Brazil, Brazilian. Identity, belonging, and nation.
Discussing the formation of Brazilian identity throughout the 20th century is important to reflect on how things are currently changing. Generally, the notion of belonging that Brazilians have for the country is based on the multicultural relationship that founded our civilization.
The notion presented here, that is, linked to popularized and hegemonized thoughts, in some way, in the 20th century, is that we are all, despite our variable origins, part of the same people. A people of many peoples, who created our own culture, set of values, and spirit.
Our national culture, therefore, is the temporal conjunction of the popular culture of these peoples, developed by the working and peasant classes in urban and rural areas. Despite their distinct origins, in a constant process of transforming themselves and others, this multi-relationship has shaped our collective identity into a unified multiple identity, the Brazilian identity.
If we could pinpoint a period when Brazil began to develop this notion of itself, many could say that it was after the beginning of the republican period, at the end of the 19th century. Although the 1920s were also very significant for the following decades, especially after the Revolution of 30, this can be seen more clearly, when elements of popular culture and part of the working class agenda were integrated into the government’s state project.
During the colonial and imperial times, this process was still being shaped. It is also possible to remember the discussions about the “archipelago of regional cultures” that communicate poorly with each other. Thus, modern Brazilian culture and identity are grounded in popular culture and in the mixed origins of each region.
In a sense, Brazil is a world unto itself. Our culture, as it was shaped and promoted in the 20th century, was an element of unity and a cultural shield as well. The same can be said, safeguarding the differences, regarding our state bureaucracy.
However, it is worth highlighting the well-known interaction of the elite with foreign economic interests; the historical lack of Brazilianness; its disconnections with national and popular culture; and its parallel culture of the elite, alien to the culture of the people.
The project built by the Revolution of 30, despite the support of elements of the Brazilian elite, was an exception in our history. And, of course, how the elites of the 20th century decided to use aspects of national culture for their projects also changed over time.
It is also worth mentioning, although this text doesn’t explain further, the development of national culture as a state project during the 20th century at the same pace that is noted, especially from 1945 onwards, the opening to the influence of American culture and its respective world vision. This has accelerated over the decades.
But, going back to the cultures that shaped Brazilian culture, there are cases and cases of how it can be perpetuated in time, how it influenced and is influenced, and how it shapes and is part of the national culture itself. This historical dialectical relationship between “local” culture (understanding the local already as the process of fusion and interaction of many cultures) and the influence of what has been identified as foreign culture is ancient.
Although the 20th century was the flowering of our national culture, there is an ache in the soul of our young nation. The problem of those Brazilians, primarily of European descent, who do not identify themselves as part of Brazilian culture and identity, but as something separate or special, has somehow always been present.
Thus, if it can be generalized, there is, on the one hand, in the 20th century, a tendency in certain social strata to despise the characteristics of popular (national) culture. This tendency is correlated with their looking to Europe as a moral guide for society, enchanted by some mystical narrative about the old continent.
And, on the other hand, over the decades, there was an adherence to North American political and economic dogmas, increasing with the influence of their culture, which concludes this feeling of distance and cultural superiority.
Currently, especially at the beginning of the 21st century, the influence of some theories about identity and ways of doing politics, also coming from the United States and Europe, which do not fully understand the development of our own history, strengthen this delicate problem.
These feelings of “disconnection” end up being reinforced in other social layers of Brazilian society, such as among certain social movements linked to modern political liberalism. These aim for minimum gains for marginalized parts of society through instruments that mainly promote individual social ascension, not offering collective solutions to social dilemmas related to the economic structure that sustains them.
The process of how this happens to the marginalized portions of Brazilian society is significantly different, but the effect is, in short, the same. Break the unified collective identity and weaken the cohesion of the struggle of the Brazilian working class, shaped by many peoples.
These symptoms are a little far from irreversibly destroying our notion of the collective self, because, for better or worse, there is still a cultural “barrier” built in the 20th century. But they are, in fact, changing how, especially the younger ones, they see themselves. This creates some bad expectations about the erosion of collective identity soon.
Reflecting more on this, in our case, what is most worrying and can strongly influence this feeling of disconnection with the notion of the Brazilian collective is the lack of a sense of citizenship due to the failure of our social state. The notion of Brazilian citizenship was promoted precisely alongside the feeling of belonging to the national culture in the last century, and it is also something that is gradually being taken away from us.
The interruption of the Brazilian popular project of the 20th century, its complete degeneration and perversion with the military dictatorship… The transition agreed to bourgeois liberal democracy, and the apex of the decadence of bourgeois society, in which we currently live, condemns Brazilians to live as modern slaves without collective destiny.
A project of social revolution can inevitably rescue the notion of Brazilian belonging. This notion of belonging is linked to the fruits of the popular culture of each of the regions of the country that, integrated, not separated, shape this unique civilization.
Rescuing the Brazilian dream and the originality of Brazilian culture is closely linked to the economic transformation of this society. There is no collective destiny outside the economic, political, and social rupture with the elements that condition our slavery.
For, only the rupture brings the possibility of, once again, reinventing Brazil, through a nation with a unified multiple identity and the promotion of a notion of citizenship that reflects the new economic and civilizational project.