Thursday, December 16, 2010

The risks of generalizing!

First of all, let me say this is Gil writing my first post on our blog.
When I started this blog Ray didn't write any posts for a while until fellow dear blogger Rachel from Rachel's Rantings in Rio found us and left a comment, then Ray jumped out of the couch and started writing, it was the boost he needed.
I had a couple of rough weeks with my health situation, you can find details HERE, I am not complaining, I lost 12 pounds in 7 days, Hallelujah!
There is a God, at least I got something out of all that pain :)
I am all good now! Thanks to all the readers who sent me "get well wishes", the love was much appreciated.
OK, let me jump right in...
I decided to write about this topic because I noticed that a lot of people generalize when talking or writing about Brazil.
It's probably OK to generalize when you are talking about small countries like Denmark or Portugal, although, even then, you might be running into a risk of not being totally accurate. But when it comes to countries like Brazil or the US, HUGE MISTAKE TO GENERALIZE, H U G E!
It's mainly not OK because the one who generalizes usually forgets to consider the exceptions, which in large countries practically becomes the rule.
That's why generalizing usually irritates me, specially when I am reading blog articles of certain foreign authors that pose as experts on Brazil just to lead to misinformation and disservice to those who really are in need of some guidance about the country they're going to visit or live in.
Hey, Boston has nothing to do with New Orleans as Salvador and Curitiba are worlds apart!
Brazil is an immense country, slightly bigger than the continental U.S. and it makes all the difference!
Yeah, yeah, I know, it doesn't look that big, we have to thank the Mercator projection ( World Map) for such ridiculous distortion.
But, yes, Brazil is that big! And being this big and having such a peculiar history, it's natural that the country feels like a colorful quilt in terms of differences in cultural traits, habits and ethnic build up.
So, if you dare to generalize, you most likely ignore a lot about Brazil.
For starters, we could say that roughly Brazil is divided in two - South and North.



The green states have a majority of whites while the orange states have a majority of mixed race folks 

The South is more European, principally because of the massive European immigration in the recent past. Europeans, naturally, tended to go to areas where the climate was more compatible with their nature and more similar to their native land.
The South is where the climate is mainly subtropical (hot temperate climate), like in Florida and Georgia, with chilly winters, hot humid summers and even a little bit of snow on the hills, not to mention mixed pine woods and prairies.
By the way, it is where you will see lots of blue eyed people of German, Polish or Ukrainian heritage, for example.
Gisele Bündchen, the famous Brazilian top model, is a typical example of a Brazilian "Sulista", which are the inhabitants of the 3 most southern Brazilian states (Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul).
She's part German, part Italian.
Ray as another example, is a Paulista that descends from English, German, Northern Italians, Hungarians, Spanish and French.
We could say that the hotter the climate gets or the further north you go in Brazil, the more people of mixed races you will find.
Many of the beautiful "mulatas" found in the northeast are a mix of Dutch and Portuguese settlers, African slaves and Native Brazilians. That is why you see such beautiful dark skin people, many times with awesome exotic blue and green eyes often called "pardos", which means brown.
The South and South Eastern parts of Brazil are where most of the wealth is concentrated.
This part of the country is were the infrastructure and services are more developed as a whole.
The Northern parts of Brazil are as tropical as it can get and much less developed. Here, you'll see lots of gorgeous beaches, the immenseness of the Amazon Rain Forest, palm trees, exotic fruits (unknown in the South), exotic food (some of them really strange to southern Brazilians palates) and "alien ways" in many aspects (from the southern perspective, of course).
You also find very spicy hot food in the North as well as the abundant use of cilantro (type of herb) for example, both which are somewhat unusual in the South.
Salvador da Bahia, the capital of Bahia state, has the biggest concentration of sub-Saharan Africans in Brazil-descendants of slaves.If I had to pick an American equivalent to give you some reference I would choose New Orleans, yes, Salvador is the Brazilian New Orleans because of its strong African influence on that city.
The most Northern part of the country, in the states of Pará and Amazonas, for example, there are more "mestiço or caboclo" population (mix of old Portuguese settlers and natives) and somewhat less mix of African slave descendants.
It's interesting to note that the migration of POOR northern Brazilians to the more developed South in search of jobs and a better life has historically caused an unsettling clash of cultures.
This social phenomena has created lots of problems from housing deficit to super population, slums and growth of violence in some metropolitan areas of the South, specially in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
The northern Brazilians are very easily recognizable because of their "typical" features and specially by their strong accent. Because of this, they have become easy target of blunt acts of hate and racism.
In Sao Paulo, for example, every person from any Northern or Northeastern state is called a "Baiano" (which are people from the state of Bahia) in a depreciating way. In Rio de Janeiro happens something similar. But there they call Brazilian Northeasterns "Paraíba" ( Paraiba is also a Northeastern state).
The differences are HUGE and both sides learn it the hard way.
So, please think twice before you generalize by writing Brazilians this and Brazilians that. You will be much more accurate by saying Cariocas this or Paulistas that or Baianos are, etc, etc...



Gil

5 comments:

Fiona said...

Thanks for your awesome post. Are there any books or resources you would recommend for people to learn a few basics about the country?

Gil and Ray said...

Fiona,

Thank you, that is very encouraging for my fist post :)
I would recommend you start with Gilberto Freire, he is a very popular Brazilian sociologist and discusses a lot of what I mentioned here, here is a link to his most famous work, "Racial Democracy" or Democracia Racial, that will help you understand a lot of Brazil in general.
Another interesting work by Gilberto Freire is "Casa Grande e Senzala" or "The Masters and the Slaves" published in 1933, very good reading.
"Brazil, country of the future" by Stefan Zweig, an Austrian author is also fun reading.
I am glad to see you are enjoying my reading... :)


Gil


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_democracy

Jim said...

When you are up for it, a post on a variety of fun and/or useful reading on Brazil and it's culture/people/politics would be grand!

Great post.

Gil and Ray said...

Jim,

Thanks, good idea!
Will work on a post like that.


Gil

Fiona said...

i second that motion!