By Lily Fredericks, Brianna Kreft, and Hailee Thayer
If we had a soundtrack of our trip to Rio de Janeiro, “Girl From Rio” by Anitta would be the main track. We felt like main characters throughout our week there, especially when we were able to find our own way in the city and figure things out for ourselves. However, there were definitely times where we felt like the quintessential dumb Americans, such as when we looked like deer in the headlights when people tried to speak to us, when we couldn’t tell the uber driver where we were going, or when we ordered the completely wrong menu item. But we got good at laughing these things off, making the best of each situation despite often feeling out of place, and adapting to the surrounding situation and culture. Additionally, another thing that we noticed almost immediately when we stepped foot in Rio was that we did not get nearly as many stares and yells from people on the streets as we did in Salvador for looking so out of the ordinary. We quickly realized that this was because we actually did not look out of the ordinary in Rio where there is a much higher population of white folks than in Salvador, which has one of the highest populations of black and brown folks as we learned in class. As sad as it is, this made us feel safer than we felt in Salvador, because we were able to blend into the crowd more. We also discussed how Rio was simply more touristy than Salvador, which also could be a reason that we felt safer there.
Perhaps one of our favorite things we did while in Rio was a backstage Carnaval tour that we booked through Airbnb experiences. Even though we thought that the more scenic and popular activities like visiting Christ the Redeemer or Sugarloaf Mountain would be the highlights of our trip, while they were still amazing, the Carnaval tour was the most memorable because we really learned more about Brazilian culture and how big of a deal this event is for many Brazilians. We got to see the behind the scenes of the workings of the Samba school that was the winner of Carnaval in 2022. We got to see the breathtaking floats, costumes, and the hard work that constitutes the year-long preparation for Carnaval. We also got to learn what each float, costume, and dance represented, and the Samba school’s theme for this year was Candomblé, which was very cool to see considering we had learned all about this religion while in Salvador. To our surprise, at the end of the tour, we got to dress up in old Carnaval costumes and even dance with a professional Samba dancer. It was very fun, and we were able to let loose a bit, even in the company of strangers. Learning the details of what goes into Carnaval and the meaning behind it made us appreciate it even more than we already did.
Another favorite excursion of ours was visiting Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) and Sugarloaf Mountain. Even though it was slightly cloudy when we went up to see Christ, the views were still amazing. The statue was a lot bigger than we thought and we had to take pictures at a low angle to get him in it. While we were up there, we saw a group of men trying to take a picture. Like the nice Minnesota people we are, we offered to take one of them. They then offered to take one of us. We thought it would just be one and done, but this man proceeds to take individual pictures of us, even laying on the ground to get the right angle, and even posing us. Needless to say, we were surprised. The pictures turned out great and we are forever grateful for that man. We had better weather for Sugarloaf, though. We had booked a gondola ride to go all the way up the mountain. The views from the gondola were incredible, even if they packed us into the car like sardines. We were very surprised when the gondola moved as fast as it did, the longest stretch took only a few minutes to get up there. When we were at the first stop, we saw people rock climbing up the mountain. We had to look away because the height made us nervous for the climbers. Then at the second and final stop, we found it amazing that we could see the entire city of Rio. It seemed like the Cariocas were very proud of their city and there were many native Brazilians taking in the sites as well as tourists.
