Just after the street protests broke out in Brazil last month, Megan Farrell, an American who lives in São Paulo with her Brazilian spouse, contributed a guest post to the Displaced Nation.
Megan was very honest in admitting that she had previously taken little notice of politics or social issues in Brazil:
Being displaced … makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.
I, too, am an expat in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, albeit from the UK. Like Megan, I didn’t initially involve myself in Brazil’s latest political movement—but my reasoning was a little different from hers.
I’m someone who self-identifies as politically engaged and active. Back in the UK I was a union rep at my workplace and I’ve been involved in protest movements since my student days, the most prominent being those against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Additionally, as a social worker and student of social sciences, it’s second nature to be socially and politically aware of what is going on around me, whether that be at home or elsewhere.
Why, then, would I be reticent to involve myself in the politics of the protests that were going on around me here in São Paulo?
Not my fight to fight
Despite broadly agreeing with the objectives of the early protests (about a rise in bus fares which as a daily user of public transport, by which I was directly affected), I felt that as a gringo and a guest of Brazil, it wasn’t my place to get involved.
To be honest, I even felt a little reluctant to use social media to post articles or comment upon what was happening, and when I was asked to cover the protests for a site in the UK, my first inclination was to turn it down.
As a foreigner I was sensitive to being seen by Brazilians as poking my nose into their affairs. Additionally, I was also quite aware that there is a lot of history and background behind these protests that I am only, at best, partly aware of.
On top of this, Portuguese is my second language, so whilst I can read it without too much problem, I was apprehensive of inadvertently misconstruing a tweet, newspaper article or blog post, and using ill-informed or partly understood information to inform my opinions.
Eventually, however, I went out on the streets.
What led me to change my mind?
What was my impetus for joining the protests? I think it was seeing the extent of the violence (rubber bullets, tear gas, etc) the police used against what was widely reported as peaceful protest in São Paulo on 13 June.
And it wasn’t just me. The harsh police response was a turning point for many Brazilians as well, because while it may have successfully extinguished the 13 June protest, it also had the converse effect of igniting far broader outrage across the city and the whole of the country. At the same time, it provided an opportunity for a far wider array of grievances to be voiced (most of which Megan notes in her article so I won’t go into them again here).
Once I’d been out on the streets I felt a little bit more confident about joining in the discussion myself. When a couple of photographs I’d posted got a bit of attention on Twitter, and Planet Ivy in the UK—an online news magazine started up by a team of young, adventurous journalists—asked me to cover the protests, I agreed.
A duty to inform the folks back home
My decision was largely influenced by my realization that people at home in the UK—as first my mum and then Planet Ivy made me aware—were largely unaware of what was going on.
In Megan’s post, she mentioned her disbelief at how her friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, and sports teams:
How could this be? How could they just not care?
Like her, I had the sense of being in the middle of something big and important, and for a while just assumed that everyone else around the world must be aware of it as well.
If I stopped to think about it, of course, no one is ever as interested in an event who are on the scene. But once I realized that there were people out there who wanted or needed to know more, I thought I could do my bit to inform them.
Another motivating factor was the need to correct the widespread misperceptions of the Brazil’s situation—in particular, the negative press the country has been receiving in the UK with regards to its preparations for the 2014 World Cup.
Whilst a fair amount of that criticism has been justified, it occasionally feels as though the UK press has some sort of vendetta against Brazil, with every news story seemingly inferring that “this once again casts doubts about the safety of Brazil and its ability to host a major international event.”
Alas, I thought, even if I am a naïve foreigner living in and writing about Brazil, I could at least provide some insight about what is actually going on at street level.
A closer connection with my adopted land
As an aside to this, one interesting thing about the protests is that they’ve helped alter my perception of the connection I have with São Paulo and Brazil.
Obviously, through my Brazilian wife and my residency in São Paulo, that connection is now much deeper than before. However, and as mentioned in my last post, in the 18 months since moving here I’ve evolved from whining expat (or “exbrat,” as Megan likes to say) to being an avid proponent of my new home.
My decision to join in the nation’s protests—whether participating on the streets or discussing and sharing the issues with people online—was a kind of watershed moment, effectively making the transition complete.
Of course, I’ll always primarily consider myself a Londoner, a Brit and a European (a fact I’m constantly reminded of by my Brazilian friends and family, who refer to me as “the gringo”), but increasingly I feel just as proud to be quasi-Paulistano*.
*People from São Paulo refer to themselves as Paulistanos.
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COMING SOON: Andy’s interview Megan Farrell about her new book on expat life in São Paulo.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, from our travelogue writing coach Jack the Hack.
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images: Photo of protesters in São Paulo, June 2103, by Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.