Written by Sinclair Blue, (Georgetown University) Student Correspondent CET Brazil, Fall 2018
“A cidade é grande
As pessoas muitas
E eu por aí
Sem te encontrar”
-Luedji Luna, Banho do Folhas
Anyone who is coming to Brazil is bound to ask the infamous question: São Paulo or Rio? For me, the answer was clear – Rio! I asked all my friends what they thought, and everyone had a similar line “Rio is a cool place to visit, but São Paulo is better to live.” Still, my heart longed for Rio. But my school’s program in Rio was cancelled for security reasons, and after the assassination of Marielle Franco, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Thus began the search to figure out how my life would be in São Paulo.
I googled everything – gay clubs, vegan food, natural hair salons, mosques, capoeira classes, and on. As it usually goes, my searches were mostly unnecessary. I arrived in São Paulo, and aside from being well taken care of by the CET Staff, the city just seemed to open itself up to me. Walking down Avenida Paulista and 24 de Maio, the city’s most famous streets, it seems like São Paulo is even gayer than New York. I asked a friend, Douglass, and he told me that after a gay couple was physically assaulted on Avenida Paulista, some Paulistanos make it a point to be visible. It was also relatively easy to find a mosque in São Paulo, as there is a sizable community of Lebanese immigrants, and more recently, Syrian refugees. There are also vegan restaurants galore, my favorite being right up the street from our apartment – an all you can eat vegan buffet for just $7! I’ve been enjoying the many free museums and cultural exhibitions located conveniently in and around the city center. My favorite so far has been the SESC on 24 de Maio, where an exhibit about Jamaica details the island’s history of political resistance through music.
Yet, for all the things I have been able to do and see in São Paulo, I can’t help but feel that there is something amiss. The center of the city is largely inaccessible to many of São Paulo’s residents. The further from the center you go, the poorer the neighborhoods get (the ‘outskirts’ are known as the periphery). The distribution of wealth correlates strongly (and unsurprisingly) with race, producing a range of disparities. For instance, life expectancy is about 25 years younger in the periphery than in the center. And really, I’ve seen like THREE black people in our neighborhood. I know that being American allows me to experience São Paulo in ways many Paulistanos cannot, but it is a difficult privilege to navigate. I am often perceived as wealthy, simply for being American, even though I am a scholarship student who worked two jobs to be able to afford study abroad. Even so, it’s useless to pretend like I don’t have certain luxuries here, most of which are made possible by U.S. neocolonialism and global white supremacy. It is also hard to forget the U.S.’s role in Brazil’s military dictatorship.
As I negotiate my place in São Paulo, I feel grateful for the presence of my Brazilian roommates. CET Brazil is unique in that instead of living with host families, we share apartments with Brazilian roommates. I love this setup for several reasons – I get to hang out with people my age (yay friends!), and most of our roommates are from the periphery and have scholarships to study at PUC. So, living 10 minutes walking from it makes a huge difference in their lives (some traveled as far as 3 hours to get here before being a part of the program). They’re all super friendly and I couldn’t feel more welcomed and cared for.
I am so happy and grateful to be in Brazil. I expect to learn so much, tangible and intangible. My heart is absolutely full, and I can’t wait to share more with you all.