In March 2017, the OVPDEMA Overseas Studies and Scholarship Program launched the inaugural Brazil course with four faculty members and 18 students. The course: “History of Race in the Americas: Exploring Racial Identity and Representation in Brazil.” The location: Rio de Janeiro.
Prior to arriving in Brazil in May, students learned about Brazilian history, culture, politics, religion, language, customs, and contemporary social issues by attending six two-hour courses each Friday until departure. The course was instructed by Maria Hamilton Abegunde, director of the Graduate Mentoring Center and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies (College of Arts and Sciences); Yara Clüver, assistant director of Collins Living-Learning Center; Andrea Siqueira, a lecturer in the School of Global and International Studies; and doctoral student Nilzimar Vieira, of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Students also heard from IU faculty members Carolyn Calloway-Thomas, chair of African American and Diaspora Studies; Olimpia Rosenthal, assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese; Luciana Namorato, assistant professor and director of the Portuguese Program; Alex Lopes, director of the Technology Consulting Workshop at the Kelley School of Business; and Stephen Selka, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies.
Day One: Traveling to Rio
Jasmyn Burks, Kayla Bush, Eleanor Clarke, Maria Cortes, Jared Fisher, Jayla French, Kayla Grant, Lindsey Jackson, Jasmine Jenkins, Victoria Jones, Drake Lightfoot-Austin, Jaeda Mason, Blessing Okendu, Schuyler O’Reilly, Staphany Santana, Michael Tucker, Carmen Wedding, and Erycka Wesley.
For many students, it was their first trip abroad. For the faculty, all familiar with Brazil through birth, research, and residency, it was an opportunity to introduce students to a part of the country that they love and call home.
Professor Sean McIntyre (director), Adams Souza, Julie Terzian, and Matheus Tornaghi.
Before our departure and while we were in Rio, the CIEE Study Center staff worked diligently with us to create an interactive course that included visits with local NGOs, institutes, and other organizations to ensure this first trip was more than we ever imagined. In addition, Brazilian faculty provided on-site lectures for students prior to each activity on topics that included the history of Rio, socio-economic inequalities, race relations, and social justice.
Why Rio de Janeiro? Rio was one of the gateways for the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the arrival of Africans from the 16th–19th centuries. Historians now believe that nearly 50 percent of the over 10 million Africans transported to the Americas arrived in Brazil, with 900,000 arriving in Valongo port in Rio.
Unlike Salvador de Bahia, “the Black Rome” of the world, where African and African-derived culture is visible—even hyper-visible—Rio de Janeiro is a vibrant city where this history is not always seen, but is nonetheless present. As the city and country struggle to understand and redefine what being Black means, it was the perfect place to learn about this struggle first hand.
We began our classes with a discussion about race. What does race or being racialized mean in the United States and Brazil? Learn more through the PBS documentary Race: the Power of an Illusion and the Henry Louis Gates series on Brazil, slavery, and race, Black in Latin America.
One can talk and read about Rio and Brazil; however, as with all travels into a new culture, it is a city and country best experienced through the senses. Together, we took more than 1,000 photos.
This blog, therefore, is a visual archive of some of the highlights of our trip. All photographs, unless otherwise indicated, were taken by Renato Mangolin. Faculty and students participated in all activities, including dance and capoeira classes. Activities like these not only tested our stamina, but also gave us hours of laughter, reflection, and a chance to learn together. Finally, students were asked to keep a handwritten journal of their travels.
Day Two: Samba!
After a few hours, we all felt we could dance samba at Carnival. First, we were taught the steps. Then we were invited to show our footwork.
Day Four: 2000 tiles, legacies
One of the premiere sites to visit in Rio is the Christ the Redeemer Statue, located on Mount Corcovado. The statue was created by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa in collaboration with the French engineer Albert Caquot.
One of the unexpected highlights of our trip was visiting O Instituto de Pesquisas e Estudos Afro Brasileiros (The Institute for Research and Afro-Brazilian Studies), founded by the late Professor Abdias Nascimento in 1981.
Professor Nascimento was prominent scholar, politician, and artist. The institute focuses on four areas related to the research and study of Afro-Brazilian history and contemporary life: teaching, research, culture, and documentation. Eliza Larkin Nascimento, director of the institute and widow of Abdias Nascimento, welcomed us and spent the morning introducing us to the institute’s archives and Professor Nascimento’s artwork. This was an important visit that demonstrated the institutional, community, and individual work necessary for creating and sharing the histories of Afro-Brazilians in and throughout the world.
Day Five: Museu da Maré
The Museu da Maré is located within a community on the outskirts of central Rio.
Day Six: Capoeira Lesson
No trip would be complete without experiencing the grace and power of capoeira, a martial art developed by enslaved Africans. The art was performed as a dance or in the form of play to hide it from slave masters.
Day Seven: Quilombo do Camorim
Quilombos are areas of land on which African captives sought refuge and escape. Descendants of escaped captives live on the land that was given to their ancestors at the end of slavery.
However, these communities still struggle with local government and developers to prove ownership and to keep the land. Camorim is documenting an archeological site that proves inhabitants have occupied the land at least since the 16th century. The community invited us to join them on a journey up the mountain to visit two grottos where Africans lived for decades upon escaping enslavement. As part of our visit, we were treated to a traditional meal of feijoada (beans, meat, rice, greens, and salad) cooked overnight in a clay pot.
Days 10-11: Paraty
On our overnight trip to Paraty, a historical national landmark, we learned about the Gold Path, a road built by slaves between the 17th and 19th centuries and that connected Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo in order to facilitate the transport of precious resources and goods for export to Portugal.
Day 12: Santa Marta
Santa Marta is a community located in the Botafogo part of the hills of Dona Marta in Rio de Janeiro. It stands in stark contrast to the neighboring wealthier community at its foothills. To get there, we took a city bus and then the local trolley car. The community became famous for receiving Rio’s first “Pacifying Police Unit”—UPP.
The community came to broader public attention when Michael Jackson filmed “They Don’t Really Care About Us” onsite. The Christ the Redeemer statue is visible from the very top of Santa Marta. Here we learned about the community’s struggle with police, challenges to create infrastructure, and its successful efforts to educate residents and create organizations such as childcare centers and a library.
Entry 14: Farewell Dinner
On our last night in Brazil, we had dinner at a churrascaria, an all-you-can-eat restaurant where servers rotate different cuts of barbecued meat from table to table. Side dishes such as roasted vegetables, salads, fruits, rice, potatoes, and pasta are also served.
We enjoyed the food and had a chance to reflect on our time in Rio. Students surprised their instructors with personalized cards that highlighted their specific contributions to the student experience.
This blog highlights about 50 percent of our activities, site visits, and meetings.