I left San Diego and arrived at the Rio airport. Waited for 6 hours on my layover to Vitoria. At the airport I ran into like, so many Minnesotans also headed to Vitoria HAHA. Dr. Meyers. Commissioner Lindsey. And others that I knew. It was kinda weird hahaha, but also gave me a sense of familiarity in a new environment.
Anyway, we landed in Vitoria in the evening. I got to my hotel and immediately stepped outside to walk on along beach across the street. I took a deep breath and smiled. The air was different. I could feel it and smell it. People were jogging, biking, exercising, playing sports. Many beautiful people. The breeze was nice. I felt very happy and excited to be there in this new place. The feeling is hard for me to explain but I always love going to a new place and sort of soaking everything in, excited and energized about what I will discover in this new place.
The next day, I took a walk around. I usually like to walk around a bit to explore my surroundings when I arrive in a new place, to give me a sense of where I am and familiarize myself just a bit with things. I met up with the US delegation for lunch at the hotel – saw even more people that I knew, lol – and then headed to the UFES (the university) to get registered. There was a little networking reception for the US delegation, but I skipped it and explored the University instead. I met a couple conference volunteers who are students there and they showed me around a bit. I’m happy I did that. It gave me a better sense of what their lives were like there and some of the issues Brazilians were facing. They ended up being great friends the entire conference too 🙂
The next few days was the conference. Honestly, the sessions were kinda wack. I could only go to the ones in english because many of the ones in Portuguese were not translated. Also there were many incorrections in the program which led to workshops being different than what I expected. My presentation was fine. I presented with Rowzat on our civic engagement work in MN state government. Not many people came to the session but we did get one question about how to emulate our work in Columbia, where their government is killing people. I think that was when I realized how much of a foundation is really needed in order for our work to actually begin. Like, you can’t civically engage people with government when there is not a culture, value, systems and institutions that emulate a democracy or that actually kind of work for the people. As much as the US democracy fails on so many levels, we forget that in so many other places, a democracy doesn’t even exist, or their democracy is young and fragile, like in Brazil (which I’ll get into later). Additionally, as much as we think our democracy sucks, it still continues to be the model for which striving nations look to emulate. So while my presentation had low attendance, it was still nice to say that I was able to present at my first international conference 🙂
The best parts of the conference was the food 🙂 and meeting all of the Brazilian student volunteers. For some reason, even though I’m almost 30, I feel like it’s much easier to connect with all the young people. Still trying to figure out why. Not sure if it’s because I look and feel young, or what.
Vitoria is a beautiful city. Completely, unexpectedly beautiful. I had no idea what I was walking into when I arrived. I thought I was just going for the conference but I ended up meeting a bunch of people. The gay social apps are actually a really great way for meeting people in new places. I got another crush on a boy lol -_-. He took me to a trance party on the beach with his friends. It was so amazing and really surreal. On my second night in Brazil I went to his place and just hung out with him. I had a great day with another friend who took me to the top of the mountain to see the beautiful views, ate acai, and then ate moqueca (which ended up being my favorite food in Brazil). I left Vitoria a little bittersweet – sad to be leaving and excited to see Sao Paulo.
I think I underestimated Sao Paulo. After coming back from the laid back beach city of Vitoria, I don’t think I was ready for the hussle and craziness of Sao Paulo. I don’t think I knew how big of a city it was – 12th largest in the world. It’s also home to the largest concentration of Japanese people outside of Japan. It’s kinda crazy how in Vitoria and Rio there are like no Asian people, but in Sao Paulo they’re everywhere. I didn’t really do much in Sao Paulo except walk around a lot, see some museums, and met a few people who showed me around a bit. Lot’s of nice architecture, and art all over the city. I think I was kinda bored there. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. It’s hard to do anything and find new spaces when you can’t really communicate. You kind of just have to walk and see. And eat lol. The federal election occurred while I was there as well. Everywhere you walk, people are handing out flyers for their candidate.
