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All About Brazil: (FSF Cultural Exploration)

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Brazil Overview

Brazil is a highly diverse Latin American nation. The country comprises just under half the landmass of the South American continent. Its environment varies greatly from the tropical North to the more temperate South. It is widely known for its fun-loving and friendly attitude with the five regions within the nation distinguishing themselves with twists to classical and modern music and dance. Though the regions differ greatly in environment and demographics, they are bound together by a shared pride in being Brazilian.

Brazil’s History

Portuguese settlers began colonizing parts of Brazil at the end of the 16th century. This was unique as much of South America and the New World were settled by the Spanish. During the 17th century, the region was contested by Dutch explorers looking to make use of the thriving sugar cane industry. Dutch and Portuguese forces fought in jungle warfare in the 1650’s and 60’s, leading to the expulsion of the Dutch from their territory but at the cost of Portugal’s Asian colonies. As most of the white colonists were single men they tended to take slaves and indigenous peoples as concubines, contributing to the racial diversity seen today In 1808, following two centuries of Portuguese colonization, Brazil became the center of their vast empire. Napoleon invaded Portugal at the height of his reign. This forced King Dom Joao VI to flee to Rio de Janeiro, making it the political and economic heart of the empire until 1821.

Brazilian independence from Portugal was granted in 1822, although Dom Pedro II of Portugal ruled the empire. Brazil was involved in several wars following the next five decades, including the Platine War, Paraguayan War, and Uruguayan War. Slavery was abolished in 1888, 28 years after the slave trade ceased operations. In 1889, the empire was toppled, giving way to a republic, which ended all colonial-related leadership in Brazil.

Despite having a fractured political system during the 20th century, Brazil continued to prosper with its sugar, coffee, and rubber industries, accompanied by a large labor market. The migration of German, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian nationals added to the labor force and contributed to Brazil’s economic growth. The country rose to prominence in the mid-1900’s, becoming South America’s economic tiger and surpassing Mexico and Argentina as the region’s most powerful nation. In 1988, democracy finally became a mainstream concept for Brazil, following several decades of military involvement in the national government. Though high-level corruption, social inequalities, and high crime still affect the country today, Brazil continues to develop and is widely seen as a future world power.

Brazilian Societal Values

Family plays a large role in most Brazilans’ everyday life. Family typically refers to one’s extended kin group rather than immediate family alone. Because of this, it is typical for three generations to live together in the same household. Individuals are expected to be loyal to the family unit and to give support when family members ask even if it goes against their self-interest. Though they are collectivistic, Brazilian families often give their members encouragement and freedom in pursuing their personal goals. Due to this, family relationships are often characterized by shared affection rather than authority. These dynamics are, however, beginning to change. They have been affected by growing individualism and widespread migration as people leave their homes in impoverished or rural areas in the interior to move to the country’s coastal urban centers or go abroad.

Brazilians have a strong national identity based on being a “racial democracy” free of prejudice based on skin color. The ideology, though untrue, plays a strong role in shaping interracial interactions and discourse. Social class, education, and manner of dress all play a role in assigning someone to a racial category. Brazilians will sometimes say "money whitens,” which means that the higher one’s social class the lighter the racial category they are ascribed to regardless of physical appearance.

Brazil is a country struggling with economic inequality. Despite being one of the ten richest economies in the world, it is estimated that some thirty-three million Brazilians live in poverty. Though the divide between rich and poor has plagued the nation since colonial times, the growth of Brazil’s middle class has made the division between classes more complex. Though today the size of the middle class varies from one-fifth to one-third of the population, depending on how it's defined, the resources and lifestyles afforded to it vary considerably. Brazilians are quick to size up the social distance between themselves and others using measures such as appearance and “correctness” of speech. From here, they establish patterns of deference and authority between individuals belonging to different social strata.

Brazil Culture: Conclusion

Brazil is a diverse nation in every sense of the word. Despite this, its people are bound together by a shared history and strong extended families. This does not, however, mean that the country is without problems as it continues to struggle with racial discrimination and economic inequality. As Brazil works to overcome these obstacles to equality, it will continue to develop as a democracy and into a future world power.


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