When I consider the amount of travel I have done in my lifetime I am grateful for everything I do and learn. Arguably, I learn too much. Ignorance may be bliss but, ignorance is extremely dangerous and not “knowing” can greatly affect how you carry yourself in a given place and space.
I recently traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for Carnival 2020. As most travel experiences are for me, I was delighted with the opportunity. I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil and my best growing pains and learning moments are spent traveling. Just reviewed my blog written in China back in 2011. Experiencing another culture has always grounded me and allowed me to appreciate and honor who I am and where I come from. It is also very tedious work, mentally and emotionally, growing from the experiences that can arise. The following account of my Rio experience is not a rant. It’s a reflection of just how impactful history can be on people and a testament of how much things change while also remaining the same. My intent is for this letter to challenge readers to engage in a cultural exploration through someone else’s eyes.
Rio is a beautiful city within a country troubled by a colonial history, a vibrant Afro identity overshadowed by classicism, colorism and racism. As a young dancer and Carnival lover I was destined to visit Rio at some point in my life. So when I met a friend and peer who not only spoke Portugese but had spent a considerable amount of time in Rio, it was fate. We travelled there to celebrate Carnival with a group of Samba students from L + A Healing Studio in Chicago. I have taught Zumba classes at L+A for a number of years where I have developed a unique friendship with the owners and was overly excited at the chance to go to Carnival. Although I did not wear a costume and participate in Carnival, I was an eager observer and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I learned a few words in Portugese before leaving on the trip, but my knowledge of Spanish was enough to get by in terms of understanding the locals while in Rio. I was able to understand the context of every conversation conducted in Portuguese which brings me to how this article will be presented.
It will roll out over 5 articles over the next several weeks, each addressing a different facet of my time in Brazil. This first article is to paint the picture. What exactly did I fly into on February 21st, 2020? I flew into a country where the President has classified Carnival as savagery and has “a history of homophobic remarks, racist descriptions of indigenous people and praise for Brazil’s military dictatorship. The number of uninformed tweets he shares on a day to day basis can only be compared to one other president in the entire world. But this is not a political article, so I digress. In response, 2020 Carnavale confronts the President’s rhetoric by showcasing colonialism and the effects of colonialism in Brazil. Needless to say, it was a sight to see. While on the trip, my knowledge of Brazilian history grew exponentially. This tops the colonial narrative of slavery, racial unrest, genocide of indigenous people and colorism. In the letters that follow, I’ll share more about how Brazil’s cultural and political history impacted my experience during Carnaval and the days that followed; a series of highs and lows.
There is a privilege associated with travel, especially as a Black person in various spaces; conscious and knowledgeable Black women exploring and experiencing the cultural intricacies of yet another colonized country in the Western hemisphere. A privilege and a curse. Consequently, I share these experiences mainly for educational purposes, to ask people to reflect on their travel experiences, what they feel, hear and see. How their senses react to different spaces and how the current as well as historical cultural climate manifest itself during travels..
As previously noted, it is always an educational experience to travel throughout spaces and places where as a person of African descent I am perceived as less than others. Those moments stick with you forever. You can’t help but want to share with others because you can’t believe that it actually happened because it’s almost surreal. This is more so, especially when you can collectively reflect on those experiences with others. It helps (and hurts) to travel in the company of others who are also conscious as well and understand the dynamics of the Black/Brown experience in South America and the Caribbean.
There is so much more I want to share. So please, share it and allow others to think beyond the sunny beaches and delicious food. Let’s start thinking about what connects my story to yours.
Until next time,