Brasil: Um País de Todos?
This clever multiculturalist logo sneaks into the corner of just about every sign announcing federal support for a project. That the federal government would even need to make a public declaration of Brazil as a country for all is an indication of doubts that such a claim is really true. The longstanding belief that Brazil is a racial democracy has come under fire in recent years, as in the stratification of wealth that curiously corresponds to racial lines.
Still, I dropped by a few museums in São Paulo that, to their credit, were much more hospitable to the idea of a harmoniously multicultural Brazil.
First was the Museu da Lingua Portuguesa, a fairly new museum situated in the rafters of the belle époque Estação de Luz train station. Very high-tech and interactive, it purported to trace the history of the (Brazilian) Portuguese language while illustrating its various influences over the centuries. The time line history was particularly interesting, addressing developments in African language–especially Bantu–and American indigenous culture/language parallel with the development of Portuguese from Latin.
Thus, for example, such interesting cross-currents as Arabic affecting both Portuguese and African languages at the same time:
Or other tidbits, like cachaça, the national liquor, having Bantu origins:
Then, at 1500, they all converge:
The Portuguese meet the Tupi (Brazil's largest indigenous tribe and the one that left the largest mark on Brazilian cultural), African slaves are brought over, and the feijoada of languages stews for the next 500 years.
Unfortunately, little to no mention of what kind of linguistic repression occurred, what kind of penalty might be meted out for speaking your native language as a slave. There is a flash forward to a historically corrective present, though.
"In 1988, the Brazilian Constitution guaranteed to the Indians and the rural communities descended from slaves (remnants of quilombos [maroon communities of runaway slaves]) the right to the lands they have been occupying. It guaranteed as well legal protection to indigenous beliefs, languages, and
The estimates of the time cited the existence of 220 indigenous tribes and around a thousand communities that were remnants of quilombos. The prolonged isolation of the majority of these peoples permitted the survival of more than 180 different indigenous languages and, in the black communities, the permanency of a Portuguese full of archaisms, in addition to African inheritances from the times of the senzalas [slave quarters on a plantaiton] and quilombos."
Language of African descent, or at least one word in particular, also caught the ear of Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, whose lyrics for tropicália classic "Batmacumba" (macumba = candomblé ritual offering) are designed as a recitation in poema concreta style:
Gilberto Gil & Caetano Veloso - Batmacumba
Further on the east side of town, I also stopped by the Hospedaria de Imigrantes, or Immigrants' Hostel, which has been beautifully restored and turned into a museum & archive (for those looking for info about their family). It was more or less the Ellis Island of São Paulo. It's where hundreds of thousands of immigrants spent there first few weeks in Sampa before being assigned work on a coffee plantation somewhere in the interior.
Studying this period of Brazil's history was what first gave me the notion that Brazil and the U.S. have much more in common that either might originally think. Similar size, remarkable geographical diversity, history of plantation slavery. And neither is afraid of making really cheap ethnic stereotypes in a seemingly innocuous exhibit. I'm sure most Japanese women wore ceremonial kimono on their trip over to Brazil . . .