Editor's Introduction

by Carleton Sprague Smith

EVERYONE knows the name of Brazil, the mythical land of coffee and the samba, but far too few of us do more than keep abreast of its political affairs in the headlines. Yet one thing is certain, the country has come of age, and no one who aspires to a knowledge of twentieth-century culture should ignore Portuguese-speaking America. This supplement is intended to give a bird’s-eye view of Brazil’s intellectual achievements as well as its heritage of race, land, and government.

Brazil is going through an economic and social evolution similar to the one we experienced after our Civil War. New frontiers are being settled, virgin land cleared, and fundamental industries established. There is a cry for private capital and government subsidy to help the economic growth of the nation, though the realization of this expansion has led to nationalism and a certain amount of opposition to outside capital.

Foreign trade is essential for the prosperity of Brazil, which is still, despite its industrial surge, primarily an agricultural economy. There is keen international competition in every major field: coffee, corn, rice, cotton, sugar, cacao, rubber, and wax. Labor costs are relatively high, the cities vying with the country for unskilled workers. In certain regions the land has been badly depleted and, in recent years, whole provinces have been severely damaged by drought and occasionally by frost. Coal and gasoline must be imported, but, in compensation, there are huge deposits of ore and a tremendous hydroelectric potential of which only a fraction has already made São Paulo the major industrial city of Latin America.

Brazil’s 55,000,000 inhabitants have a Latin cultural heritage but an Anglo-Saxon constitutional tradition. This makes the country more of a New World-Old World hybrid than the United States. Although Brazil is situated in the Tropical zone, living conditions generally are pleasant; it is seldom cold, and the thousand-mile-long escarpment which runs near the seacoast, rising to an elevation of nearly 2000 feet, gives the interior a healthy climate. A phenomenal increase in population has taken place in the last fifty years; São Paulo, with only 70,000 inhabitants in 1890, now numbers over 2,000,000. Brazil’s economic revolution through industrialization has changed the demographic pattern of the country. Agrarian landowners no longer are the dominant political group. An industrial middle class and workers in organized unions strongly influence the country s policies today.

What are some of the characteristics of Brazilians? They are independent of mind and intelligent, extremely courteous, reflective, patient, and generally non-violent even in their revolutions. Cordial and friendly — the abraço (embrace) between men being very common-their large families tend to make them hospitable, even to strangers. Brazilians are more tolerant in human relations than North Americans. They have a natural dignity and Christian spirit which is impressive.

No description of the national character can ignore their ever present sense of humor. Political jokes are widespread and witty and their songs are full of satirical comment. Yet, while Brazilians are critical of themselves, they are not too friendly to criticism by others. Some writers have spoken of their pessimism and of the apathy among the people in the back country. There is a classic story about a small farmer who was asked why’ so little was growing on his plot of ground. “ Plantando da” (“If it were planted it would grow”), he replied. The belief that physical work is degrading still persists. More characteristic, however, and indeed universal in Brazil, is the feeling of saudade — a gentle sadness and sentimental nostalgia which instantly strikes foreigners as peculiarly Brazilian.

Both the federal and state governments have many problems, among the gravest being transportation and the establishment of schools. Illiteracy is high and, because the terrain is so rugged, roads and railroads have been constructed only at tremendous expense. Teaching the large rural population sanitation, nutrition, and modern agriculture is a colossal task and to simplify it the Ministries of Education and Health have been combined. The progress being made is symbolized by the structure which houses this Ministry in Rio: the finest modern public building in the Western Hemisphere.

Brazil is a land of contrusts. Side by side, Indians still subsist by Stone Age methods, caboclos-much like our hillbillies-live in squalor, and urban workers crowd into slums, while the upper middle classes build some of the most attractive, functional houses and apartments in the world. Universal military service, by showing the large cities to the young men from the interior, has helped to modify old rural patterns, and, on the whole, the Army has proved to be a force for constitutionalism. Meanwhile, the intellectuals play a surprisingly important role in the political development of t lie country. The evolving culture of Portuguose-speaking America is the best index of its basic philosophy. Because the future of this hemisphere depends on a mutual understanding of our two count ries, we should take an active and sympathetic interest in Brazil’s material, cultural, and spiritual achievements.