Since we’ve published in our January issue “America,
the Ugly”, an interview with Ana Maria Bahiana, a Brazilian correspondent
on the West Coast, readers have fired a volley of opinions pro and against
the author and her critical book America de A a Z from which we
presented short excerpts. Now, a Brazilian psychologist and law student
writes an extensive rebuttal to Bahiana’s ideas and says: “Brazilians
who live in the United States ought to be more realistic, give up the competitive
attitude, and work out the inferiority complex. To paint America as a futile
land and perpetuate the myth that Americans are a bunch of idiots is by
far more ignorant than to recognize what Brazil really is and what we must
do to change it.”
It is hard to believe that a namely “international correspondent”
based in Los Angeles would be able to come up with such a misinformed piece
of nonsense. To begin with, the same ethnocentrism (the belief that ones
culture is the ideal, and is superior to others) that the author condemns
Americans of, clearly permeates her writings about Brazil and its culture.
One aspect that has long amazed me is the way Brazilians who live in
the United States feel bashed by not being recognized and celebrated as
they think they should be. Brazilians have this misconception that our
cities, celebrities, as well as particularities of our culture should be
known by all Americans. And the question is… Why?
One should keep in mind that the knowledge and appreciation for soccer,
lambada, Carnaval, along with other details about Brazilian culture are
by no means necessary nor sufficient to judge an American’s general knowledge
or cultural level. We must remember that the Americans mainly Anglo Saxon
and Puritan origins tend to polarize with our predominantly Portuguese
and African heritage.
Besides, I wonder how many Brazilians know where Madras, Bangalore,
Hyderabad or even Chihuahua and Torreon are located? These are cities of
countries that have a similar socioeconomic profile to Brazil, rather than
being 10 times poorer, which equals the comparison of Brazil with the United
States in terms of GNP per capita. Moreover, take 5 minutes and think about
what you know of the Bosnia situation or think of three new countries which
emerged out of the Russian Federation.
I am sure many Brazilians do not know much at all about these and other
recent events simply because these issues do not directly affect their
lives. In contrast, the United States directly affects the lives of people
all over the world through its scientific discoveries, film and music industry,
tourism, financial aid, political and military power, and especially with
its open boarders to immigrants.
Now, think about the contributions of Brazil to the world, and especially
to the United States. Of course we can enumerate some, but certainly not
enough to justify the attention and prestige we claim to deserve. In fact,
the only two main issues of importance that I would think an American should
know about are the rain forest, and perhaps our huge economic debt to their
In regards to recognizing our celebrities, how many Brazilians know
the names of the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, or the pitcher for
the New York Yankees? I expect no Brazilians to know their names nor details
of these games since football and baseball are not popular nor played in
Brazil. In like manner, it makes sense to expect countries which contain
and enjoy professional soccer leagues to know of Pelé and Romário’s exceptional
Still, I can concede why Brazilians would want the world to know about
our soccer stars, or even labor leader and presidential candidate Luís
Inácio Lula da Silva who, despite his limited education, has gained enormous
popularity through his strong will, radical ideas, and vision to better
the plight of the average Brazilian.
In contrast, knowing the works of Xuxa and the interviewer Bruna Lombardi
can only depreciate our image even more. While in the United States many
Hollywood actors and directors graduate from Ivy League schools such as
Yale, Princeton, and others, our representative Bruna who often interviews
several of these major celebrities simply epitomizes “the pretty face
without a brain”, which is the secret that explains the success of
many women in Brazil, including Xuxa.
On sex, the statement that she also calls absurd that “in Brazil…
everybody has sex whenever they feel like it without fear of Aids”
just shows how little she knows about Brazilian sexual behavior. Presently,
the city of Recife is one of the most popular prostitution capitals of
the world, and Aids victims have been increasing in alarming numbers among
the youth of some cities in the south of Brazil.