On our second or third night in the city, we were finally able to meet up with Lucia, who had generously been giving us very helpful advice about the city for some time. We had great conversations about culture in Rio and she was able to tell us about her life and her family, so it was fun to be able to see what life in Rio was like for her. We then attended the Flamengo basketball championship game. This was sort of nerve racking to us at first because there were a lot of yelling men and people in general, but once we got settled into our seats, we enjoyed ourselves and cheered the team on with the rest of the crowd. We had to move seats once because a group of guys kept looking at us up and down and trying to talk to us, and we just wanted to be able to see the game. Lucia and Pedro mentioned to us that the crowd would be mostly men, so we were not really surprised that this happened. But it was really interesting to see how much less popular basketball is in Brazil as this was a championship game yet only half the arena was full. However, the fans that were there were dedicated and relentless with their cheering, which was a fun thing to experience
On one of our last days, we visited both the Lapa stairs and the Cafeteria Colombo. The stairs were a very cool site to see and take pictures of, as they were entirely made up of colored tiles from around the world. We even saw an MN painted tile. There were also other very random tiles from cities across the U.S. as well as American popstars and American Universities. The whole time we were wondering how these tiles got here and what it took for one to get to place a tile on the stairs. We were also surprised by just how many people were visiting the stairs that day. We are not sure why, but we sort of thought that they would not be crowded at all. However, we realized that in a city as big as Rio, there are not many places that are vacant. Next, we went to the Cafeteria Colombo which Lucia told us was built in the 1800’s. The interior gave us very European vibes, which we thought was interesting, and we were able to sit down and get a cup of fancy coffee. In looking around, we could tell that this was sort of a tourist spot but also most likely a place for more wealthy Brazilians to come, as the prices were higher than we were used to seeing and people seemed to be dressed nice.
While our time in Rio was amazing and very smooth, our journey home was anything but. With multiple flight changes and a 12-hour delay in Sao Paulo, we had a lot of time to reflect on our trip to Rio and our time in Brazil as a whole. All three of us enjoyed our time immensely, not only doing the fun touristy stuff but more importantly, taking part in activities that taught us about Brazilian culture and history. We will forever be dreaming of Brazilian coffee, will forever remember the cultural importance of Capoeira, and of course, will forever be hunting for our next caipirinha.
What Each of Us Learned
Lily: I think what I learned most of all in Rio was how to be truly independent and how to be flexible when things do not go as you planned them. In Rio, we no longer had things being planned for us at every step in our day like we did in Salvador. We had to figure out what we wanted to do, how we were going to get there, and what we needed to do to prepare for this on our own – all in a new country and one of the biggest cities in the world. Additionally, there was at least one thing each day that threw a wrench in our plans. Perhaps things did not go at all how we expected, our plans were forced to change, we couldn’t communicate with someone, or we simply couldn’t find a destination. In any case, we were able to change our plans and make the most of our time in Rio regardless of the several roadblocks we experienced. I can honestly say I am very proud of us as three white girls from Minnesota who were able to successfully navigate a foreign city in our own and flourish in the process. Overall while in Brazil, however, I learned to have a new massive appreciation for a culture I never thought I would get to experience in a million years. I think I can take back certain aspects that are characteristic of many Brazilians such as being forward with one’s feelings, dancing like nobody is watching, eating all sorts of different foods together, and even hugging my loved ones every chance I get. Brazil may seem like such a faraway place coming from the U.S. that is seen as a great Western power. It may also seem like it was only a small part of my experience in life, but Brazil is a huge country full of such interesting people that have called it home their whole lives and are proud to be Brazilian. I will forever maintain the connection I made with my host mom, and I really hope to go back to Salvador and visit her one day because she taught me so much.
Bri: The most important lesson I took away from our trip to Rio is the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone. While the study abroad trip as a whole taught me this, I really thought about this after our time in Rio. During the program in Salvador, we were with a group of twenty students, two professors, host families, and of course, Clara Ramos. Our days were very detailed and well-planned out. Rio was the exact opposite. We had to plan our days ourselves, and Lucia and Pedro could only help via WhatsApp. This threw me out of my comfort zone. Yet, this is what I appreciated most about the Rio trip. We were forced to learn how to navigate the language barrier by ourselves, come up with a reasonable schedule, create alternative plans when weather became a problem, and explore a new city all on our own. I am very glad we ended our time in Brazil with a trip to Rio, because it gave me an opportunity to step out of comfort zone and learn more about what I am capable of.
