One of my greatest joys in using this book in class is the effect on the Latin American and minority students in the class. A typical Latin American politics class focuses too heavily on the challenges in the region: the economic lost decade, military regimes, machismo, massive human rights abuses and the like. This book elevates, without cheerleading, the extensive attempts at innovation, many of which are pioneering and now being copied around the world. Latino and Latin American students in the class are uniquely positioned to benefit from these chapters, and to understand and emphasize the heterogeneity in the region.

    Finally, the attitude of students towards Latin America experiences a profound shift, and they are quick to pick out new examples of policy innovations in the regions. Just this past week, the international media covered a new policy in Chile, where the government is providing land to a private company to produce medical marijuana products. The private-public partnership is novel and interesting. The continued experience of Latin America in developing and modifying policies in politics, culture, and development will make some of the students lifetime learners and maybe even lead to a second edition of the book.

    Kirk Bowman is Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His most recent book is Peddling Paradise: The Politics of Tourism in Latin America (2013).

    Felipe Arocena is Professor of Sociology at the Universidad de la República, Uruguay. He has published or edited 10 books, including 2 in the United States: William Henry Hudson: Life, Literature, and Science (2003) and Entrevistas Cubanas: Historias de una Nación Dividida (2004). He has been Visiting Professor at several universities in Europe, Latin America, and North America, including Dartmouth College, Université du Québec à Montréal, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Catholic University of America.

    Note: If you are an instructor and would like to consider adding Lesson from Latin America to the required reading list for an upcoming course, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy.

  • World Cup 2014: Politics, Identity, and the Global Game

    lessons from latin americaIn their forthcoming book, Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development, authors Felipe Arocena and Kirk Bowman dedicate the entire final chapter to the beautiful game. Here, Kirk Bowman provides a post-tournament summary of the politics and identity issues at play in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. 

    The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was one of the most dramatic in recent memory. The championship match pitted two soccer powers, one from Latin America and one from Europe. It is fitting that Argentina faced off against Germany, as the World Cup exhibited at least three fascinating battle lines involving Europe and Latin America.

    Watching this year’s World Cup from Spain, I found the most interesting spectacle of the entire tournament to be the singing of the national anthems before the Chile and Spain group stage match. The Spanish national anthem is music without words as the peripheral regions of Catalonia, the Basques, the Galicians, and the Andalucians cannot agree on words that would satisfy the centralists in Madrid. The Spanish players look on uncomfortably at the anthem, not knowing if they should hum or sing “la-la-la-la” to the music. In contrast, the Chileans have a dramatic section of the national anthem with words but without music. The fans and the players become one as they belt out the words. In a sense, the fans become players and the players become fans in a sacred communion that is part of the continual construction of national identity. (The World Cup Chilean anthem can be seen and heard here.) Latin American countries are immigrant societies, and they are still in a process of forming national identity. Soccer is a major component in the creation of national identity in the Southern Cone. Latin Americans play soccer to build a sense of national identity, while Europeans play soccer to exhibit identity that was created long ago. This is why Brazil’s unexpected 7-1 humiliating loss at home to Germany was so painful. Brazil’s very identity rests on a national belief that the fusion of the Afro-Brazilian, the European-Brazilian, and the Indigenous created a new Brazilian people that are the best on the planet in soccer and winners of five world cups. It will be interesting to see if Brazil’s soccer shame will have any collateral effect on the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, who is running for re-election this fall.

    The Luis Suárez biting incident and the draconian punishment from FIFA highlights the perspective that Latin Americans are barbaric children who need to be civilized and tamed by the advanced industrial countries. While most observers agree that his nibble was uncalled for and that a red card and short suspension is warranted, the level of outrage and the call for blood from the English media and FIFA are exaggerated and can only be understood as part of the history of how the North sees the Global South. When Diego Maradona scored the Hand of God goal against the English in the 1982 World Cup in Mexico City, he was branded a cheat, a rascal, and a villain. In contrast, when Manuel Neuer, the German goalkeeper, admitted to intentionally “fooling” the referee to disallow a perfectly good English goal in the 2010 World Cup, he was referred to as clever, lucky, and quick thinking. While European players have broken noses with intentional elbows, broken legs and ankles with intentional kicks, and pulled their opponents down by their hair, it is only Suárez, whose nip could never cause injury, who is banned from playing soccer, practicing soccer, and even going into a stadium for four months. As one FIFA official stated, FIFA must discipline and teach the children.

    Finally, the Brazil World Cup demonstrated the harmony of interests between the global elites and the elites of Brazil, while the people of Brazil paid the price. The level of corruption, busted stadium budgets, and failed infrastructure projects in this World Cup is scandalous. The people of Brazil will pay many billions of dollars for this orgy of sports and commercialism. This World Cup will leave a number of white elephant stadiums throughout the country, with local communities paying for maintenance and upkeep of largely unused stadiums for many years. FIFA earned some $5 billion from this World Cup, and will share none of that with Brazil, who pays all the costs. Besides FIFA, the other winners are Brazilian construction companies and their politician partners who will rake in exorbitant profits from the stadium and infrastructure projects.

    Even with the corruption of FIFA and some poor execution by Brazil, soccer is still the global game and the greatest show on earth. Some forty billion cumulative television viewers have witnessed the agony and the ecstasy of the sport. If the fans are observant, they can also partake in the spectacle of politics and identity.

    -Kirk Bowman, Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Global Lessons from the Beautiful Game

    The World Cup begins today in Brazil amidst protests, transit strikes, security threats, accusations of government corruption and wasteful spending, military cleanup of favelas, construction-related deaths and delays, and an overriding sense of public resentment for this, the most expensive football tournament ever.

    Lessons from Latin AmericaIn an upcoming book, Lessons from Latin America: Innovations in Politics, Culture, and Development, authors Felipe Arocena and Kirk Bowman dedicate the entire final chapter to the beautiful game.

    Arguing that academia has historically ignored soccer as a subject for serious scholarship, and that social scientists have “largely decried the effect of soccer as the opiate of the masses and the principal source of alienation from politics,” they outline two major lessons to be learned from soccer in Latin America – the first of which includes the limits of sport as the opiate of the masses.

    Click here to download and read an excerpt from “Chapter 10: Global Lessons from the Beautiful Game.”

    Lessons from Latin America will be published in August 2014.

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