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Home » Cartography, Cultural Geography, Latin America, Myth of the Nation-State, Regionalism

Regional Stereotypes in Brazil

Submitted by on November 1, 2014 – 8:30 am 12 Comments |  
As noted in the previous post, the Brazilian states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have distinctive voting patterns. In the 2014 presidential election, São Paulo voted strongly for the center-right challenger Aécio Neves, whereas Rio de Janeiro was the only state in southeastern Brazil to support the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff. The two states are similar in some respects, as they are both prosperous by Brazilian standards, densely populated, and located in the same general area. But the rivalry between the states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro—and between their two main cities of the same names—is intense.

Brazil Paulista Stereotype MapIn looking for maps that might help explain the regional patterns of the recent Brazilian election, I came across an interesting cartographic collection that sheds light on this important regional rivalry. The site, called National Stereotype, takes on all manner of national and regional stereotypes with a tone of good-natured amusement. A 2013 post on Brazil includes six maps depicting visions of the country from the perspectives of several regions. Here the competition between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro is clearly evident.

The first map reproduced here, which shows the supposed vision of Brazil held by the typical Paulista (resident of São Paulo), labels Rio de Janeiro as “Brazilian Argentina.” As National Stereotype explains:

Argentina brasileira = Brazilian Argentina. The rivalry between paulistanos/paulistas (those from the city/state of Sao Paulo) and cariocas/fluminenses (those from the state/city of Rio de Janeiro) is legendary. As legendary as the rivalry/hatred Brazilians have against Argentineans, hence the name.

 

Brazil Paulista Stereotype2 mapOther intriguing features of the map include the label “does not exist” for the remote Amazonian state of Acre (home of the noted politician Marina Silva), and the designation of Rio Grande do Sul as a land of male homosexuality. According to National Stereotype, other Brazilians often make fun Rio Grande do Sul, a state with its own distinctive voting patterns (see the comments on the previous GeoCurrents post). A second map showing a Paulista perspective is more stripped down—and more hostile to Rio, which is designated as a radioactive zone that one should not enter.

 

Brazil Carioca Stereotype MapThe map showing the perspective of the residents of Rio de Janeiro, or Cariocas, seems much less insulting to the regional rival, as it merely labels São Paulo as “Interiorr.” But as National Stereotype notes, the “Paulista/caipira accent draws the “r”. The interior is the hinterlands of Brazil, and cariocas think paulistas are hillbillies or rednecks.” Note that “Argentina” is used again as a term of disdain, in the case for the three southernmost states of the country. On this map, Acre in the far west is deemed an “unknown area.” Note as well that the maps showing the view from either Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo reduce northeastern Brazil to one state, although Paraíba is used in the former case and Bahia in the latter. The description of the important state of Minas Gerais on the Rio map as “Region without beaches” is telling; as National Stereotype puts it:

To most cariocas … the beach is everything. So a big state with lots of people and without beaches like Minas Gerais is seen as very puzzling or boring. Why would people choose to live there?

 

Brazil Gaucho Stereotype MapThe map showing the perspective of the residents of Rio Grande do Sul, who are known in Brazil as Gauchos, also features beaches prominently, both those in neighboring Santa Catarina and those of the faraway northeast, the latter designated as Praias distantes, or “distant beaches.” The northeastern interior, on the other hand, is disparagingly called Destino dos impostos, or “destination of [our] taxes.” Rio de Janeiro is more insultingly labeled Favelas, or “slums,” while the term used for São Paulo refers to a long-standing football (soccer) rivalry. Yet again, the existence of Acre is jokingly called into question, with an intentional misspelling. Rio Grande do Sul itself is deemed the land of civilization and given a huge extension to the north. Its northern counterpart, Rio Grande do Norte, occupies a prominent position on the map but not in the correct location, as it is actually two states to the east of Piauí. Minas Gerais is insulted here for the poor quality of its grilled meat: “Gente que não sabe fazer churrasco” (“people who don’t know how to barbeque”). This may seem to be a rather feeble insult, but barbequing is highly regarded in Rio Grande do Sul.

 

The Beloved CountryI wonder what the Gauchos of Rio Grande do Sul would think of South Africa’s tradition of meat grilling, known as braai, which is something of an obsession in the Afrikaner community. One can see its significance in the title of a recently published cookbook, which refers to the title of a famous South African novel.

