Author Archives: Tongtong Wu

3 takeaways from the class

Modern Brazil by the History department was a class I initially picked for my cultural difference credit and tried to learn about the Brazilian culture more as I have Brazilian friends around. I learned so much more than I expected as I started to look at how social problems interact with race, white supremacy in the Brazilian society and immigration.
In Brazil, people stress about their income and social class to classify their social status. There is poverty among cities, and some Brazilians still live in the favelas, which the majority of them are racial minority. This has raised a question of their accessibility to resources, their educational opportunities and how did the environment impact their beliefs. Some scholars attribute to race problems. However, some data and demographics are not enough to interpret the social problems. Moreover, racism cannot conclude everything. It will worth exploring for me to observe the social dynamics in the Western society regarding race and socioeconomic status.
White supremacy has been a main trend in the western societies as they have multiple races exist in the society. Brazil is a good representation as well. In the Brazilian society, they portray racial democracy, which means that everyone is equal as a result of miscegenation, and everybody is whitening for the better. Nevertheless, this belief has stressed the whiteness and ignored other racial diversity. Many racial minorities have low self-esteem and try their best to whiten themselves instead of maintaining their original identity.
It is amazing to see Brazil is made up of immigrants from different corners of the world, as my initial thought was that Brazil was a country mainly with Portuguese heritage and some European immigrants. Brazil wanted immigration because King Pedro II saw the potential of having migrants and build up a new country. Immigration has made Brazil collect many people from different cultural backgrounds and work on plantations and explore new lands, as the immigrants had the motivation to strive for a better life. Nevertheless, not all the immigrants were welcomed at the same level, as the early policies strongly favored the Europeans, and the country showed ambivalent attitude toward Asian immigrants like the Chinese, which they were hired for labor. Establishing national identity based upon immigrants from different places was a hard work. Some cultures were included in the Brazilian identity, but some East Asian immigrants were excluded in the Brazilian identity.
Exploring the Brazilian society was an opportunity to look at western society social dynamics and think more critically on these social problems. This is only a start to learn multiple cultures, and it will be more to investigate beyond this class.

Wasteland discussion questions

Wasteland on Vik Muniz’s journey to Rio de Janeiro was about people who worked on trash picking, which they recycled those reusable materials and reassembled the waste. In Brazil, the problem of decomposing garbage has been a problem, as they took up the land available and were hard to decompose. Those trash pickers in the documentary are from the Brazilian working class and make a living through this job.
To reflect on the documentary, I would like to raise two discussion questions: How did the trash picking job change the people in the documentary? What is the impact of Vik Muniz’s photography project domestically and internationally? The participants of the documentary are from working class and live in favelas outside of Rio de Janeiro. Some of them experienced unemployment in the whole family, and this job gave them a way to support their daily life as their job. Some of them were in poverty as single mothers, and this job provided an opportunity to change their lives, as they did not need to be involved in prostitution. For the head of the organization, reallocating the waste and recycle the materials would help the environment and make use of more land available, so it would not be taken by the trash. The trash picking job overall granted the characters opportunities to change their environment, and their life, which they could make a living through the job and this career gave them another option over drug trafficking or prostitution.
Vik Muniz’s photography utilized trash for aesthetic values initially as most of them went into waste. Nevertheless, by taking pictures of trash pickers, they revealed their struggles and raised audiences’ awareness of reallocating waste. The organization started for this was doubted by the mass on the effectiveness of the environmentally friendly behavior, but after the photos and artworks were displayed in Brazil and even globally, waste allocation and working class people were more present in the media, which as a result brought more attention to the Brazilians. Vik Muniz also gained higher recognition in art internationally.

Do we live on a series of presuppositions? Responding to The Hour of Stars

The Hour of The Star is a story about a girl in poverty named Macabea from the state of Alagoas immigrated to Rio de Janeiro and went through a series of changes. Macabea in the book was living aimlessly, poorly educated, and had no family and low self-esteem. To Macabea, she had no idea of what happiness is, and she was also afraid of having those beautiful things in life. As a result, she thought she did not deserve all the good things granted to her. This was why she took the job that was under minimum wage as a typewriter. She was also shocked and anxious when she started dating Olympico.
Growing up under a hopeless place, Macabea lived for nothing, struggled to find happiness and thought herself she was hollow. She had low self-esteem and showed pessimism. I would like to ask some questions regarding Macabea’s story. Macabea provided some counter examples regarding existentialism, as humans always live based on a series of absolute presuppositions to support their empirical experiences. When Macabea interacted with her boyfriend Olympico, he had some absolute presuppositions like people always have dreams and stories about themselves. However, Macabea always responded with that she had nothing to talk about her. Macabea had no absolute presuppositions on those series of life questions. She only had the absolute presupposition that her life was meaningless and blank, so nothing in her life worth exploring. This question worth answering through more discussions, and I am going to learn more on existentialism. I am curious if people who live under a series of absolute presuppositions but all of a sudden lost all of those, and how would people cope with life from scratch?

