Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

Brazil, the Former Poor Cousin from the South

Even though I was born in Brazil, I lived in the USA with my parents in the 60’s. In 1969, we went back home. I remember how Brazil lagged behind America in terms of technology, infrastructure and education, as well as in every other social aspect. I have vivid memories of our return back to Brazil. It was like going back in time. The level of poverty was shocking even for a small child like myself. Seeing kids begging on the streets was beyond my comprehension. I recall my mother saying how nice it was to have hot water to do the dishes in the USA, how nice it was to be able to drink water from any fawcet and how ridiculous it was to polish the floor of your house manually on your knees like Brazilians still did (even though it was a maid who would do the job). For a few years I remember my mother citing the differences between the two countries and how more developed the USA was.

Another shock for my young self was the difference between classes, which encompassed skin color. The darker you were, the more likely you belonged to the lower economic classes. Not only these people were poorer than you, you also had more rights than them. They were supposed to treat you with respect, because somehow you were “superior” to them. This is something that is ingrained in most white upper class Brazilians to this day. Some Brazilians are still surprised to see a black man driving a nice car when they visit America.

During the military regime, heavy import taxes were put on foreign imports, and some imported goods were completely forbidden. Therefore, American and Japanese electronics became objects of desire for most Brazilians, as well as French perfumes, designer duds and imported alcoholic beverages. The word “imported” meant high quality, desirable. People who traveled abroad were viewed with envy, since they could bring back Swiss chocolate, French cosmetics and American running shoes. The “Americans”, our neighbors from the North, were viewed with awe, admiration and envy. They were richer, lived in bigger houses, drove better cars, produced better movies, had more gizmos, were blonder, taller, happier, etc. The USA was the place to be, and the place most Brazilians secretly longed to visit or to live. The comparison was natural as both countries are the largest on the southern and northern sides of the American continent.

This picture has changed along the years. The “poor cousin from the south” is no longer so poor. Electronics are still cheaper in the US, but you can easily buy them in Brazil. The lower middle classes have more disposable income, and many finally bought their first car. Brazilians of African descent gained more notoriety and inched their way into a better position in society. Poverty decreased, educational levels rose.

Adding to this scenario was the recession that hit the United States and most of the world a few years ago, leaving Brazil almost unscathed. Meanwhile, the United States changed its population composition in the last 20 years. Incessant immigrant waves from Asia, Middle East, Africa and Central America changed the blonde-blue eyed “All American” type idealized by 50’s movies into a diverse melting pot. Even the new president of the USA looks like an average “mulatto”. High rates of unemployment and the lack of economic growth made the “rich cousin from the North” seem less and less threatening.

Brazilians, naturally patriotic (a famous Brazilian motto is “God is Brazilian”) became even prouder of their country. Finally their self-esteem grew, championed by loudmouth President Lula, who represents this new role Brazil has in the world. At the same time, a new sentiment was in the air: the old envy felt towards the “rich cousin”, added to an increased national pride, grew into a general feeling of oneupmanship. Finally, the rich cousin lost money and power, while the poor cousin could now show off his brand new shiny Mercedes Benz. A new hostility developed, seen in blogs, tweets, articles and conversations with Brazilians.

This sense of hostility and “you cannot tell us what to do anymore” made it very hard for David Goldman, a regular American father from New Jersey who had his son illegally abducted to Brazil by his wife, to be able to legally bring his son back home. Brazil had signed an international treaty, the Hague Convention, and what should have been a speedy decision became a Herculean feat for Mr. Goldman and an international imbroglio involving the international media an figureheads in both countries.

The latest example of Brazilian bravado was the CBS show “60 Minutes”, aired on December 12th, 2010 and called “Brazil, a Rising Star”. Eike Battista, Brazil’s richest entrepeneur, tells the American reporter “Hello, it’s time for Americans to wake up”.

Many Brazilians still resent the American support to the military regime of the 70’s. It was well known that the American military trained military Brazilians in the “art of torture”. It is well known that America has always made it difficult for Brazil to export its agricultural products in order to compete internationally on equal footing. In the last decade, Brazil joined many other countries in its disgust at the American interventionism in the Middle East as well as the unnecessary war it started under the Bush administration..

What seems interesting in this newfound Brazilian self-esteem and veiled hostility to Americans is that many Americans are not aware of it. When Brazilians tell Americans they are from Brazil, they hear compliments such as how beautiful the women are and how they love the beaches and Brazilian music. Now, more than ever, Brazil is on the map. Most Americans have heard about its models, fashion kings, great plastic surgeons and rising Economy. On the other hand, Brazilians do not have many kind words towards Americans. The resentment is still there, with traces of the old envy. The poor cousin got richer but cannot get over the fact that his richer cousin once upstaged him in every way.


