Disparity and Ethnicity in Brazil

By Yusuke Namiki, MAIDP 2020, Japanese Ministry of HLW official

On December 14, I landed on the South American continent for the first time in my life to begin the LAM Brazil trip. Brazil was a country that I had been interested in, but hadn’t visited because of the geographic distance that separates it from Japan, my home country. I appreciate this opportunity organized by LAM.

Brazil has a strong relationship with Japan. It took in many Japanese immigrants in the 20th century, and has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan in the world. Moreover, from the perspective of an international development student, Brazil is academically interesting. It has a great potential as an emerging nation, while it has typical development issues of inequality and poverty. During my trip, I visited Rio de Janeiro, Manaus and São Paulo, and this gave me unique experiences, which motivate me to work in international development field. I would like to share how disparities and ethnic diversity in Brazil looks like from my eyes and experiences.

I have traveled to more than 10 poorer countries, but the disparities I saw in Brazil were very different from what I had seen in other countries. What I was most concerned was the number of iron gates in cities. No matter where I walked in Brazil, iron gates caught my eyes. Many buildings, such as apartments, hotels, and restaurants, set iron bars in front of their entrances. This may be a solution to prevent crime, but it gives viewers a strong negative impact, a sense of disassociation in society. In São Paulo, I visited my friend’s apartment. In order to enter the building, I had to go through an iron gate and strict security checks. Her building is beautiful with a great view, and her family and friends are very classy and kind. I had a good time, but also had mixed feelings. The people I met during this trip said, “one of the reasons of disparity in Brazil is tax system. People in upper class don’t pay much, and no one tries to tackle the issue.” Instead of this social system, wealthy people in Brazil have to live in a cage. By contrast, people in Japan don’t need to live in a cage, because of a good police system supported by higher taxes and fairer society. We can plant trees or flowers in front of our building to make viewers happier. These experiences gave me an opportunity to think about what kinds of approach I want to take for international development, and what kind of challenges may come up in the future.

These disparities were a negative aspect of Brazil, but I also found positive elements such as its uniqueness and integration of diverse ethnicities. In São Paulo, there are many immigrants from many countries, such as Portugal, Japan, Italy and Spain. People lively talk to their friends about their immigrant ancestors, and the fusion of cultures. I’m not sure this comes from their ethnical characteristics or relationship with immigrants in the past, but this gave me an impression that Brazilians are more open-minded to different ethnicities. However, this is reflected in discrimination issues. Some people said skin color or ethnicity have been indirect discriminatory factors in Brazil, while they were direct factors of discrimination in the United States. They explained that in Brazil ethnicity correlates with wealth, and people who don’t have wealth are discriminated against. This may show international development can be a direct tool to create an integrated society in Brazil.

These experiences and points of view are based on interactions with local people I met. If I met different people, I would have different impression about Brazil, but I’m sure that Brazil is very unique and interesting country.

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