Latin Americanist Lunch: “Twenty-Five Years of Favela Tourism: Continuities, Changes, and Challenges”


After attending Professor Jamie Alves’ talk on racial discrimination and the ‘Zone of Nonbeing’, I was very intrigued to learn more about Brazil. Favela’s have garnered a lot of media attention from features in movies and television shows, to photos of children gazing from the Favela’s at the fireworks illuminating the sky during the closing ceremony of the Olympic games. I find the fascination with Favelas, which is simply a Portuguese term for slum, to be intriguing and I wanted to understand how tourism was affecting this community.

Professor Bianca Freire-Medeiros is a native of Sao Paolo, Brazil, and although she did not grow up in the Favela’s she has witnessed their evolution into a tourist attraction and what that means for those living in these slums. Typically, Favelas are inhabited by poorer Afro-Brazilians and drugs and crime tend to run rampant. However, there is an extreme juxtaposition of how Favela’s are, and how they are portrayed in the media. For example, there are ‘Favela Chic’ clubs in Europe which romanticizes this slums into blissful environments filled with smiles, laughter, and of course Carnival. To make matters worse, Favela inspired chairs can be sold for £6,000, highlighting the disparity between those who actually live in the Favelas’ and others who are glorifying it as a new travel ‘experience’.

During the end of the presentation Professor Freire-Medeiros took several questions and there was one that allowed Professor Freire-Medeiros to solidify her point. One of the students mentioned that he was from Peru and when he went to visit Brazil he went and took a Favela tour because he wanted to understand why they were so special, and what made them different from the slums of his country. He revealed to us that the Favelas of Brazil, where no different from the slums of Peru, increasing his confusion in their growing popularity. To this Professor Freire-Medeiros respectively questioned him on why he even needed to see the Favela’s in the first place, they are just people like you and I, sure some of them are poor but they still live, they still engage in activities. She challenged us to break this stigma of enhancing the Favelas to be seen as ‘other’ or ‘superior’ let people live, and stop treating ordinary situations, as chances for us to investigate or explore ‘the unknown lives of the poor’.

This presentation was unique and informative, detailing the exploitative nature of Favela tourism and why it needs to end. My only questions for Professor Freire-Medeiros are: 1.) how can we dispel the curiosity surrounding the Favelas without leaving a negative impact on the market created by Brazilian citizens? And 2.) What are signs that indicate a new community, or group is about to be used as a display prop, and how can we counteract this measure once we recognize it is happening?


Latin Americanist Lunch: “ZONE OF NONBEING: White Civil Life and Anti-Black Racial Terror in the Brazilian Polity”

As someone who is minoring in Spanish, and intending to study in Latin America, I was very intrigued when I realized Professor Jamie Alves would be speaking on racial inequality in Brazil. Although, Brazilians speak Portuguese, the problems encountered and demonstrated in this multicultural nation resonate a sense of familiarity with other Latin/Central American nations; I might add as an African-American female I wanted a deeper insight into Brazil’s social construct. It appears this particular topic came at a perfect time, as it mirrors our very own discussion of ‘race’ in both, America and Brazil in class.

When looking at Brazil it does not take long for one to realize the structural violence being perpetrated on their black citizens. Segregated into Favelas, or urban slums, where one can expect to encounter many Afro-Brazilians. The Favelas are looked down upon, because similarly, to a ghetto they attract drugs, rape, crime, and other forms of violence. Therefore, the Brazilian government, especially the police, put a label on the people living there, explicitly the Black people.

Mr. Alves relayed a story, which occurred in 2015, where five black teenagers were shot one-hundred and eleven times by the Brazilian police while they were in their vehicle, driving by the police checkpoint. Originally, the police denied they were at fault, and even planted a gun in the car to make the victims appear guilty, it was eventually deemed a homicide, but while the judge ‘figured’ out the case, they allowed the suspected officers to be released. This is why the Blacks of Brazil are so enraged, when they are unwarrantedly murdered no one cares except for them, to augment the disparity the know killers are given special treatment. On the contrary, when white Brazilians are killed, or injustices are perpetrated against them, the nation speaks out in an uproar.