Hailee: Overall, the program taught me many lessons, one being adaptability. I’m sure that the other two have written about this, but it was such an important lesson to learn and keep. There were times, even when things were planned for us in Salvador, when something would change our plans. I could either loosen up and go with the flow or I could resist and end up angry or stressed. I quickly learned that it was better to go with the flow and roll with the punches. In Rio, our boat tour kept getting pushed back or cancelled. We found different things around the area to keep us busy while we waited for the tour guide to respond. Our plans changed many times throughout the day, and it was a great lesson in adaptability and international travel in general. I would say that I’ve changed as a person just from these lessons. I am much more adaptable to situations, and I have a wider worldview just from living in a different country and then comparing two cities within that country. I am super grateful for this program and the experiences it provided me. I met so many great people (like my host parents) and made so many amazing memories that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
About the Authors:
Lily Fredericks recently graduated from CSB majoring in political science and minoring in environmental studies and psychology. She is originally from Eden Prairie, Minnesota and is interested in law, public policy, and different ways to protect the environment. She likes to play tennis and be outdoors.
Brianna Kreft is a senior at CSB/SJU, majoring in Political Science, and minoring in Environmental Studies and Psychology. She is originally from Elbow Lake, Minnesota. Brianna enjoys learning about gender issues and women’s empowerment. She has participated in multiple research opportunities focused on gender-related social justice issue. Brianna looks forward to being able to learn more about the country that she has been researching for the past two years.
Hailee Thayer recently graduated from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University with a major in Political Science and a minor in Gender Studies. She is from Prior Lake Minnesota. Hailee enjoys learning about the intersection of gender and aspects of everyday life as well as political representation. Hailee also enjoys reading in her free time and playing rugby.
By Kate McGlinch
In studying race, gender and inequality in Brazil, it is impossible to not recognize the structural and interpersonal violence against minority groups in the country. The multilayered discrimination against black Brazilians has sprawled across history and recent times. Coming from the United States, these issues were not unfamiliar to me; During our trip, ten black people in Buffalo, New York were shot to death in a supermarket in a racially-motivated hate crime.
Hateful ideologies feed into many instances of interpersonal violence like this which are, essentially, swept under the rug by the institutions and individuals holding power. Colorblind legislation allows for problems to be “fixed” without being fully addressed or validated. These things happen in both the United States and Brazil.
But while I am fully aware of these issues in the U.S., I had much to learn while studying abroad. Before embarking on our trip, our class read about the history of race relations and the so-called racial democracy of Brazil. We were visited by Ian Carrillo, who had conducted ethnography on how color-blindness manifests today in Brazil’s sugar-ethanol industries, among many other scholars both in-person and virtually. In his article describing his studies, Carrillo identified racial democracy as the portrayal of “centuries of slavery and sharecropping through a nostalgic lens in which masters enjoyed cordial relations with enslaved peoples. Rather than abhorring the power inequalities inherent in the denial of human freedom, racial democracy romanticizes paternalistic relations'' (Carrillo, 58).
I found this elaboration helpful in understanding the public reception of Mestiçagem and Freyre’s theories. Looking at the centuries of slavery and harsh oppression of Afro-Brazilians in this way seems to have provided the people perpetuating it with an escape hatch from guilt or accountability. Meanwhile the racism that continues today, though veiled, remains just as violent and repressive.
We also read chapters from “The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil”, which provided a comprehensive examination into how the identities of Brazilians interact with their political behaviors. In its conclusion, it is stated that “discussion on the role that violence plays in maintaining an Afro-Paradise where foreigners celebrate exotic black bodies at the same time that the state destroys these bodies through terror and killing, highlights how state actors create racial categories for economic and social gain. Exclusion and discrimination are violent” (Mitchell-Walthour, 222). I found this to be a corroboration to Carrillo’s description of color-blindness in Brazil’s institutions today.
