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Reply to "Black Brazil"

History of Brazil

Brazil, of course, was 'discovered" by Cabral in 1500, and claimed by the Portuguese. While parts of Brazil were ruled at different times by the Dutch, French and Spanish, its history is significantly tied to Portugal. And to the Catholic Church. This, obviously, differs from our history of English Colonial power, Northern European immigrants, and the protestant religion.

However, like the US, Brazil had a large slave population, and later encouraged significant number of immigrants from Italy, Japan, and the Middle East. "When Brazil was discovered in 1500 it was inhabited by 2.4 million Amerindians. Since then, 4 million African slaves and 6 million Europeans immigrated to the country (Carvalho-Silva et al, 2000).

"Portuguese and Italian immigrants arrived in almost equal numbers"”comprising about 70 percent of the total, followed by immigrants from Spain, Germany, Syria, Lebanon and Japan" (Carvalho-Silva et al, 2000). Between 1822 and 1889, Brazil was an empire. Slaves were officially freed in 1888.

According to Dr Pena, the Portuguese have "a strange relationship with color" (personal communication, 2003). Portugal, of course, is a Southern European country close to Africa, with cultural and genetic ties to the Moors and others from North Africa. Many in Northern Europe considered the Spanish, Portuguese and Italians to be darker"”and less pure"”than them.

Further, the original settlers of Brazil officially encouraged relationships between Portuguese and"”first with the Indians, then blacks (Carvalho-Silver et al, 2000). And, while there were specific rules and laws established to maintain segregation, these laws were continually broken, much like the fact that people today, in a country that is over 90 percent Catholic, accept divorce, which is legal in Brazil. This is what Brazilians call 'dar um jeitinho'"”to find a solution or way out of a specific situation.

For example, one of the chief tourist attractions in the small, colonial mining town of Diamantina, in the state of Minas Gerais, is the house of Xica da Silva. She was the black mistress of a wealthy Portuguese diamond miner sent by the Portuguese to keep order in the rich diamond district"”including moral order. He was so taken by her that he built her a large house, and a church"”with a steeple at the back so that she could walk into the church without violating a law against blacks walking under a church steeple"”a classic case of 'jeitinho'. He also built for his mistress a boat and a large lake on which to sail it, because she wanted a boat but Diamantina is inland (M.L. Meira, 2003, personal communication).

As a result of this acceptance of interracial mating, many Brazilians see themselves as multiracial (from 40-60 percent, depending on who you talk to). Brazilians form one of the most heterogeneous populations in the world, and, according to Parra et al, (2003), Brazilians constitute a trihybrid population with European, African and Amerindian roots. Further, today's white Brazilians have much more nonwhite genetic makeup than even Portuguese whites living in Europe, and Brazilian blacks and Amerindians have more non-black and non-Indian genes than blacks in Africa and original Amerindian tribes (Parra et al 2003).

| Francis Wardle's essay vents his concerns with "Brazil and the Yankee Way of Being Black"