The smell of vinegar permeated the air as we walked on Avenida Presidente Vargas towards Cidade Novo where the main protest was happening by the Sambodromo, Rio de Janeiro's purpose built parade area for Rio Carnival. A large group of us decided to participate in the protest to show our solidarity for the Brazilian povo, the people. Although I was born in São Paulo, my formative years were spent in Miami, Florida, and I had never experienced living in Brazil as a young adult until this year. The last six months of my study abroad experience in Rio de Janeiro have been incredible to say the least and there was no way I could not participate in the protest with the hope of giving back to Rio what the city has given me, optimism for the future.
During my study abroad experience in Rio de Janeiro, the upcoming sporting events have been looming over the city. Anytime a large event happens where public transportation is in high demand, locals mutter "imagina na copa" (imagine what will happen during the World Cup). There is a great sense of pessimism that predominates over most of my conversations with my Portuguese professor about the change that the World Cup is supposed to bring to Brazilian's citizens. The increase in bus prices triggered protests across Brazilian cities but as government's retract increased bus prices, the people of Brazil continue to protest on the streets.
The beginning of the protest was similar to my experiences in Rio during Carnaval in February albeit two very different tones. People packed the streets as band members kept the beat with their drums and voices. Some Carnaval block parties were way more chaotic than the beginning of the protest. We marched and chanted together until the untrained Brazilian police became nervous. As we arrived to the end of the protest, tear gas bombs began exploding yet the Brazilian people remained calm. If protesters tried running, groups of people yelled to calm down and remain peaceful against the police. It was incredibly frustrating trying to calmly leave the protest to return home but being unable to because the police kept throwing tear gas bombs at every exit. The police have no proper training for crowd control.
I can describe the government's attempt to patch up Brazil in a well known phrase here -- "Jeitinho Brasileiro" (the Brazilian way of doing things). If you have ever been to Brazil or dealt with Brazilian bureaucracy, you'll be familiar with how convoluted, confusing, and inefficient any sort of process can be. The stadiums will eventually get done but it'll be a rushed and last minute project, a product of the "Jeitinho Brasileiro." There is an expectation that anything can get done with a flash of a smile as an alternative to hard work and thoughtful planning. Instead of investing in their own country, the Brazilian government is putting on a show for the rest of the world to show that they can host the World Cup and Olympics yet Brazilian citizens get nothing in return.
As an Americanized Brazilian, the emotions I experienced during the protests were incredible. Such broad protests in Brazil are relatively uncommon. Brazilians have been accepting longstanding high levels of inequality and substandard public services yet there has never been a protest this intense since the dictatorship ended in 1985. My mother who grew up in São Paulo protested during the dictatorship as a young student and here I am, protesting as well. I have never been more proud to be part of this amazing change in history and following in my Brazilian mother's footsteps.
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