Scholar Deborah Barros Leal Farias offers free seminars about Brazil
The Brazilian consulate has come up with a splendid way to educate Vancouver-area residents about the largest country in South America.
It's offering three free evening courses for the general public on September 5, 11, and 19 in room 7000 at SFU Harbour Centre from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Registration information is available here.)
I can attest to the quality of these presentations, which cover the history, geography, population, culture, politics, and economy of Brazil.
That's because on August 31, I attended a lively three-hour course for the media offered by the instructor, Déborah Barros Leal Farias, who was a professor at Brazil's University of Fortaleza's law department. She's a PhD student in UBC's political science department and a Liu Institute scholar.
Farias peppers her courses with colourful anecdotes about Brazil , which has a population of nearly 200 million and a gross domestic product approaching $2.5 trillion. I learned why hammocks are so popular in the northern part of the country, how some hand gestures can get you into trouble, and why Brazilians like dealing with people on a first-name basis. That predilection for first names is obvious to any soccer fan who's seen the back of the national team's uniforms, where every player seems to be identified this way.
She also explained why Brazilians often have several surnames. And I learned that most Brazilians don't self-identify as Latino or Hispanic.
This particular lecture focused on culture, which offered a wealth of information about Brazil's diversity. The Brazilian experience offers lessons for Canada—and possibly provides a glimpse into our future.
Miscegenation broke down boundaries
Farias began her presentation by stating that 80 percent percent of Brazilians trace part of their genetic heritage to Europe. But only 47.8 percent self-identify as "white", with 43.1 percent being "pardo", or mixed heritage, and 7.7. were black. Another 0.42 percent define themselves as Amerindian.
There are also 1.5 million people of Japanese descent, mostly in Sao Paulo. The first boat arrived from Japan in 1908, which was the same year that the Canadian government reached agreement with the Japanese government to limit immigration to this country to 1,000 people per year. In addition, Brazil attracted a significant number of Arab immigrants, mostly Christians from Lebanon and Syria.
She pointed out that in North America, there were "colonies of settlement", which meant that the British brought women over and created their own communities. Brazil, on the other hand, was a "colony of exploitation", where the goal was to extract as many resources as possible.
As a result, the earliest settlers were single Portugese men. And they formed relationships with indigenous women.
"There wasn't a cultural problem with miscegenation," Farias told the class.
Canada, on the other hand, didn't experience the same type of miscegenation, she explained. This has contributed to the present situation where people in North America are much more prone to recognize differences in race.
At the same time, there was a stigma for many years around being black in Brazil. So people who appeared to be black would self-identify as "pardo" in the census. But in recent years, the number of people self-identifying as black has increased by four million in Brazil. Part of the reason is that the stigma has diminished.
The Portugese relied heavily on the slave trade, bringing over four to five million people from Africa. That was 10 times the number taken to the United States. The journey was so much shorter between Africa and Brazil, so it was cheaper importing slaves there than to the U.S.
In 1888, Brazil was also the last country to abolish slavery. After the industrial revolution, the British had economic motives for promoting an end to the slave trade, because that made many of its products more economically competitive in world markets.
Farias told the class that Brazil now prides itself in being a "racial democracy". But she added a cautionary comment.
"In Brazil, racism exists, but it's different," she said.
Polling information has revealed that 71 percent of Brazilians say that colour and race can have an impact in the workplace, and 68 percent say it's felt in dealings with the police and justice systems. However, only 38.4 percent said that a person's colour and race have any impact on marriage.
Germans and Italians came in large numbers
Farias highlighted the large number of people of Italian ancestry in Brazil. Between 1870 and 1920, 42 percent of all immigrants were from Italy, including many families, who settled in the southern and southeastern part of the country.
Many came to work on coffee plantations and today, they have a huge presence in Sao Paulo. "Up to 25 million Brazilians may be of Italian descent," Farias said.
She also pointed to the large number of Germans who came in the early 19th century. Today, a third of the population in southern Brazil has German heritage, according to Farias. Perhaps it's no surprise that one of the largest Oktoberfests outside of Germany takes place in Brazil.
I wasn't able to attend two other presentations that Farias provided last week because I had to help get the Georgia Straight print edition out on time. However, the consul general of Portugal, Carlos de Sousa Amaro, told me at an August 31 celebration of Brazil at the Vancouver Museum that he attended Farias's course on Brazil's economy, and came away very impressed with her explanation of that country's ethanol industry.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.