During one of the slides the quote “the bullets that attack black bodies are not rubber bullets” reinforces the sentiment and feeling of forgottenness and anger which engulfs the blacks of Brazil. Alves stated that in Brazil blacks are not considered criminal or lawless, no they are deemed something much more aggressive, they are regarded as ‘enemies’ of Brazil. Could you imagine being an enemy of your own nation, because it refuses to recognize your humanity? I ponder about the situation in Brazil and wonder: how much violence is it going to take for Brazil to recognize the need for reconciliation, how many demonstrations must be made to enact change? Mr. Alves left us a with a deep and haunting sentiment, most people want change, but no one wants to endure the violence and aggression of the complete social reconstruction which is required to enact this change, but if no want wants to bear this responsibility will the nation ever fully propitiate?

Latin Americanist Lunch over: “Population, Health, and Environment: Transitions in Latin America”

Attending Dr. Lopez-Carr’s presentation on Latin America, with several references to Africa, was quite insightful, as he had been awarded a grant to engage in socio-economic research within the Latin American region. In terms of urbanization, Latin America was one of the slower regions to pick up this new global phenomenon. However, per Dr. Lopez-Carr’s research 80% of Latin America is now urban, which has resulted in lower fertility. Families that would have originally had seven children, are now having roughly 3.5 children; this further changed the agriculture landscape. Instead of families having large acres of land, which would eventually be evenly distributed among the children, more families have acquired smaller acres of land to farm.

Keeping these new changes in mind, it should come as no surprise that Dr. Lopez-Carr has found the conversion of forest to agriculture has been the biggest impact on the environment by humans. Even, more troubling is that these urban population booms are taking place in the world’s poorest areas, where they cannot financially, and socially, support the growing populations. So, while your average rural family is having less kids to work the land, the families in the urban areas are reproducing at unprecedented rates.

During the duration of the talk my eyes were opened to new statistics, as the big picture was clearly depicted from these seemingly innocent facts. However, the most interesting/troubling piece of information I acquired was perhaps the biggest advocate for vegetarianism. Less than 1% of the earth’s surface is used for humans, for example soybeans, which were a crop driver at the start of the 2000s, of all the soybeans produced less than 1% were eaten by people, the rest were feed to livestock. This means three-fourths of the world’s used surface would be released into nature if people stopped eating animal protein. Therefore, I propose two questions for Dr. Lopez-Carr: 1.) Knowing what we do about deforestation and climate change, why have more Western governments not regulated the amount of meat households can buy, and 2.) In a world where the global north is so privileged, how are we going to sustain ourselves, when we are clearly destroying the land that feeds us? This was a very engaging talk, and I only touched on a small subsection of Dr. Lopez-Carr’s discussion.


The Complexities of the Yemen Crisis

I wrote this as extra credit for one of my classes.

I attended “The Yemeni Conundrum: Who is who, dynamics, and the way out,” presented by the visiting physics professor Dr. Mustafa Bahran. He first explained the history of the conflict and offered several common explanations for why the conflict exists. The legitimate government is fighting a rebel group led by leaders of the former government. One theory says that the conflict arises from dissension between Muslim sects, as one group believes that they are entitled to lead because they are descendents of Mohammed while the other believes they are entitled by the vote of the people. Another theory says that it stems from a conflict of interest between the north and the south, as the south is rarely represented in the government, and the only southern official was recently forcibly removed from office. Yet another theory claims that it is simply a power struggle between the new, legitimate government and the old one that is not content with giving up its power.

Dr. Bahran believes it is really a combination of all these factors. However, the situation is not quite as simple as it may seem. He also claimed that the one thing the two groups have in common is that they include thieves and war lords. And beyond that, the groups supporting each position are also giving aid to the opposing side as well. Ultimately, leaders of both groups do not have any desire for the war to end because they are profiting from the war, so there will be no winners in the end except the crooks. Because of this, Dr. Bahran concluded that the only way the war will end is by some form of outside intervention, either by a global super power or by a divine power.

