From Brazil blog founder and editor Vincent Bevins recently spent some time in his hometown of Los Angeles. Here he reports on attitudes to Brazil in the US, and the differences between his former, and his adopted, homes.
By Vincent Bevins
In the second half of 2015, I spent a bit of time away from Brazil, in Los Angeles, the city where I grew up. It was the first time since my arrival in São Paulo in 2010 that I had been out of the country for consecutive months, and the first time since 2007 that I’d spent more than a few weeks at a time here in the US.
Rather than just put up a standard blog **Vacation notice** we had the excellent James Young handle the blog while I was gone, and he’ll be continuing as an editor in the future. I also tried to make use of my time in the world’s most powerful country to reflect a little on Brazil’s relationship to the rest of the world. A number of things struck me.
So here’s a few quick thoughts from the US:
No one understands Brazil
It never ceased to amaze me how little people know about the other most populous* country in the Western Hemisphere. Even among dedicated readers of international news, few people know much more than “Brazil had a boom and then the World Cup, right?” People that know that that boom has fallen apart, or why, or that there is a political crisis, are quite hard to find.
And of course, the average person in the US, who doesn’t keep up with international current affairs, is an entirely different story. He or she is unlikely to know more than that Brazil is “South of the Border,” where the people probably speak Spanish.
Brazilians that travel abroad are reminded too often of this. But I have to admit I found myself shocked.
All of this can be a bit humbling for those of us who make a living trying to tell the story of Latin America in the English language, and sometimes even take risks to do so. It has been easy to meet people that don’t even know newspapers actually have international news or people stationed abroad. Hearing things like this became normal to me.
Of course, a caveat is in order. It is granted that I am in Los Angeles, a city where being a Kardashian is not only acceptable, but richly rewarded. When I went to Russia recently, or when I am back in London, people have been a bit more keyed in.
But in the US, nope. Basically no one knows or cares.
The US isn’t that great, and Brazil’s not that bad
Two years ago, in this blog’s most popular post ever, I wrote that after so much time, I found that adapting to life in Brazil meant adopting some wonderful practices, but also adopting attitudes I found deeply regrettable. Then, the issue was classism.
But upon returning to the US, I found that I had also bought into the very common myth that everything is great in the USA, that life here is the serene endpoint of the shining path to development. If Brazil could only hunker down and do everything right politically and economically, we think, for maybe a generation, or two, or three, we could live the dream of functioning advanced capitalism like they have in North America.
Back in 2015 American reality, this ideology lasts about five minutes. Considering that US GDP per capita is over five times larger than Brazil’s, things here are remarkably crap. The homeless problem in Los Angeles is just as bad as São Paulo’s “cracolândia,” if not worse. Healthcare is an expensive mess. Poverty and child hunger are real. Our tax dollars have recently been used on bloody and hugely disastrous wars few even support any more. I ask, heretically, is this so much better than accepting bribes for oil contracts?
Nice old grandmothers here are terrified of the police – even white ones! Then there are our seething racial wounds. It would not be hard to go on.
Even as the crisis drags on in Brazil, and even as I returned and visited some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, I often got to thinking, quietly, that this isn’t really that bad.
Yeah, life here is better than in Brazil. Of course. This is the richest country in the history of humanity, and your odds of material comfort are much, much higher. The murder rate is much lower than in Brazil, where it should be a national emergency.
And yes, in the US, cars and things are cheaper and the supermarkets have way more stuff.
But the gap in welfare between the two countries is not nearly as large as is accepted as common sense in Brazil.
Hip Hop Nation
Last point. Bear with me. The final thing that shocked me is the extent to which hip hop is the official sound of the United States. This felt so radical coming back from Brazil, where many – far too many – still view rap or hip hop as a deviant, dangerous genre they associate with an irredeemable underclass.
Not so in the US. This summer in Los Angeles, “Trap Queen” was so ubiquitous it felt as if they were pumping it through massive speakers throughout the city. Since that faded away, “Hotline Bling,” became our temporary national anthem.
That part has been nice.
*Edited for clarity after publication