In traveling to Brazil and observing life for different people there, I found these conclusions to be very real. While driving around Bahia, I spotted a lot of different billboards. Many promoted music while others marketed healthcare and beauty products. The differences in how these different interests were portrayed, however, seemed odd to me. While billboards for music and some beauty items included more people with darker skin tones, the billboards for healthcare almost always had just white people on them. Though pretty subtle in the grand scheme of things, these billboards seemed to reinforce the idea of higher education and employment in healthcare being more fitting for people with lighter skin. This was especially concerning to me as we had attended lectures talking about the reality of racial disparity in higher education. They emphasized that these pursuits are not “more fitting” of white Brazilians, rather, white Brazilians simply have much easier access to them.
Apart from my experiences in Salvador, the lectures played an important role in identifying institutional violence against black Brazilians. We were visited by Professor Wyllis Santos for a lecture on Afro-Brazilian religions, in which he described the actions taken by evangelical and Catholic churches to suppress Afro-Brazilian religious practices throughout history and today. While the aggressive enforcement of Catholicism happened through colonialism, evangelical pastors today have been teaming up with drug-traffickers in order to target Afro-Brazilian congregations. Additionally, militias (often populated by cops) have also joined forces with drug-traffickers in implementing restrictive power over favelas, especially in Rio, which are often majority black communities (Santos, 2022). These groups do not seem to be held accountable for their violence due to their ideologies being mostly in-line with the country’s current president.
Though this violence against black Brazilians is undeniable, the counteraction of black consciousness and empowerment seems to be supported with an equal level of determination. I was especially impressed by the work of the Pai de Santo Alcides and the Steve Biko Institute in their work for black communities in Brazil. As a practitioner of Candomble, Alcides emphasized positive work in one’s community as a principle of the religion. In his community, he started projects teaching children dental hygiene and building self-esteem in black women by teaching them how to do their hair (Alcides, 2022). The Steve Biko Institute, inspired by Steve Biko’s legacy of black consciousness and citizenship in South Africa, provides a “preparatory class for the entrance exam aimed at low-income black students - the first of its kind in Brazil” (Steve Biko Cultural Institute, 2014). Institutions like these, along with Afro-Brazilian percussion and dances in public spaces, voice opposition against racial discrimination in a sophisticated way. It seems that
Afro-Brazilians have grown more and more unapologetic for their African features, making a case for the importance of these features to Brazil itself. Whether through practicing Capoeira or creating educational opportunities for black Brazilians, there is a strong sense of empowerment in Salvador.
Carrillo, Ian. 2021. “Racialized Organizations and Color-Blind Racial Ideology in Brazil.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 7, no. 1 (January): 56–70. https://doi.org/10.1177/2332649220943223.
Mitchell-Walthour, Gladys L. The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil. Cambridge Studies in Stratiﬁcation Economics: Economics and Social Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. doi:10.1017/9781316888742.
Santos, Wyllis. “Candomble and Religions in Brazil.” Lecture, Instituto Clara Ramos, Salvador, BA, May 16, 2022.
Alcides (Pai de Santo). “The Practice of Candomble.” Lecture, Instituto Clara Ramos, Salvador, BA, May 16, 2022.
“Projetos: Pre-Vestibular.” Instituto Cultural Beneficente Steve Biko. Instituto Cultural Steve Biko, 2014. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://www.stevebiko.org.br/projetos
Kate McGlinch is a sophomore at CSB/SJU with a major in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. She is from St. Paul, Minnesota. Her academic interests include justice and reformation in politics as well as policy for social issues. She looks forward to understanding Brazilian politics and culture in a more holistic way while studying abroad.
By Julia Krystofiak and Grace Terlinden
Class inequality is very apparent throughout Brazil and was especially prevalent in the city of Salvador, Bahia. One of the most significant manifestations of this class inequality can be observed in housing disparities between the interior and the periphery of the city. The interior of the city houses most upper class and upper middle-class people in Bahia, while the periphery, or suburbs, is home to many lower middle-class and lower-class people. The dominant class status in these distinct areas is represented by available housing, the presence of retail and restaurants, and personal transportation (cars, motorcycles, etc.) among other things.
