RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – You probably have to be a millennial or older to remember this joke from the early days of America’s 21st century misadventures in the Middle East. President George W. Bush is getting his daily briefing from his cohorts Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. “Well, Sir,” Cheney says. “We took on 21 U.S. casualties in Iraq yesterday.” “Alright…well, that’s sad,” Bush responds. “One more thing,” says Rumsfeld. “Thirteen Brazilian peacekeepers were seriously wounded in Afghanistan.”
Bush’s face turns pale and he seems lost for words. Cheney and Rumsfeld eye each other quizzically. Why is the president so worked up? Bush paces the Oval Office, muttering and shaking his head. Finally, he squints his eyes, turns to the two and asks, “OK boys, give it to me straight. Exactly how many is a Brazilian?”
The joke – if you deem it to be one – was obviously meant to imply Bush Jr. wasn’t the brightest bulb of his family. But there is something interesting about the word “Brazilian” being used to mean, “a great number of people.” Specifically, “a great number of very different people.”
Brazil is among the planet’s most heterogeneous societies. We’ll let the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research do some of the heavy info lifting here: “[Brazil’s population is] the result of five centuries of interethnic crosses between peoples from three continents: Amerindians, Europeans and Africans …From the middle of the 16th century, Africans were brought to Brazil to work on sugarcane farms and, later, in the gold and diamond mines and on coffee plantations.
Historical records suggest that between circa 1550 and 1850 (when the slave trade was abolished), around four million Africans arrived in Brazil. In reference to the European immigration, it is estimated that about 500,000 Portuguese arrived in the country between 1500 and 1808. From then on, the Brazilian ports were legally opened to all friendly nations. Significantly, in the approximately 100-year period from 1872 to 1975, Brazil received at least 5.5 million other immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world.”
The Journal lists these non-African immigrants by percentage – Italians: 34, Portuguese: 29, Spanish: 14, Japanese: 5, Germans: 4, Lebanese and Syrians: 2 percent, with 12 percent making up the nebulous “other” category. When you mix in the native peoples – and they were not a single “people” but “peoples” – along with those cruelly taken from Africa in the slave trade, Brazil may well make the United States’ claim of being the world’s “melting pot” seem more like a relatively bland U.S. salad.
An interesting side effect of the coronavirus – and let’s keep hoping we’re closing in on the end of this Covid-19 nightmare – is a new-found interest in genealogy. Perhaps the tragically sad loss of so much history in the 2018 fire that destroyed the National Museum of Brazil has spurred some to investigate their origin stories. Another reason could be health-related; certain racial groups are more prone to certain types of ailments and knowledge is power. Others, in all likelihood, are simply curious – or perhaps bored during lockdowns.
Whatever the reason, it’s becoming ever easier and ever cheaper for Brazilians to trace their ancestry, or for those who believe they have a connection to this nation, to trace your Brazilian roots. Perhaps you’d be interested in joining many other Brazilians in checking your DNA status during the coronavirus pandemic via home DNA testing kits. Home DNA testing now offers a magnificently wide range of information on one’s ancestry.
A starter ancestry test might be the best introduction to “DNA for Dummies” as it were; offering very simple beginner information about your links to present-day population groups as well as your heritage. Using the kits is astonishingly simple, and modern analysis is now incredibly reliable. Simply find the home DNA test kit company that fits your needs – cost, time, accuracy, etc. – then send in the swab and get ready for surprises. And trust us, when it comes to people with links to Brazil, there are going to be surprises.
An important thing to bear in mind is you are not your DNA. Wherever your ascendants hailed from has little bearing on the person you’ve evolved to be. The info is interesting – and sometimes useful, such as in the case of medical data – but should never be allowed to prop up stereotypes or, heaven forbid, lead to feelings of superiority or inferiority. After all, we all came from Africa and we all, quite literally are descended from a primate accentor who had two “Eves.” One line which would become gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos – our closest living relatives – while the other would slowly transform into hominids. And of course, the last hominids to survive are now better known as humans.