Retirement in Brazil

Economy in Brazil has been a huge issue that has raised public attention and hostility. “Retire at 55? In Brazil, It’s the Norm. But Can the Good Times Last?” by Shasta Darlington from the New York Times addressed the problem of pension in Brazil. Even though the new pension policy has not been renewed in Brazil, the controversies and unsatisfactory have already started among the Brazilians. In Brazil, the average retirement age is 55 and “earning 70% of their final salary for the rest of their lives.” Most Brazilians work before their retirement and pay the pension tax for some amount based on their individual willingness. The Brazilian government spent 8.2% on pension. Despite the fact that this early retirement age has been a norm in Brazil, pension takes up to a third of government spending, which created a budget deficit. Therefore, the pension system in Brazil was no longer sustainable, as Brazil also has low credit rating and low investment grade. Many Brazilians who have worked half of their lives noticed this problem as well because what they have earned and saved was not enough for their retirement life.
Current Brazilian President Michel Temer and Congress in response planned to pass new pension legislation by having the public and private sector workers to retire at 65 for men and 62 for women, which it could prevent bankruptcy . However, this renewal would not be passed by the end of this February as President Temer had military to rein in violent crimes in Rio de Janeiro. According to the Constitution, lawmakers were prevented from making broad legal changes during any military intervention. As a result, President Temer was inhibited to make any proposal on pension this month. The new retirement age has brought a huge hostility in Brazil as some Brazilians thought that the retirement age would make them work longer. Moreover, political elites and governments have always been the one with corruption scandals, and huge amount of money has gone to the group of well-off people. Some Brazilians claimed that the government stole the money they accumulated. Strikes and protests took places to express the anger towards the new potential policy, while Brazilians also used carnivals to show their anger. The purpose of this new pension plan for President Temer was to protect the poor people who have earned a large amount of money in the public sector as large portion of well-off people were subsidized by the working poor. For the time being, the pension vote was postponed to the end of December, and President Temer also aimed to broaden corruption scandal and charged in two criminal cases.
Brazil in the media coverage has always been portrayed as a poor, unsafe, unequal, hostile and corruptive country. So did the new article. The article has addressed the pension problem with dissatisfaction toward the president and congress; protests from Brazilians, as they believed that the government took huge amount of money for their own interests; and the economy was bringing the citizens down. The media coverage gave readers an impression of Brazil was a chaotic country as people and government were not in harmony, while it is easy to ignore the splendid culture and other aspects of Brazil.
The news article addressed one of the most controversial issues on economy and politics. Many Brazilians have worked hard to save for their retirement, but the existing policy could not guarantee their lives after they ended their career. Pension is also related to Brazilians’ socioeconomic status, as money represents wealth and mobility. However, majority of the Brazilian population still struggle to live, while only a few percent are the group of well-off people. Moreover, 35% of the pension subsidies go to the richest group of people, but only 4% go to the poorest group of people. The pension system does not guarantee Brazilians’ social security. Brazil is a country that stresses racial democracy with the portrayal of Brazil grants equal opportunities to all groups of people regardless of race. Race in relation to socioeconomic status are concerns in Brazil. From the book Racism in Racial Democracy, the book presented racial issues in Vasalia, Rio de Janeiro, and some reflections of socioeconomic status. Vasalians in the book regardless of Euro-Brazilians or Afro-Brazilians, they think of their social welfare and mobility based on their socioeconomic status over the problem of race. They think of their raise in social status and power in terms of the money they have .

1 Shasta Darlington, “ Retire at 55? In Brazil, It’s the Norm. But Can the Good Times Last?” The New York Times, February 25 2018,

4 Ibid
5 France Winddance Twine, Racism in a Racial Democracy (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998), 70.


Darlington, Shasta. “Retire at 55? In Brazil, It’s the Norm. But Can the Good Times Last?”
The New York Times, February 25, 2018.
Twine, France Winddance. Racism in a Racial Democracy. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers
University Press, 1998.