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  • Ygor C.S.

    Martin, there is a wrong information in the beginning of your article: Rio de Janeiro wasn’t the only Southeastern state to support the incumbent, Dilma Rousseff. Actually, Minas Gerais – widely regarded as the decisive state in Brazilian elections because it tends to be more split (historically it’s been a bridge between the cultural and economic regions of Brazil, Northeast and Southeast, West and East) and even more important in these 2014 elections because Dilma was born there and Aécio was governor twice there – also gave Dilma Rousseff a narrow victory (about 53% of the votes). Aécio Neves only won in São Paulo by a wide margin (64%) and by a narrow margin in the small state of Espírito Santo (if memory serves me right, about 53%).

    As for São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, this is a strictly subjective perception, but I’d say that despite their geographic closeness, relative wealth and position in Brazil’s Southeast, which makes for some similarities between them, São Paulo is “southward-oriented” in terms of culture, politics, general “attitude”, while Rio de Janeiro is “northward-oriented” (or maybe not “northward”, but simply “not-Southern”). The “European immigrant myth/narrative” is much stronger in São Paulo (even stronger, of course, in the South, with its 70%+ White population), despite its receiving of millions of African slaves and Brazilian migrants throughout the centuries, than in Rio de Janeiro, where the “racial mixing myth/narrative” so prevalent in much of Brazil – which glorifies, sometimes to the point of faking History and neglecting racial tensions and unjustices, the fusion between peoples – seems to me much stronger in Rio de Janeiro, as well as in the Northeast.

    • I did mention that Minas Gerais voted for Dima Rousseff in the previous post. For the purposes of this post, I defined (in my own mind!) “southeastern” narrowly to exclude northern Minas Gerais, which — as you note — is culturally and economically distinctive from the rest of the state. That is why I did not capitalize the word, and why I wrote “southeastern” rather than “in the Southeast.” I probably should have been more specific about this.

      But these are minor issues. Your comments on São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are fascinating and insightful. I would definitely like to learn more.

      I have a particular interest in Brazil at the moment, because my 20-year old son is going to Rio in two weeks to study abroad for 6 months and to be with his girlfriend, who is from Rio but has lived in the U.S. since she was 14 (she is doing her “junior year abroad” back home). They were in Brazil together the summer before last, and they made a point of not visiting São Paulo. Why would anyone want to go there?, they told me.

      I hope to write one more post on Brazil, forcusing on the election returns from Mato Grosso. I hope that you (and Steve) can provide comments!

      • Ygor C.S.

        Haha! “Why would anyone want to go there?” is really a typical Carioca way to bash São Paulo, which to some (many?) biased people in Rio de Janeiro is little more than a huge, joyless and lifeless concrete jungle (of course it isn’t only that, but also a very dynamic place, though there is definitely a hint of truth in that stereotype, hehe!).

  • steve

    The “extension of Rio Grande do Sul” part can also refer to the fact that those areas have been settled by a large number of immigrants from Rio Grande do Sul (as well as western Paraná) since the 60s/70s. Unlike most of Brazil, much of the “rural exodus” in the state was actually directed to other rural areas further north rather than regional urban centres. This immigration wave also reached the northernmost state of Roraima, which, accordingly, has similar influences and even similar voting patterns, as you noted in the previous post. The rest of the map also seems “accurate” as far as stereotypes and jokes go.

    Oh, I just looked up Braai and it does seem to have a very similar cultural status.

    • Many thanks — fascinating information. I was a bit perplexed by the voting returns from Roraima. The state is noted for conflicts over mining and between recent migrants and indigenous peoples. Many migrants to the state evidently came from the Northeast, which made the pro-Neves vote seem odd. It would be interesting to see a break-down on the state of origin of migrants to Roraima. I tried to get more information on the state, but my time was limited and most sites are in Portuguese.

      • steve

        The overall percentage of the population that came from the south is indeed small, but according to some estimates they represent about 90% of agribusiness owners, for example, which makes the community extremely influential.

    • Ygor C.S.

