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Brazzil - Identity - August 2004

Brazilians Ashamed of Being Brazilian

In the land of the non-blue-eyed-blondes, blue-eyed-blonde model
Gisele Bündchen, is the sole source of unrelenting adulation
amongst Brazilians. Anything or anyone that creates an
illusion that Brazil is part of Europe or the US is highly valued.
Anything that reminds Brazilians of their own roots is rejected.

Alan P. Marcus


Picture Brazil's political, constant and foremost preoccupation with development and progress is very revealing of its cultural insecurity that has historically prevailed throughout the growth of this country.

This regrettable preoccupation and obsession is, perhaps, a legacy of the pervasive positivist ideology in Brazil that culminated with the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

Moreover, during those years the military's political concern was to build roads and obliterate the popular Brazilian sense of place under the banner of "order and progress", and explicitly stated: "Enough of legends, let's build roads" (Chega de lendas, vamos construir estradas).

Nevertheless, the general lack of national enlightenment and awareness of sense of place in Brazil is unfortunately prevalent today more than ever, especially in São Paulo.

The sense of place, the regional richness, the geographic differences, the several coastal as well as interior ecological, and cultural complexities seem to completely disappear under the banner of development and progress in Brazil, regardless of political platforms, right or left of center.

This may be perceived as the blatant prostitution of Brazilian land and as the corporate selling-out of its people under the guise of progress. This is particularly disturbing, because the level of social greediness in Brazil is directly (and indirectly) responsible for the social discrepancies, and as such they reflect the silent level of social inequity expressed at its worst with disgraceful homicide rates reminiscent of war-statistics. Aaccording to the United Nations, an estimated 40 to 60,000 homicides occur in Brazil per year.

Concepts such as environmental conservation and a sense of place seem to be foreign, submerged and inexistent socio-cultural and ecological considerations amongst most Brazilians and amongst most Brazilian political platforms (particularly in São Paulo).

These concepts are unfortunately and mistakenly taken as secondary political issues or as topics pertaining to the bourgeoisie and upper classes. As the word itself in Portuguese: paisagem (loosely translated as "environmental landscape") reflects notions of social privilege and noble aesthetics, as most Brazilians will associate the word paisagem with "beauty" (aquilo que é belo).

Henceforth, a misguided notion of social class with ecological awareness translates into a national absence of any sense of place. This national unawareness is also evident within the meaning of the word mato (loosely translated as "overgrowth of weeds", or "unused land") as a wasteland… not to be confused with the word: mata ("forest").

In the city and its periphery, there is no public awareness or political attempt to inform the subtle distinctions amongst the local vernacular of wetlands, conservation land and so on.

Moreover, any form of ecological discourse is quickly dismissed and labeled by the general public and by the Brazilian media as rhetoric coming from an eco-chato (loosely translated as ecologically obnoxious people).

This example, in and of itself, is sufficient to describe the state of how Brazil is starving in its general enlightenment and is ecologically malnourished.

The city of São Paulo has become unrecognizable within the past 8 years, with its ghastly newly built commercial and residential skyscrapers, and the countless unchecked and irresponsible real estate developments, not only within the city, but also extending along the coastal areas of the state (i.e. Guarujá).

The construction-works ubiquitous in São Paulo city, demonstrates the lack of political unity in urban and suburban places toward the preservation of cultural heritage, but also illustrates São Paulo's lack in any attempt towards becoming a future ecological city.

There is a lack of urban grassroots political unity to oppose such irresponsible and criminal works performed by the current mayor around the city (i.e. trees capriciously butchered in front of the Ibirapuera Shopping Center—it is very likely they will not survive). The city has yet to realistically shine under all the superficial celebrations of its recent 450th birthday

The city of São Paulo has become "a place just like any other place"…only dirtier. With huge logos and advertising-signs along highways that scream of corporate irresponsibility, such as Walmart, and as such corporate welfare is the best kept secret in the land of Brazilian naiveté.

Graffiti on São Paulo walls are not sprayed as symbols of political resistance or of social movements or even expressions of art, they are outbursts of mere vandalism, as meaningless symbols resulting from the utter placelessness of Sao Paulo.

In the land of churrasco and caipirinha, even the Australian steak-house franchise "Outback Steakhouse" has access to the piece of the Brazilian pie.

In the land of the non-blue-eyed-blondes, a blue-eyed-blonde model of German descent, Gisele Bündchen, is the sole source of unrelenting adulation amongst Brazilians.

It seems that anything or anyone that creates an illusion that Brazil is part of Europe or the US (or of the English-speaking world) is highly valued, and conversely anything that reminds Brazilians of their very own sense of place is quickly and unfortunately rejected.

Brazil, and São Paulo in particular, is the "land of milk and honey", from transnational corporations to greedy realtors, foreigners and Brazilians alike, selling virtually anything to anyone is possible, building anywhere in any way, advertising anything to anyone at any place.

Political, social, or corporate accountability seem to be at best, challenging, at worst it is completely absent. There is no viable place- conservation or "sense of place" principle: these concepts are absent in both popular and political mindsets in Brazil.

The main topic in Brazil, and again, especially in São Paulo, seems to revolve around crime: its protection, management, and prevention. Of course, the correlation between social responsibility and social inequity is more often than not, forgotten amongst most Brazilians.

There is a feeling when one is in São Paulo, that one is submerged into a dark, polluted and non-descript place in a scary science-fiction movie, surrounded by suffocating buildings, infinite graffiti, inundated by noise generated from cars and by gun-shots from altercations in the favelas (slums) between drug lords and the police.

This is a very unfortunate outcome of the city that was founded in 1554 initially named: São Paulo de Piratininga, in between the Tamanduateí and Anhangabaú rivers... now virtually transformed into open city sewers.

Alan P. Marcus (Ph.D. candidate, UMass, Amherst) is a Brazilian geographer who now lives in the USA. He has written other articles for Brazzil magazine—available online—on race, ethnicity, Northeast Brazil, and animal rights. E-mail contact: amarcus@geo.umass.edu.

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