Our host families lived in the interior of the city in upper middle-class neighborhoods called Graça and Vitoria. The interior of the city is abundant with polished high-rise apartment buildings, shopping centers, drug stores, and restaurants. Most people in the interior of Salvador commuted through the city in their newer, personal cars or had family drivers. Their apartment buildings had doormen and maids that watched over and maintained their living spaces. Many of these buildings also had special “service” doors and elevators, representing separation by class even within the interior of the city.
Favelas are large communities often located on the outer parts of larger cities. Our tour guide, Fredi, described the favelas as unregulated communities in which the residents build their own residences and aren’t required to pay rent or any tax on their property, because they essentially have no legal right to the land. The enormous population of the favelas is what keeps the government from forcibly removing the residents but engages in discriminatory practices that keep the residents of favelas from gaining equal opportunities. The two physical distinctions of favelas that Fredi pointed out are: they are located in the outskirts of the city and far away from the “inner city” and favelas expand horizontally while the inner-city expands vertically.
The favela communities are typically viewed as dangerous, and the Brazilian police have tried to “pacify” these communities by increasing patrol in the neighborhoods and using other proactive policing strategies (Mitchell-Walthour 2017, 220). Policies such as these claim to be for the public good, but they are proven to be violent themselves, and have resulted in the mass killings of innocent residents (Mitchell-Walthour 2017, 220). Bolsonaro has exacerbated these tensions between racial and class groups, through fueling Brazilians fear of crime (Chagas-Bastos 2019). Recent research has supported the claim that Bolsonaro's “environment of fear” utilized in his campaign, has increased violence between social groups (Chagas-Bastos 2019). Bolsonaro’s position on race and class in general is important to understand the future of favelas and inequality as his impact lasts beyond his time in office.
It is important to note that these class disparities are inextricably connected to race and racism (Mitchell-Walthour 2017). Discussions about issues concerning class in Brazil often exclude the role that race plays in class disparities, likely due to the myth of mestiçagem (Mitchell-Walthour 2017, Marshall 2017). Ideas about Brazil being a racial democracy suggest that societal disparities are more related to class than race because the racial spectrum in Brazil produces a society in which racism “cannot exist” (Marshall 2017). In contrast to Freyre’s myth of mestiçagem, class status, in addition to physical features and phenotype, is used in Brazil to classify people into different racial categories (Mitchell-Walthour 2017). Elites engage with the narrative surrounding inequality by claiming that policies that help to decrease inequalities exist only because of prejudice against elites (Carrillo 2020). This practice of victimizing themselves has subsequently made light of the real racial and economic inequalities that exist and persist because of the elites’ practices (Carrillo 2020).
Eakin, Marshall C. 2017. " The Beautiful Game: Performing the Freyrean Vision," in Becoming Brazilians: Race and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316800058.
Fabrício H. Chagas-Bastos. "Political Realignment in Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro and the Right Turn". Revista de Estudios Sociales, no. 69 (2019): 92-100. https://doi.org/10.7440/res69.2019.08
Ian, Carrillo. “Racialized Organizations and Color-Blind Racial Ideology in Brazil,” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 7 (1): 56-70. doi:10.1177/2332649220943223.
Mitchell-Walthour, Gladys L. 2017. The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil.”Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316888742.001.
Julia Krystofiak is going into her senior year at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. She is pursuing a degree in political science and data analytics and hopes to attend graduate school following her undergraduate studies. She is originally from Mounds View, MN. Julia enjoys learning about gendered power structures, international relations, and civil conflict. She has been involved in multiple research projects focusing on gendered and populist rhetoric, which is extremely relevant to Brazil under Bolsonaro. She looks forward to better understanding human impact on the climate and natural world in the context of Brazil!
Grace Terlinden is a rising senior at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, pursing degrees in English and Political Science. She is originally from Big Lake, Minnesota.
She enjoys learning about international relations through her involvement in Model United Nations. She is very excited to learn more about Brazilian politics and life in Brazil while