Brazil: The Country of the Future?

This look at Brazil is meant to help students understand how history helps explain the both the joys and the suffering of life in Brazil.

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In April 2003, I walked along a scenic road with my girlfriend and best friend in the northeastern city of Salvador, Brazil. To the left, a precipice overlooked a stunning view of the sparkling emerald blue-green waters of the bay. To the right, the half-finished homes of a favela continued up a hill, looking as if each shack had climbed onto the shoulders of the one below. My friend, Noah, basked in the beauty of the seaside paradise and the small fishing boats meandering out into the deeper waters. He pulled out his camera. I looked further down the road and saw three male teenagers approaching in sandals, shorts, and tank-tops.  They were wielding machetes. I thought we were in trouble. I was right. They held out their machetes and demanded all of our money and Noah’s camera.

That event on our scenic stroll reveals much of what is entrancing and frightening about Brazil. It is a country of great physical and cultural beauty and of incredible charm. It is also a place of troubling inequality, racism, crime, and despair. How and why does one country manage to combine such wonderful attributes with so much disappointment? 

What do you know about Brazil? Take a moment and think about it. There are a few common images many people hold about Brazil: beautiful sandy beaches, lavish costumes and mega street-parties during Carnival, and the magical dribbles and shots of soccer stars like Pele. To some extent, Brazilian popular culture reflects and even perpetuate those images with songs like Daniela Mercury’s “Brazil: Tropical Country.” Places like the northeastern city of Salvador, that calls itself the “Capital of Joy” have official slogans that support this mirage. A deeper look at the country, however, reveals considerable complexity. A conversation with most Brazilians would portray a nuanced view of their homeland’s virtues and faults as well as its past and its future.

There is a saying among Brazilians that Brazil is “the country of the future and it always will be.” What does this mean? On first glance, it appears to be a positive reference to Brazil’s expansive horizon. Looking deeper, however, it is clear that the saying is actually derogatory. Brazil is the country of the future, but never of the present. It always has hope and possibilities but it never achieves its goals. 

This see-saw between hope and pessimism is common in Brazil. We could say that Brazil is one of the most beloved countries in the world. Everyone seems to love Brazil...except for the two hundred million or so Brazilians who live there. What are their concerns about their homeland and what historical events help to explain the country’s constant failure to live up to expectations? 

Here are a few recent headlines, in June 2019, from the New York Times about Brazil:

 

“Soccer Star Neymar Denies Rape Accusation”

“Prison Fighting Leaves at least 55 dead in Northern Brazil”

“‘They Came to Kill’ Almost 5 Die Daily at the Hands of Rio’s Police”

“Save the Amazon from Bolsonaro”

“Brazil’s President tells Armed Forces to Commemorate Military Coup”

 

These articles reveal a number of important issues in Brazil today: the importance of soccer, gender and sexual violence, crime and criminal justice, police brutality, environmental preservation vs. destruction, the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, and the historical memory of Brazil’s military dictatorship. A deep look at Brazil’s history will allow us to understand those headlines and the complexities that lay beneath them.

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MEET PELE

Commonly considered the greatest soccer player of all time and perhaps the most famous Brazilian ever.

MEET CAETANO VELOSO

One of the great Brazilian singers and a key figure in the protest movements against the military dictatorships.

MEET LULA

Brazil's first working-class and leftist President, he led Brazil through a period of economic success and political stability. Then he found himself in jail.

THE UNIT

This unit on modern Brazil spans the period from colonization to the present, attempting to understand the great complexities and contradictions of the country. How can one place be the site of so much joy and beauty while millions also experience misery and despair?

VISITOR'S GUIDE

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

Before you begin exploring the exhibits, look at the Visitor Info and make sure you've downloaded the Visitor's Guide to help record key information. Here are some big questions you should consider throughout your visit:

  • How and why did colonialism in India change over time?

  • What caused Indian independence?

  • Why was the Indian independence movement important? 

  • How and why did opposition to colonialism in India change over time?

  • Why is colonialism in India such a politically charged topic?

  • What are the legacies of colonialism for India?

  • How did British colonialism impact India--in what ways, and on whom?

ASSESSMENTS

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