In addition, Brazil is close to being the leader in violation and abuse
of children’s rights. When the author makes these comments “In Brazil
it’s legal to kill little children”… “they kill little children
on the streets just because they beg” absurdities, I wonder if she
has been following the news about Brazil during these last nine years that
she has been living in the United States. Need I remind my compatriots
of the hideous massacres and death-squads that roam the streets and favelas
of the big cities annihilating the little ones? To call these actions “legal”
may be incorrect, but to admit that they are tolerated and still encouraged
is a matter of fact.
As far as racism is concerned, I do see segregation and racial conflicts
in the United States. At the same time, I also see many African Americans,
Asians, Hispanics and Middle Easterners as prominent Doctors, Lawyers,
University Professors, TV reporters, Politicians, Scientists and the like.
To narrow the issue to only blacks, one must remember that they comprise
only 13% of the population of the United States, and are relatively well-represented
in the professional and political arenas especially when compared to their
Brazilian blacks and mulattos comprise over 50% of the population and
yet, I still find it hard to think of one black person who is not a musician,
actor, or soccer star who has achieved a position of status in Brazil.
To say that we have found solutions for our problems is ignorance in its
most pristine form. The reality is that the mingling most non-black Brazilians
have with blacks is when they pay them the miserable wages for work that
is slightly better than slave labor.
My view is that Brazilians who live in the United States ought to be
more realistic, give up the competitive attitude, and work out the inferiority
complex. So many Brazilians feel ashamed when we open our gigantic can
of worms. Those who feel so denigrated by our dilemmas should come to realize
that it is by hiding our weaknesses that we will never encounter solutions
to bring about urgent changes in our beloved country.
By creating a fantasy world where they keep considering the millions
of shanty town dwellers, abandoned children, and homeless as aliens, Brazilians
take a defensive posture or author books in the style of “America
de A a Z”, just to make a few people feel good. It is time that some
of us face our self-esteem deficiencies and be real. To paint America as
a futile land and perpetuate the myth that Americans are a bunch of idiots
is by far more ignorant than to recognize what Brazil really is and what
we must do to change it.
Instead of attempting to expose the ills of America, one could concentrate
on writing valuable insights to help heal the ills of Brazil. In fact,
I do know many Americans who know Brazil quite well and often travel in
groups, not of tourism and not to the hot spots, but rather to the depressed
areas of the big cities or to remote places of the country volunteering
their time and efforts to help alleviate some of the pain of the people.
The Americans who do know about the Brazilian scenario do not sugarcoat
reality as Brazilians often do, but rather, react with sympathy or avoidance.
After all, what the author cites as another absurd comment “it’s very,
very dangerous to go there”, is horrificly true. Rio and Săo Paulo
are documented today as having some of the highest crime ratios per capita
in the world.
No doubt Bahiana’s writings reflect simply the environment she has been
living in as well as her own personal experiences. More precisely, her
writings simply express the frustrations of a Brazilian who feels out of
place, belittled, without an identity, who ends up perpetuating the hasty
generalization that all Americans are stupid, tacky, and arrogant. To call
that an account of American culture is utterly preposterous.
It must be pointed out that had the author socialized with Americans
of post graduate and Ph.D. levels, commonplace especially in California,
her A to Z would have contained very different definitions. Besides, some
absurdities said by the white trash of America or the ordinary American
certainly does not top the absence of any knowledge of the povăo
of Brazil who, sadly, comprise around 80% of the population, one fourth
of which are illiterate. Some Brazilians are proud and love to boast about
themselves failing to realize that the 5% of Brazilians who are highly
educated and well off are by no means a representative sample of the population
The reality is that Brazilians have much to learn from America and Americans,
and perhaps through this learning process we can come to achieve the recognition
and appreciation we long for. Before the author publishes “America
de A a Z” part 2, let’s hope that Ana Maria Bahiana does a more extensive
and reliable job of research rather than focus on triviality and nonsense.
As far as myself, it may seem to some that I am spellbound by the American
dream and naďve to the problems that exist here. On the contrary, my academic
endeavors, constant traveling worldwide, and critical sense, simply forces
me to confront the truth even when it requires exposing the ills of the
land I love the most… my own country Brazil.
Iara Morton has a B.A. in Psychology & Social Behavior and is
a Law student.