While the talk was certainly interesting, I had hoped that he would incorporate his physics background a bit more. Occasionally, he did relate the dynamics of the situation to physical dynamics, but he probably could have gone a bit further with the analogy. I would like to ask him how his academic background may have influenced his view of the situation in comparison to how the uneducated population of Yemen may view it. I also wonder how an outside global power could possibly help this situation when such intervention has generally proven to be more harmful than helpful in the past.

Refugee Crisis – An Unimaginable Life

Day after day thousands of refugees cross the Aegan Sea in search for a better life, and just from 2015 to 2016 there were a total of 600,000 people/refugees who crossed the Syrian borders. Children hospitals are filled with refugee children with no parents, and families are separated.

On the 13th of April I attended an international event called “Journey to Europe: Perspectives on the Refugee Crisis,” which was a Film Screening of 4.1 Miles followed by lectures with Dr. Mitchell Smith, Dr. Mark Raymond and MAIS Graduate Student, Stefanie Neumeier. The short film portrays a Greek coast guard captain who was given the task to save thousands of refugees who are crossing the Aegan Sea. This award winning film was shocking to me, mostly because what I was able to see something that I never imagined could be happening on the other side of the world.

Dr. Smith was the first expert to speak after the film was presented, and he noticed how the entire room was speechless. It was hard to formulate words, but Dr. Smith specifically caught my attention when he said that the film “powerfully humanizes the refugee image in a world where we are threatened by our own security.” He spoke about the security of Europe, and how the EU is trying to reduce the flow of refugees. Security is one of the most important factors a nation faces, and Smith asked the question, “why are we so obsessed with our own security?” Although he gave us a few seconds to think about it, he quickly responded by saying that “our perceptions are based upon populous politics” and that “politicians take advantage of the people’s fears.” But Dr. Smith did provide an answer, which is that there needs to be a call for leadership and courage from every individual. Germany is experiencing a lot of criticism in regards to refugees and opening up their borders.

Dr. Raymond was the second expert to speak, and he wanted to echo what Dr. Smith said but he also wanted to focus on more of a historical perspective. Human history is a history of migration, and we have been migrating ever since the dawn of human rights. He focuses on the fact that what is new now is that we tightly control migration and borders, and it mostly has to do with nationalism and the technology we have present. Dr. Raymond specifically caught my attention when he stated that fleeing is one of the worst situations in the world, and 145 of 195 countries are parties to the 1951 International Refugee Treaty. Dr. Raymond said that a refugee is someone outside of their own country and cannot return to it due to a well founded fear of persecution due to gender, religion, race, etc. It is primarily due to this that there are 21.3 million refugees in the world. He ended his lecture by speaking about the help that the United States is giving and that “we are allowing the burden to rest on some of the poorest countries in the world,” and because of this we are being short sighted, selfish, and foolish. It is a humanitarian failure.

Furthermore, it was an amazing lecture and it has made me want to research the refugee crisis more. I hope that one day there will be peace in the world.

A Problem Bigger Than I Could Have Imagined

Yesterday, I attended a lecture regarding the Syrian Refugee Crisis, where we were shown a short documentary, and then were able to hear from several experts on the subject. The film showed officials in Greece going out and rescuing refugees that were smuggled across the ocean. The film blew my mind as I was not aware of the treacherous conditions that the refugees have to endure in order to escape.

Dr. Smith was the first expert to speak. He caught my attention when he said that the documentary “powerfully humanizes the refugee situation in a world where we are scared of a threat to our own security.” This statement to me summed up the whole purpose of the documentary, which was great. He also mentioned that Germany has experienced a lot of criticism for opening their borders and accepting refugees. I learned that there are many countries accepting refugees–in Sweden as many as 160,000 refugees live in the country which, in terms of US population translates to 5 million.

