Just as social classes contrast one another in Brazil, so do its landscapes. Today we went to Sugar Loaf Mountain: a tall peak accessible by gondola that overlooks the city of Rio de Janerio and its surrounding landscapes. From such a beautiful terrace, favelas can be seen in abundance, carved into the slopes of nearby hillsides. Within these favelas live some of the poorest people of Brazil. Leo, our past tour guide in Recife, defined these people as making up the lower C and D classes in Brazil – on a scale of A to E. Families that live in favela neighborhoods usually work minimum wage jobs, earning the equivalent of 350 dollars a month. Coming from an American college student’s point of view, this may not sound too shabby, but in terms of Brazilian living, 350 is a hard number to work with. People struggle to afford the basics, let alone property and privacy. Yards are non-existent as well as recognizable front doors. I’m not even sure if most Brazilians have heard of mailboxes. City living has a different sort of definition in Rio than it does in the United States.
Ironically though, in the midst of poverty, the Brazilian culture reinforces materialism but in a different sense than American materialism/consumerism. Brazilians buy things in order to show their wealth, even if it’s non-existent. This holds true in American culture, but the reason and extent of it differs in Brazil. Before our trip to Sugar Loaf, our group met with Pedro and Kara’s old classmate and friend, Lucia, a teacher here in Rio. We developed an organic discussion about Brazilian life and culture that ranged from the early history and beginning of Brazil as a colony and country to modern wedding ceremonies. Needless to say, we covered our bases. But in regards to city living and family spending, Lucia emphasized the point that living in Brazil is all about status. In order to achieve this sense of high social status, Brazilians either have to know somebody important such as those in the royal family or they buy material goods. For example, many of Lucia’s friends question why she does not own a car. To her, owning a car is more of a hassle and extra expense, as having a car in the 12th most expensive city in the world means dealing with unruly traffic and expensive parking (Novaes). To others, having a car is a symbol of affluence. Who cares if it isn't the most efficient nor the cheapest mode of transportation when there is a matter of status on the line?
The reason why Lucia has been able to identify this and stay firm in her stance against owning a car at this point in her life is because she went to college in the U.S. and was able to look in at Brazilian lifestyles and the influence of culture as a sort of outsider and compare it to U.S. lifestyles and culture. It is also important to note that Lucia’s realization may be due to the fact that she has a higher level of education as “opposing values whose main bearers are two different groups with contrasting levels of education” (Kingstone 249).Lucia also pointed out that even those living in favelas have cell phones and satellite television. She informed us that a lot of people living in favelas have better phones than she does, because just like the majority of Brazilians, they are willing to sacrifice a good chunk of change – usually money they do not have – on materialistic goods in order to hopefully increase their status. This may be because of the discrimination that exists between social classes in Brazil. Whereas most countries struggle with racial discrimination, Brazil struggles with social class-based discrimination (Kingstone 251). So in a sense, Brazilians are similar to Americans in the respect that they are just trying to keep up with the newest and hottest technology or gadget out on the market.
Despite the separation between social classes within Brazil, they are united by a culturally infested goal to achieve status through material belongings. Even those who can hardly afford a roof over their heads choose to purchase non-necessities. Today, Lucia provided the window in which we peered into the city of Rio as we sat 220 meters above it on Sugar Loaf Mountain.
Kingstone, Peter R., and Timothy J. Power. Democratic Brazil Revisited. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2008. Print.
Novaes, Lucia. Cultural Lesson. Bossa in Rio Hostel, Rio De Janeiro. 20 Jan. 2014. Lecture.