December 13, 2010 - Posted by | Difference between cultures


  1. I’m sure that Brazil is more than topless beaches and sex-just wish my fellow Americans knew as much.

    I can see similarities between Brazil and the Philippines. Growing up in the 70’s, 80’s (I’m 41 now) fo’ sho’ there was American envy. You know the plumbing, electricity and the goods. I grew up here and my parents (wrongly) would use the Philippines as a threat (The threat was it is so bad there compared to here, I’ll send you there and you’ll learn something something…).

    Don’t know much about the Prez, but if you say he’s a loud mouth-I’ll appeal to your authority. Although, I have observed that Brazil and S. America in general has become an economic force this past decade or so. Hope it’s good for the peeps.

    It sucks for that dude that wants his son back. I don’t know what is what though, because the media is not very clear on who is right or wrong (or is it politicized). Makes me sad for the kid being in the middle.

    You should blog mo’ and thanks. C’ya in the twitterverse and stay warm my East Coast friend,


    ps. Oh wait, i remember what I wanted to say. My mom is a lighter Filipino ass. w/Spaniards and my dad is a peasant (he’s browner and she’s lighter) because Ilicano’s usually worked in the fields. There marriage was Romeo and Juilete-ish in that it was forbidden for the ‘classes’ to mix. Wow, we sure have come a long way. Awesomeness.

    Comment by krissthesexyatheist | December 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. Great post. Very educated, informative, and insightful.

    Any country with an aerospace industry is a country to be recognized. That alone puts them in the elite countries of technology and infrastructure in the world.

    We americans should listen to your words of warning. We had better wake up. Growing up in the USA, I couldn’t possibly imagine living in any other country. Period.

    Today, there are many countries I would love to live in. And Brasil would be at the top of that list were it not so dangerous with robbers and kidnapping. I would be a prime target there for kidnapping. Barring that, though, Brasil is a wonderful country rich with natural resources, outstanding education for the rich, and above all, a people that are hungry to flex their muscles as a world contender.

    Another big problem besides the kidnapping is the corruption…which grows daily here in the USA. I always chose to believe that corruption DEFINED life in Brasil on all levels of politics and industry, and that this was a big difference between the USA and Brasil. Not so anymore. We in this country are increasingly selling out in our own brand of corruption. Which is no different from anywhere else. Doesn’t matter democrat or republican, they are all corrupt.

    But were it not for Brasil being so corrupt over the years, they would have been in the position they are expanding into right now, 15-20 years ago. They have been slated for some years to be a superpower in the world; ie, the next USA. Same land mass and at least the same amount of natural resources, if not more.

    Clean up the accepted life/politics of corruption, send people to jail that violate the rules instead of paying off the right people, and there is no stopping Brasil.

    And yes, they DO have beautiful women and beaches! That won’t change!

    Comment by steve | December 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. Steve, thank you. By the way, if you lived in the South, no one would look at you. The population there is heavily ethnically European, tall and fair.

    Comment by Brasilmagic | December 14, 2010 | Reply

  4. Your post was above the average, I can see your brazilian nationalism everytime you come up with a new post but, it is fine I think, it is good to be that way it keeps you positive about your country, And hopefully Brazil would stand up and save the last lung on earth: amazon’s rainforest.


    Comment by em | December 22, 2010 | Reply

  5. all this stuff looks great on paper, but the reality (speaking as an american living in brazil) is quite different. the only “highly developed” areas of brazil seem to be rio, sao paulo, and a couple of places down south. and the “economic crisis” in america is largely paper based as well (as is evidenced by the fact that EVERY TIME i visit home in america is see in abundance: large vehicles,people going to amusement parks, clean streets, thousands of people continuing to buy the things they want, etc.) also, i suspect that the “anti-american”sentiment has a LOT to do with the fact that north america has had DECADES of dealing with illegal immigration from brasil (as well as the rest of the world). the usa (being a rich AND powerful nation) has a unique set of issues to deal with that are difficult to truly understand when you do not have that responsibility. the average brasilian knows a lot about the usa and seems to have a lot of opinions about it. on the other hand, the average american could really give a s*** about what is happening in brasil. there is a reason why brasilians flock to north america by the millions just to consume it’s products – something that cannot be claimed about americans who come to brasil in the tens of thousands. brasil is growing rapidly and i hope it continues. but i always have to laugh when brasilians (rich or otherwise) try to criticise north america when it still has yet to TRULY tackle: high illiteracy rates, destructive governmental corruption, high rates of “misery”-level poverty, dismal public education programs, poor infrastructure of just about EVERYTHING. hopefully, with the coming of the world cup and olympics + continued growth, this article will actually be the REALITY of brasil, rather than a paper-based theoretical premise.

    Comment by bamabrasileira | February 20, 2012 | Reply

    • Well, brazilians ever find a way, and brazilians never quit. We procrastinate a lot, but someday we get there. God is brazilian after all.

      Comment by Hebert Magno | December 22, 2012 | Reply

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