Letter to the Editor, by Tamara Ramos
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I am the daughter of a multicultural and contradictory country called Brazil. There are Spaniards, Africans, Portuguese, indigenous Indians and Italians in my genealogy. Among my facebook friends, there are there are English, Norwegians, Japanese, Korean, Swiss, Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Canadians, Americans, Africans, French and Italians, most of them born or now residents in Brazil. Immigration to Brazil began in 1530, only thirty years after the discovery of the country.
We have therefore been mongrels from the beginning of our history. The Brazilian population is a mix of many cultures. A colorful and rich mosaic united by a common language, but not exactly by the same cultural taste.
I am a Brazilian who does not listen to forró, never goes to the samba schools, who is not crazy about beaches and hot summers, who hates corruption and is terrified of violence. When traveling in Europe I hear strange comments from officials at customs. When they open my passport and look at my photo, they say, “Are you sure that you’re Brazilian? You don’t look like one.”
But these comments make me cringe. What would the face of a Brazilian citizen look like? Distrust of customs officials makes me reflect on an important issue: how much longer will Brazilians be victims of stereotyping? If they think I don’t look Brazilian, is surely because they have a well-defined idea of our identity and physical appearance.
I decided to search on the internet about Brazilian culture in the world. In a few minutes, everything became clear. Unfortunately, foreigners are coming into contact with only a part of our culture. I checked the schedules of Brazilian cultural events abroad, and don’t feel that I am represented. Brazil is not just made up of samba, football, favelas, Indian tribes, naked woman and coconut water.
Here in Brazil we also produce good popular and classical music, fine arts of the highest quality, great food, modern and smart literature on the same level of the greatest international writers. But when I visited libraries in Europe, I couldn’t find our beautiful works featured there. The only Brazilian author who actually sells abroad is Paulo Coelho, who has – by coincidence or irony – never used the national scenario to tell his stories.
A French friend tells me that I am not a typical Brazilian. I’m trying to understand what she means by that. I am a well-educated woman who travels a lot, reads a lot, enjoys good food and impressionist art, visits museums, listens to opera and speaks fluent English. But all these characteristics were acquired right here, in Brazil. I’m not rich, I was not educated in Switzerland and encountered Europe only at the age of thirty-three. Therefore, all that I am, I owe to Brazil.
But which ‘Brazil’? The Brazil responsible for my scholarship does not appear on foreign websites. This is a Brazil that the world ignores because it is not sufficiently ethnic or exotic enough to appeal to tourists and investors hungry for a big attraction.
My education is globalized because I was born and grew up in a gigantic and rich culture full of diversity. Here in Brazil, I frequent Italian restaurants, I shop in Japanese neighborhoods, visit exhibitions of Spanish art, watch American music shows, go to bookstores and also appreciate a good feijoada from Bahia. My Brazilianness is genuine, for I am the great-granddaughter of indigenous Indian mixed with Portuguese, which allows me to talk with real ownership about this Brazil that foreigners are unaware of.
Brazil is not a perfect country. We have very serious problems such as socio-economic inequality, corruption, lack of public security, deficits in education, neglected health services, hunger and misery. But this is not the complete picture. In Brazil there are a lot of educated people who well informed about world events, responsible and committed to doing a good job.
It is time for foreign countries to get closer to this other Brazil. My Brazil. The Brazil where thousands of people like me who do not listen to funk, do not take their clothes off at carnival, do not play barefoot football, do not traffic drugs on the street, who do not steal from people or prostitute themselves, as our national cinema insists on caricaturing. It’s time the world knew another kind of authentic Brazilian, proud of the country that gave them a good education, opportunities and a great culture.
The next time I visit Europe, I would like to hear the following phrase from officials at Customs, “Brazilian? I thought so!”
According to Tamara Ramos, she is one of the most innovative Brazilian writers of the contemporary literary scene. She is the author of many books, including “A Neurotic on the Couch”, “A Tango for Alice”, “Irina Bloom”, “Fiona and the Secret Garden” and “Artist’s Head – An Essay”. Ramos represented Brazil at the Geneva Book Fair in 2013. Her work has received various local awards, and one of her books had the rights acquired by a major Brazilian film production company.