I left Sao Paulo ready to go to Rio. When I arrived I immediately felt re energized by the landscapes. It’s absolutely breathtaking. On my second day I went to Christ the Redeemer statue and saw the city from the top. So beautiful. It was a hot day so I walked on the beach without my shirt on. I didn’t even realize I was wearing my necklace. I saw a man jogging toward me, he looked like he was just jogging, exercising. As he came up to me he ripped my necklace off my neck and ran off. It took me a second to realized I had just been robbed in broad daylight. The beach was literally packed with people. I was shocked as much as I was angry and sad. In shock at what just happened, angry that I was so stupid for wearing my necklace, and sad that I had just lost one of my most valuable items that my grandma gave me when I was 9 years old. Honestly I was warned by so many people to be careful in Rio, but I still let my guard down. After this incident I think my energy changed a bit. For the next few days, my guard was always up, I was scared to go out by myself, even during the day. I viewed the country differently. I viewed people differently. Immediately, every person that walked past me was a potential robber. I had a pessimistic view of people. At the end of the day, yes I was sad, but I appreciated that I didn’t get hurt, and that I still had my phone and wallet. I think it was actually important for me so I didn’t have this perfect rosey picture of what Brazil was, regardless of what I heard from so many people, experiencing it was different. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Rio, it just changed me. I still met some people that were welcoming and hospitable. I did go to a huge gay club which was super fun too.
There is extreme poverty in this country and a very large gap between the rich and the poor. The last administration seems to have made some strides in trying to level the playing field for poor, black, and indigenous people, implementing government welfare programs and affirmative action in their Universities. Many people that I have talked to have appreciated these steps, however things seem to be in decline, as the country is in recession and the new administration has chosen to cut many of the programs that helped the poorest of Brazilians. I’ve also noticed a very big sense resentment in politics and in general, lots of anxiety about the country’s future, especially with a lot of the people I have met, who tend to be younger, poor, people of color, and queer people. Brazil’s last President was impeached, the one before her is now in jail for corruption along with a large number of other politicians, and their country is on the cusp of electing a fascist, Jair Bolsonaro, who many here say is worse than Trump – someone who wants to bring the country back to military dictatorship, arm Brazilians with guns, who has said to another congresswoman that she is “not worthy of being raped,” and who said that he would rather have a dead son than a gay son. During the first round of elections, he came out in first place with 47 percent of the vote. It does seem to be a very trying time for this country. I’ve heard a number of people fear, because the democracy is so young, that it will not withstand Bolsonaro if he is elected.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump has emboldened strongmen like him all across the world. Being here has reminded me of the privilege of being a US citizen – the fact that I can get around with speaking English, the amount of wealth and things that we have, the influence we have on the world – and the implications that US politics has on the global level. We forget that, despite whether we like it or not, the rest of the world does look to the US as a model for what they can be. Our actions have a tremendous ripple effect across the world. That means that we as a country have a responsibility to act as a leader and a model for the rest of the world. And it means that our elections have tremendous local and international implications. The fact that such responsibility is given to the average US voter scares the crap out of me.
I think this is a new perspective for me. I used to teeter between the US needs to be a leader in the world and the US needs to just worry about itself and not interfere with other countries. I realize now that these are not actually mutually exclusive things. The reality is that other countries are looking to us as a leader. It’s up to us whether we embrace it or not. We can be a leader for the world without having to interfere with other countries. The simple act of us strengthening our democracy and electing good people who implement good policy for our people is enough for us to be a model for the rest of the world. People are looking to us regardless.
With all this being said, Brazil is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to. The landscapes make me feel like I’m in a dream. The people here are some of the most kind, generous, and full of joy people I have ever met, regardless of the difficult situation they are in. One thing that I’m noticing about my travels is that some of the most memorable pieces of a place are not actually the things that I do but the relationships that I’ve built with the people there. I’m so grateful for all the people I’ve met and all the experience I had here.