Dr. Raymond spoke on the historical perspective of the crisis. He stated that migration has always occurred and that the idea of closing and protecting country borders is a relatively new idea. He also defined what a refugee is based on the 1951 Refugee Convention. Dr. Raymond said that a refugee is someone outside of their own country and cannot return due to a well founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, gender, etc. Because of the definition, there are 21.3 million refugees in the world, but there are 65 million internally displaced people. This was mind blowing to me, as we seem to only be helping the technical refugees, which means the majority of the problem is not being addressed.

Overall, I found this lecture to be very mind blowing and eye opening. It made me want to help with the crisis and made me realize that we need to be doing more.

Syria: A No Win Situation?

This past Tuesday, Bashar al-Assad unleashed a chain of chemical bombings that resulted in the deaths of dozens of innocent men, women, and children — even going so far as to target medical clinics and hospitals. Although Assad and his Russian backers have repeatedly claimed that the attack was not of their volition, it is clear that only the Assad regime had both the means and motive to stage an attack of such massive proportions.

In a statement released by President Donald Trump yesterday, he denounced the Assad regime — claiming that the attack “crossed many, many lines” and changed his attitude towards Bashar al-Assad “very much.” Of course, President Assad has been wrecking havoc on the Syrian people for more than six years, and has used chemical weapons in the past, so this latest attack (tragic as it may be) is not entirely surprising.

Of course, President Trump is not the only one to blame for Assad’s actions. Former-President Obama, after making his Red Line Statement in 2012, failed to deliver on the threats that he made against the Assad regime. In the words of Arizona Senator John McCain, “what’s worse than doing nothing is saying you’ll do something and then do nothing.

That said, it seems that President Trump may be planning to follow a similar course of action (or rather inaction) to that of his predecessor if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent statement is anything to go on. However, Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio appear far more intent on removing Bashar al-Assad from power than the Trump administration.

In a recent statement by Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator explained that it was irresponsible for the American leaders to assume that Assad is not a primary threat to the Syrian people and to the United States. In fact, according to Senator Rubio, many of the radical jihadists in the Middle East are initially radicalized in response to the violence they and their families face from the Assad regime. We cannot efficiently combat ISIS if we do not first examine the factors that are causing these radical groups to gain support.

As a world leader, the United States has an obligation to act in response to such a blatant war crime. For six years, we have allowed innocent Syrian civilians to be brutally murdered by their own government, and we have offered almost no assistance or asylum. It is time that we offer the Syrian people our assistance — it is time that we provide them with a strong ally so that they may retake their homeland without being forced to chose between pledging their allegiance to the Assad regime or to radical jihadist groups.

This has gone on for long enough.

Is It a Muslim Ban?

One of the most contentious debates that is currently dominating American politics is whether President Trump’s Executive Order outlining a travel ban is really a Muslim ban in disguise. While the original ban has been halted by the court system, the question still remains. About a month ago, I listened to a lecture that debated this very subject. The lecture included distinguished professors from OU’s Religious Studies Department, and they gave their analysis of the ban, albeit from a religious perspective. One professor sought to determine if religion, specifically Christianity, could be used to validate the order. Another broke down the role religion plays in our government, as, even though there is a separation of church and state, religion remains a crucial part of our political system. Lastly, Dr. Kimball gave his interpretation on the question on everyone’s minds: is it really a Muslim ban? In his estimation, it was not necessarily a Muslim ban, but it had the potential to become one. Once “religion tests” entered the equation, this order could not be considered impartial to religion.

While this order originated in the United States, it had global consequences. Immigrants, tourists, and refugees were confused, delayed, and sometimes detained. The order even forbid migration from some specific countries indefinitely. The travel ban is an international issue, and it should not have been treated the way it was, without careful planning and care.

UPDATE: Recently, President Trump has come out with a new version of the travel ban. This one is slightly less extreme in nature, and Iraq is removed from the list of countries it affects. However, the Muslim Ban question is still up for debate.