Blind to Brazil(s)

Today is January 6th, which in Brazil is called ‘Dia de Reis’, a day in honor of the three Wise Men. Having grown up in Rio, I used to think January 6th was nothing but a day to take Christmas decorations down. Then one day, as an adult already, I happened to be in Piauí on this date. A whole festival called ‘Folia de Reis’ was going on, and I had never even heard of such a thing. I was blown over by the dances I could see in that square in Teresina, where the Folia seemed to be merged with ‘bumba-meu-boi’, which in itself has many different names around the country. There and then I finally learned who the “boi-da-cara-preta” and the “careta” were, two characters of a lullaby I had slept so many times to, but could never really understand.

Folia de Reis in Sao Jose dos Campos – Photo by Andrew Kirkpatrick

A decade later, living in Sao Jose dos Campos – SP, I found out the Folia is also a big deal in countryside Sao Paulo, with groups going door to door to sing and bless the homes that welcomed them in.

“Yeah, nice, but what does that even have to do with ELT?” I hear you ask.

And you are well in your right to ask that. On the other hand, if I may answer a question with a question, why is it that we feel a festival that is so important in many parts of our country is not related to ELT at all?

And that’s definitely not the only festival I ignored. My Carioca ethnocentricity, perhaps caused by our Rio/Sao Paulo-biased media and education, had me blind to other major Brazilian festivals, such as the Sírio de Nazaré in Belém, and many other cultural practices, geographical features, and language differences of our continental country.

Pray tell me, why aren’t those things more of a subject-matter or discussion points in our education?

Some will say time is an issue. They’re right. But it’s also about priorities.

In ELT we often find time to teach lessons or organize projects about Halloween, Thanksgiving, St Patrick’s Day, Independence Day…  And then we teach “Brazilian” festivals, too, and illustrate with the Carnival parade at Sapucaí in Rio de Janeiro, as if that was the be-all and end-all. Mind, that’s not even all there is to know about Rio’s Carnival!

I’m not advocating that we ignore everything that is foreign in favor of “our” culture. I wouldn’t even say we have “a” monolythical culture. I’m just suggesting we reflect on our biases and perhaps even debate that bias in class. And maybe, just maybe, consider Brazil more of a topic, but not the Brazil everybody in the world knows about. Rather, the Brazil(s) we Brazilians forget exist(s).

Natália Guerreiro

Natália Guerreiro has been a teacher since the year 2000 and currently works in Aviation English assessment and teaching for the Brazilian Air Force. She holds a CELTA, a B.A. in English & Portuguese from UFRJ, and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. She's been elected BRAZ-TESOL's Second Vice President for the 2019-2020 term.

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