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Brazzil - People - June 2003

Paulistas and Caiçaras: Parallel Lives in Brazil

Violence and physical confrontation was a way-of-life for the
average youngster spending time in Guarujá. The threat of a
violent confrontation was always seemingly about to happen
at any given moment. It could be triggered by anything from
an unsolicited "look", a "stare" or an accidental "bump."

Allan P. Marcus

 

From the mid-1970's to the early 1980's, when I was a young boy, I spent most of my summers and most weekends in a small town called Guarujá on the coast of São Paulo, Brazil. At that time, the real estate development in Guarujá was only starting; however it had exponentially increased and eventually became rampant by the mid-1980's. The time I spent before this development became rampant, allowed me and gave me the chance to know the geography and interact with the local population in a different perspective. Particularly since now Guarujá has now become an overdeveloped, polluted and overcrowded summer resort, mostly catering to the bourgeoisie, middle-class São Paulo city and state residents.

The town of Guarujá had several favelas (slums) and I had made friends with many young residents of a favela called Vila Baiana. Our friendship was based on participating together in typical activities boys usually engage in, such as flying kites, surfing, riding bicycles or just "hanging out". All of these friends from Vila Baiana were caiçaras, an ethnic variance whose population resides on the coasts of Brazil, and whose ancestry is subjective and ambiguous, and a mixture of African, Amerindian and European populations.

As a resident of the big city of São Paulo, a Paulista, who spent much time in this small town, I received special and rare privileges amongst the local residents, since most Paulistas were considered persona non grata amongst the locals. As a result I could always depend on protection from fights, crime and violence. To my friends from Vila Baiana, I was the "exception-to-the-rule", since I was not like the "typical" Paulista who usually didn't want any interaction with caiçaras, unless it was on a paternalistic, slavist, and elitist level.

The locals did not view Paulistas sympathetically for several reasons. The locals considered Paulistas obnoxious big-city slickers who had this false sense of entitlement to "take-over" this small town over the summer months, and thereafter, would simply leave and forget about the small town for the rest of the year.

The Paulistas would flaunt their economic and social self-doubt by distastefully displaying their conspicuous consumption every evening, boisterously and irresponsibly riding their cars on beach avenues and gathering en masse by sea-side open-air bars with their loud music and motorcycles. Young male Paulistas were often called "boy", by the locals; a shortening for "playboy", and also a direct reference to young Paulistas being self-indulgent, being spoilt and being, in this cultural context, white.

On almost every evening during the summer months, I witnessed violent bloody physical fights between caiçaras and Paulistas or among Paulistas themselves, and on occasion I had witnessed gunshots.

On one occasion, I witnessed a grown-man with a beard, with a face I shall never forget, all bruised and bloody, kneeling on the ground begging for someone to help, as he was brutally and repeatedly beaten and kicked by an angry crowd. Nobody knew what he had done wrong and nobody helped him either. The bearded man managed to struggle to get up and out of the crowd, and ran for his life, as the crowd chased him onto the side streets. That evening, I heard no more about the incident and life went back to "normal". I never found out what happened to the bearded man.

Who-was-against-who didn't matter, because to the on-looking public anyone would and could be a target of aggression and violence. In the process of violent eruptions everyone had to fend for oneself, it was "everyone-for-oneself", because one never knew if a crowd would accidentally turn on oneself for no particular reason, as in the sociological definition, anomie. As an "outsider", figuratively and literally, I was always on the "outside" observing the "inside, and trying to maintain a safe distance, but close enough to be dangerously on the "inside".

Violence and physical confrontation was a way-of-life for the average youngster spending time in this small town (and for that matter also in São Paulo). The threat of a violent confrontation was always seemingly about to happen at any given moment. It could be triggered by anything from an unsolicited "look", a "stare" or an accidental "bump," that would be enough reason to spark a violent confrontation between strangers.

Violence could start with a caiçara confronting a Paulista by saying, for example: "E aí boy? Aí, tá olhando o quê, otário?" (Loosely translated in English as: "So playboy? What are you staring at, moron?"). If I heard that phrase I would automatically sense the predicament of imminent violence, and would prepare to maintain distance as an onlooker, particularly to avoid a gunshot, if somebody was armed, or to get caught up in the mêlée by being mistaken as an active participant of the fight.

As we grew older, things changed and my friends from Vila Baiana also changed. Life for them had little hope of a "happy ending". The activities that we had participated together were now different. We no longer flew kites, surfed or rode bicycles together. We were now young men and the employment, educational and healthcare options available to me were not the same as they were to my friends from Vila Baiana. Their social and economic mobility (or more precisely their immobility), a "way-out" of the favela, were extremely limited and thwarted among many other aspects, by their condition of cor (color), of their ethnicity, that is, of being a coastal caiçara, and of their social and educational status as favelados (slum-dwellers).

The activities and lives that we had now were permanently parallel to each other. For social and economic betterment, there were two options available for them: one option was to become a crente (to join the Baptist church) the other option was the criminal life. When I returned to the small coastal town, many years later, I discovered most of my childhood friends from Vila Baiana either had "joined the church", had gone to prison, or had died.

I often remember those friends from Vila Baiana and I always cringe with distress and sadness by the social and economic options available to them, and by the disgraceful way they were treated by the summer-bound Paulistas. I also later understood that violence was not an option to caiçaras, it just was the only way to live. Given the circumstances of the miserable human condition of the caiçaras, and of the visual and social assault of the Paulistas in Guarujá, it is only understandable that physical violence is a natural outcome.

Why Paulistas treat Northeasterners of Brazil (Nordestinos), caiçaras and favelados with such disdain is a very interesting question in itself. Is it because of a sense of educational, social, economic self-doubt that lead Paulistas to be so unashamedly indifferent? Why have Paulistas, who have access to educational and employment opportunities, living in the largest industrial and business hub of Latin America, have socially and humanely forsaken caiçaras, Northeasterners (Nordestinos), and favelados? These are complex questions for a younger and future generation to address.

It is not humane nor is it ethically or morally acceptable to live in a world where childhood friends may play together, fly kites, surf, ride bicycles together but because some are born into privilege with access to education, healthcare and employment opportunities, some will later live a life of comfort whilst others will live a life of misery.

The lack of opportunities are only a small aspect of complex Brazilian social inequalities that thwart any chance caiçaras may enjoy in the future, and of reliving their childhood experiences of freedom they once had surfing, riding a bicycle and flying kites.

 

Alan P. Marcus (Master's of Science in Human Geography, in progress) is a Brazilian living in the USA. He has also written other articles on Brazilian identity, "race", ethnicity, and animal ethics for Brazzil magazine, available online: www.brazzil.com. E-mail contact: amarcus@geo.umass.edu 

 



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