Friday, December 17, 2004

Cultures Clashing: Brasil v. Estados Unidos (USA)

Talk about Cultures Clashing! Since I have taken an interest in Brazil, and visited twice, I have realized how similar the United States and Brazil are in many aspects. So it makes me sad to see our countries seemingly so diametrically opposed.

While the U.S. dominates North America, Brazil dominates South America. It is the largest economy in Latin America. The US economy is the largest in the world. And while the US shares the continent with only Mexico and Canada, Brazil shares with Peru, Columbia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and several other lesser known countries as well. And it is surrounded by countries that speak Spanish, while Brazilians speak Portuguese. At least the US has the advantage that English, as a language, dominates the world. Sure, not everyone speaks it, but it is studied in school systems all over the world and remains regarded as a key language for those in international business and government to learn.

Brazil has rich natural resources, as does the U.S. And it has mountains, prairie, savannahs, and also jungle (unlike the U.S.). Brazil has a polyglot of people of different ethnic backgrounds from Germany, Italy, Japan, the Middle East, and Africa, among other places. And each of these peoples have brought elements of their culture into the Brazilian landscape, creating a cultural polyglot. In fact, I would dare say that their original cultural ideas have been more largely adopted by larger Brazilian society than that of similar immigrants to the U.S. Like the U.S., Brazilian cities have German or Italian or Japanese neighborhoods and cuisine.

In geographic size, the two countries are very similar. And there are citizens of Brazil whose own personal wealth could easily compete with the U.S.' Donald Trumps and others. But the degree of separation between rich and poor and virtual lack of a middle class is something that distinguishes Brazil from the U.S. One study in 1995 showed that around 60% of the land was owned by 10% of the population, while 10% of the population had 90% of the wealth.

Like the U.S., Brazilians have a well developed media and entertainment industry with standards for television and film and music comparable and competitive world wide with U.S. product, unusual for a Third World country. You can say the same about advertising and marketing and fast approaching, telecommunications. Brazilians have one of the largest percentage of online users in the world. And cell phones are rampant. The consumer mentality of Brazilians in the upper classes is also very much like that of most Americans. But the economy has products that range in price from more expensive to comparable to very less expensive than the same products in the U.S. I like shopping in Brazil because I can often get a lot more for my money. Products like DVDs and electronics, though, can be more expensive, so I am selective in what I buy. But clothes, CDs, some books, food, handcrafted items, art, and many things are great deals. Even film developing and film itself. Whereas in Africa I can get 4 times what I could here for these items, in Brazil, I at least double, if not triple my money.

But a lot of Brazilians resent America. Why? 1) We call ourselves America. And they are in America, too. How pompous of us! (A lot of other Central and South American countries feel this way, as well as, Canada, too. We should really be more sensitive.) 2) We dominate the world economically and militarily in many ways. 3) Our culture permeates the world. Everywhere in the world people lust after American music, television, movies, clothing, electronics, etc. And often to the detriment of their own traditions and cultures. Truth is, when you travel around a lot and see how it is, it is not hard to understand the resentment. But often I feel the resentment of a lot of Brazilians is particularly sad, because their country often acts economically like the U.S. and has begun doing so militarily. It dominates its economic spectrum very much like we do.

I and many Brazilian friends were all excited when Lulu became Brazil's President and we all agreed that if he could only have an honest term, he could change Brazilian politics forever by showing them a new way is possible. He has tried. Though some key advisors have tried to screw it up. And the scariest part is Lulu is befriending diehard communists like Castro and moving Brazil in that direction. Brazilians may only be beginning to see the dangers of that. If they think they should have more and be more, just wait until they see the cost of communism. And Lulu frequently badmouths the American administration and makes it difficult for the U.S. to work with him. He makes strong demands that the U.S. often denies because they are only in Brazil's best interest, not the interests of the U.S. Because of this, though, many Brazilians say America is bullying them and trying to control them. But in reality, their President and ours are both putting their countries first. Isn't that what they were hired to do?

A lot of the anger comes from the war situation. Because the American economy was heavily impact and thus America's involvement all over the world lessened and it hurt every other economy that depends on us, including Brazil. Furthermore, U.S. interference in the government of other nations is regarded as more U.S. bullying into other people's interests. So a lot of people really resent it. But Brazil has its own similar history of bullying, though perhaps on a smaller scale, its neighbors economically and physically. And I think Brazilians tend to forget that and miss the reality of how much positive effect the U.S. work in Afghanistan and Iraq can have for the whole world in the long run. Yes, we are waiting to see. But dictators like the Taliban and Sadaam are never good for the world. Brazilians should remember more of their own history, with the military dictatorship and Vargas, among others. Were they as extreme as Sadaam? In silencing their critics with prison terms and torture, yes. In other ways, perhaps not. But nonetheless, I am surprised more Brazilians do not seem to recognize the parallels.

As Brazil continues to stretch her wings, acting as a peacemaker for the U.N. in Haiti and building its economic block, it will be interesting to see how many more parallels develop. I for one, hope Brazil can become more like the U.S. in equity between poor and rich. The U.S. is far from perfect, but there is a lot Brazil could immulate. I would like to see Brazil parallel the U.S. in education and jobs training programs. I would like to see Brazil become considered no longer Third World. But I hope Brazilians can see through their frustrations and distaste to find what is good to learn from us, as I hope we can do the same and learn from them. I think we both have a lot to contribute to each other. And I think the world would be a better place if we did.

No comments: