Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Maintaining our hippie street cred in Brazil

Luiz and I share a parallel path through the 1970s and early 1980s of emulating the hipsters that forged a path before us in our respective countries: me demonstrating against nuclear power and South African Apartheid while living in a vegetarian housing cooperative at Michigan State University and Luiz smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, bucking the military government, and pushing the boundaries of gay life in Rio.

Luiz - Bell bottoms: check; platform sandals: check; photo of Che Guevara: check.
Rocky Horror Picture Show T: check.

Much of the hippie heavy lifting in the States had been done by the time I came along. The struggle to get the USA out of the Vietnam War had been won and it was then commonplace for young people to experiment more openly with sex and drugs. For me, in addition to my stints on the board of directors at the local food and housing cooperatives and cutting my activist teeth on pro-feminist and other social justice issues, I was hit broadside in 1978 when a man named Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco – thus setting the stage for those many years to come.

Brazilians, on the other hand, were still very much in the thick of things. The late seventies and early eighties saw growing opposition to Brazil’s oppressive military dictatorship, which had been installed against a left-leaning president with the backing of hard-line capitalist politicians, media moguls, the Catholic church, landowners and businessmen in 1964 (funny how this motley crew is so often on the wrong side of history). In 1979 forceful student and trade union struggles against the government bore some fruit with the government’s passing of an amnesty law that allowed previously exiled (and often tortured) activists to return to Brazil (however, in the trade-off it also shielded pro-government human rights violators from prosecution) and relaxed restrictions on civil liberties. It was not until 1984 that a democratic election would be held with civilian candidates setting the stage for the passage of Brazil’s current constitution in 1988.

The number one song in Brazil in 1979 was O Bêbado e a Equilibrista ("The Drunk and the Tightrope Walker") which made famous the lyrics sonha com a volta do irmão de Hefil ("dreaming of the return of Henfil's brother"), referring to the return of artists and other activists sent into exile by the government. Listen below - and for a translation of the lyrics go here.

Gaining the right to free speech is not exactly ancient history here in Brazil.

For his part, Luiz walked a fine line between giving voice to gay pride and liberation and getting the crap beaten out of him by homophobes and corrupt cops. As you might expect, his push back was always outrageous and highly fashionable.

Luiz (center left) with his grrlfriends at Carnaval.

Nowadays things have calmed a bit. Gay folks in Brazil are mostly afforded many of the same rights as our straight counterparts, with notable exceptions, and the last two presidents have been left-of-center populists that have, for the most part, overseen an economic and social resurgence that enjoys widespread support by the electorate, again, with notable exceptions.

The current climate of push back against government corruption and incompetence should not be mistaken as general dissatisfaction with progressive politics, but rather impatience regarding how slowly this thrice elected, preferred political strategy has resulted in real change on the ground in local communities and the widespread desire for the radical (as in, “by the roots”) expulsion of corrupt politicians and many civil employees.

Aside from our deliberate and unmistakable “out” lifestyle and my utilizing (sometimes surreptitiously) my position as teacher to encourage students to think through the value of political engagement as a strategy to improve Brazil for all, Luiz and I feel the love of our hippie days in the kitchen (and through sex and drugs J ).

My early vegetarian/crunchy/granola days continue to shine through, much to Luiz’s dismay. Meat is now definitely on the menu in our household, but so are homemade yogurt, bread and peanut butter. My efforts to learn the art of Brazilian cooking from Luiz have been slowed by my insistence on maintaining some old favorites in our diet. While I feel that my hippie street cred is definitely bound up with my cooking habits, Luiz is happy to continue to eat just what his mother used to prepare for him as a kid and focus on living a party lifestyle.

There is a happy medium here somewhere. But while we struggle to find it, I am delighted to explore the world of organic street markets, mountain goat farms, home grown tomatoes and natural food stores. Luiz is mollified by my tossing him a bone in the form of homemade rich and creamy chocolate ice cream. There is hippie bliss tucked in among the cheese, vegetables and fresh desserts.


Anonymous said...

Homemade food is the best. My husband and I do everything we can to make as much food at home as we can!!!! This past weekend I spend an afternoon seeding tons of vegetables for our garden. So exciting to grow your own vegetables!!!!

GingerV said...

Love the glimpse of life 'from tjhe dark side', I missed the hipping thing all together, turning 18 in early 68 and by 1969 already a square housewife and mother.