      That’s right, and especially the northern part of the Center-West region and the southern part of the North region is remarkable for having become an effective “crossroad” between the two huge waves of migration of Brazil in the post-war period: the Northeastern exodus from the poor Northeast, most of them landless peasants, and the Southern exodus from the rural lands of the South looking for cheaper lands (I guess many of them also landless, right?). Those two waves also met in huge numbers in the Federal District of Brasília, where much or maybe even most of the population seems (I think) to descend from Northeastern and Center-Southern migrants. I’d like to know more about how those two very distinctive Brazilian peoples – with a lot of similarities, but also a lot of differences – established a common coexistence in those parts where they settled and mingled, especially Acre, Rondônia, Mato Grosso, southern Pará.

  • There is also something very important in the RJ and SP maps that is usually not noticed by foreign observers: the toponyms “Bahia” and “Paraíba” are meant to be pejorative.

    In SP, “baiano,” which originally means those who were born in the northeastern state of Bahia, was in the second half of the twentieth century, resignified as a pejorative term for all the migrants from the northeast. Calling someone a “baiano” in SP is, to many people, something akin to a racial slur. Other ‘racial’ terms applied to northerners by bigoted people in SP are “cabeça-chata” (flat head), or, more rarely, sub-raça (subrace).

    In Rio, the pejorative term is not ‘baiano’, but ‘paraíba.’ Likewise, it serves as a racial slur not only for ‘paraibanos’ (those born in the northeastern state of Paraíba), but also for all northeasterners.

  • There is a recent and very interesting book by Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Jr. on the invention of the Brazilian Northeast as a distinct geographical region:

    Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Jr. ‘The invention of the Brazilian Northeast.’
    Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.

    It shows how, in the 1920s, the Northeast was defined as a ‘backward’ and ‘drought-ridden’ region in opposition to a Southeast conceptualized as ‘dynamic’ and ‘modern.’ (The irony is that right now São Paulo, like California, is suffering one of the worst droughts in recorded history).

    Unfortunately I don’t think they have it at Green Library yet. But you can take a look at the introduction here:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/238644641/The-Invention-of-the-Brazilian-Northeast-by-Durval-Muniz-de-Albuquerque-Jr

    • Thanks for bringing this book to my attention — it looks quite interesting.

  • joseph

    Really interesting articles and comments. I can definitely get behind any culture that venerates barbecuing…

    The best article I’ve read about Brazilian geography and economics is this one – https://wikileaks.org/gifiles/attach/44/44401_An%20Emergent%20Po.pdf – written by the consulting firm Stratfor. (Just a heads up, though, the link I’ve given for it here is from Wikileaks; it was published without the writer’s permission).

    • Ygor C.S.

      Very interesting article, but basically the author neglected half of Brazil in his analysis of Brazil’s geography and its relationship with Brazil’s geopolitical and economic challenges. The whole “escarpment theory” would be very different from Bahia northwards, and the main challenge would probably be how to turn the semi-arid – but provedly fertile if properly irrigated and cultivated soils – lands of the “sertão” a dynamic and productive region instead of the backwards and somewhat isolated region it’s been.

      By neglecting all of Brazil’s northern part, the author also commits the sin of saying that Brazil’s initial settlements began in the limited coastal lands between the sea and the escarpament (a typical geography of the Southeast and South), while in fact Brazil’s settlement began both chronogically and most successfully, until the late 1600’s, in the tropical Northeastern coast, especially Pernambuco and Bahia, characterized by a very lush jungle forest with fertile soils (“massapê”) in a flat coastal plain of some dozen kilometers, followed by the highlands of Maciço da Borborema. The northern coast of the Northeast (Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Piauí, Maranhão) has no such impediment to the easy access to the interior, mostly consisting of a coastal plain that graduallly climbs to a flat interior plateau dotted with dozens of small mountain regions.

      Until the huge immigration wave of the 1860-1950 (more than 5 million Europeans, Middle-Easteners and Japanese people came in), the Northeast accounted for 40% or more of the total population, and it certainly represented the majority of the population and the economy until the mining boom of the early 18th century in Minas Gerais, which made it the wealthiest and most populous province for several decades (a highland interior, by the way). I’m quite sure the natural difficulties posed by the North-Northeastern nature hinder its development, but its geographic position on the globe and its demographic relevance definitely don’t recommend that it be neglected in the analysis of the prospects for Brazil’s future economy and geopolitics.