Brazil Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

I have to say, Brazilians can be quite flattering when they walk up to me and ask for help, thinking I’m Brazilian, too.  Where is this bus going?  What is the price of that? Do you know…?  These are the lines I’ve managed to decipher opposed to the multitude of questions that have left me walking away wondering what I had just skeptically nodded yes to.  Whether you study a different language or not, you can relate to the smiling, nodding and having absolutely no clue what words are coming out of someone’s mouth (foreign language just adds a new element to this situation).  Three weeks into school, I’m learning when and when not to inadvertently nod my head in agreement and understanding.  As a side note, there should be a verb for this- it happens far too often to not earn a verb.  Thankfully, I understand my lectures more often than not, and I feel confident enough to share what I’ve learned about Brazil, including politics, history and poverty thus far.  Here is your EXTREMELY CONDENSED Brazil 101 lecture.  Nod along, friends.

History of Brazil


Once upon a time in world history was the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), which divided the world into two parts: one for Spain and one for Portugal.  As I am sure you all know, this meant Portugal owned a small section of the east coast of South America and Spain got the rest.  Putting two and two together, this explains why Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese instead of Spanish (yes, they are both romantic languages; no, they are not the same!).  Pedro Álvares Cabral was the first explorer to land on Brazil and claim it as Portugal’s for the king.  If you want it to seem like you know something about Brazilian history, remember Cabral- he’s a big deal in Brazilian history, and he always comes up in class discussions and literature.


Mid 1500’s slavery of Native Americans and Africans began and the sugarcane industry flourished in Brazil.  Basically, the Portuguese exploited the beautiful land for natural resources (a common theme for colonization of South American countries) and the people for work.  Although there was a large production of sugarcane, the Portuguese were hoping to find more, such as gold.  Fulfilling their desire, they sent “bandeirantes,” or explorers, further inland where they would later find gold and enslave more Native Americans.  As a result of their excursions, Brazil expanded its territory, growing closer to its actual size today.  All of this happened over the span of approximately 200 years.


In the year 1822, Portugal Prince Pedro decided to stay in Brazil after King João and the rest of the royal family returned to Portugal due to a severe economic crisis.  This day, January 9th, is known as “Dia do Fico,” which translates to “Day of ‘I stay.'”  Later that same year, Brazil won its independence and began its loooooong journey ahead as a sovereign nation.

Brazil Today

Things could be better.  Socially, racial tensions are high because of, ding ding, you guessed it- slavery, which was only truly abolished and terminated in 1888.  Not surprisingly, this also explains some of the economic disparity in Brazil.  Favelas* (pictured below), predominately populated by “mulatos,” are a reality for far too many Brazilians.  Possibly more impactful on the economic struggle are politics.  Politically, Brazil has been struggling to establish a functioning, efficient government since the revival of their democracy in 1985 (previously a military dictatorship) and still lag behind many aspects of governing that we Americans would consider obvious.  For example, it was just in 2012 that housekeepers gained legal employment supervision and rights (think: minimum wage, regulated hours, etc.).  Beyond these issues, corruption and violence inundates the country in various ways (keep reading).

Centro Cultural Vila Prudente
*Favelas are extremely impoverished communities in large cities. Think: Rio de Janeiro in Fast & Furious Five or City of God.  The impossibly small homes are so close that you can probably hear your neighbor snoring from three doors down.  Dangerous, violent and poor are probably the three most common characteristics depicted in the movies, and, undoubtedly, this can true.  However, after our program visit to the oldest favela in São Paulo, I learned three new adjectives to describe these communities: tight-knit, humble and honest.  I found that there is something beautiful about the sense of community the people create there.  Clothes hang on lines outside, doors to nearly every home are open, and kids blissfully play in between the buildings without a care in the world.
Current Events

BREAKING NEWS! Ex-President Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula), who served from 2003-2011 and anticipated running again in 2018, was arrested March 5, 2016 for questioning regarding the ongoing Petrobras scandal (laundering millions of dollars through the oil sales, involvement of his affiliated political party, etc.).  If guilty, Lula could be seeing lots of time behind bars.  What’s more, he has been a mentor to current president Dilma Rousseff before she was even elected as President.  Translation: If Lula goes down, he’s likely taking Dilma down with him.  Cue the impeachment that has been a hot debate and  circulating the country the past year.  Looks like the ex-president won’t be making new campaign signs for 2018 with all of that embezzled cash money.


  • E aí?– What’s up
  • Lava Jato– Car wash (also the name of the scandal involving Petrobras)
  • Gato– Cat or good looking (remember: they use “gato/inha” as a cat call here)
  • Sorvete– Ice cream
  • Ônibus– Bus


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