2/15 Class Notes

As the class moved on, we started to talk about racism after the abolition of slavery. Brazil was seeking for progress and modernity in the late 19th century, and the Thursday class also related the past and the present through current events. Even though Brazil has progressed far since the colonial era, racism is still a problem in the society. We first discussed the article “Use of Blackface in Brazil Carnival Parade Sparks Debate” from the Washington Post because the use of blackface in the parade in Sao Paulo raised a huge controversy. From Americans’ point of view, blackface in the parade would be considered as cultural appropriation and racist. The question is whether this form of cultural appropriation is considered racist in Brazil as well. Cultural appropriation means that people from another culture perform and dress in the cultural context without knowing the meaning behind. Some Brazilians were offended by the blackface as well, whereas others did not. The parade group never meant to be offensive, but to stress the artistic element of Afro-Brazilians. “Cultural appropriation” would be an academic phrase to debate across cultures.
The parade that took place recently has been a popular topic to discuss about Brazil. Race has raised ambiguity in Brazil as well. The History and Culture Blog Post presented an article about a British woman who lived in a Brazilian community participated in the parade as a foreigner. She had devoted three hours a day to prepare, and she has successfully blended into Brazil. It raised the question that if a white immigrant would be relatively easier to gain social acceptance in Brazil than other race groups. The Book Presentation also reflected on Brazil’s race and social issues after the abolition of slavery. Vales of Tears: Revisiting the Canudos Massacre in Northeastern Brazil by Robert Levine explored the racial tension in the Backlands of Brazil. Canudo with approximately 30,000 residents were heavily poor after the abolition, and mainly populated with Afro-Brazilians. Canudo was trying to progress, which is also similar to the article presented later in the class on the question of degeneration. Under the Catholic leadership of Antonio Conselhiro, he and his followers strived to build up a utopian society with no crimes. The life in the Backlands of Brazil was also a challenge because it was not perfectly hospitable to people to live. Due to the long drought and no farming, the famine grew.
To better prepare for our future research, we also learned about how to write an abstract and identified topic, gap, methods or materials, argument and conclusion from “Puffy Ugly Slothful and Inert: Degeneration in Brazilian Social Thought 1880-1940” by Dain Borges. The article was about degeneration after the abolition of slavery and the author raised about the question of if Brazil was backsliding socially, racially and physically. Degeneration means that a backsliding in the society. Borges argued, “Degeneration, though never far from color in Brazil, was more than color. ” Borges started to present degeneration from the perspective of race. Some scientists used scientific racism and claimed that some Brazilian whites were inferior due to the fact that they lived in the tropics, and miscegenation berated the country. Nevertheless, Brazil took this philosophy differently by stressing whitening the society to improve. That was why the society came up with the ideology of whiteness means progress, but blackness shows degeneration. While race was not the only issue in the society, the Brazilians started to look at the public health and physical appearance of the country because Brazil that time had regional widespread of diseases and physical hygiene of places. Some psychiatrists interpreted in a way that those physical health and social problems were led by hereditary and race. Some Brazilians incorporated race in various social issues and attributed problems to race. Race has always been a concern when Brazilians are striving for progress in their society even though they were considering the degeneration.
There could be potential exam questions on social progress, degeneration and racism. I would like to write up questions like: Describe what degeneration means in Brazil and why would they think degeneration was an issue in their society. What aspects of degeneration was involved and how did the Brazilians cope with the idea of degeneration? How did the Brazilians make progressions under race tensions?
Below are the potential sources for further reading.
“The Danger of Cultural Appropriation – the Ongoing Whitening of Brazilian History”,
Black Women of Brazil. June 21, 2015.
This article proposed that white people in Brazil adopted Afro-Brazilian culture in their attire as a kind of fashion. The website argued that the cultural appropriation under the whitening society led people started to forget about Afro-Brazilian culture when the whites dressed up that way.
Zanardi, Luiza. “Why the Need to Understand What Exactly Cultural Appropriation is
Painfully Real Like Brazil”. Affinity. March 3, 2017.
Zanardi argued that cultural appropriation in Brazil would be inappropriate. She proposed that after understanding the meaning of Afro-Brazilian struggles, the example of wearing turban would be showing disrespect.

Fachinetti, Cristiana. Psychiatry in Context: the Problem of Degeneration in Brazil. Directed
by Institute of Historical Research. October 4, 2016; London: School of Advanced Study University of London, n.d. Podcast.
This podcast lectured the history of how Brazilians looking at degeneration psychologically and ways to regeneration from psychiatrists.

Tongtong Wu Wikipedia potential article “Chinese Brazilians”

As a Chinese international student while taking Modern Brazil, I would like to explore the connection between China and Brazil because most of the time in class, the focus of discussion was still Euro-Brazilians, Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people so far, and there was only a little about the Asian influence in Brazil. While reading for the class, I found out that there were Chinese in Brazil at the end of 19th century for cheap labors. Nevertheless, there is always a little content about Chinese contribution to Brazilian history. To expand my knowledge about Brazil, I would like to explore how my Chinese fellows live and are placed in Brazil. My plan is to edit the “Chinese Brazilians” article because this article still needs further improvement.
While reading the article “Chinese Brazilians”, I found out that there was limited description of Chinese immigration with fragmented history. The article missed the part that the Brazilians were hiring Chinese labor after the abolition of slavery to compensate for the labor loss as one of the reasons for Chinese settlements. They focused more on the historical events that the Chinese moving from Lisbon as laborers in Europe, Chinese Communist Revolution, and Cantonese immigration. However, the historical events they presented were so brief without any further elaboration on the specific reasons and backgrounds. I am planning to elaborate on those existing events and incorporated the periods in China to present the push and pull factors for immigration to Brazil. The article also failed to write about the social life of Chinese Brazilians in communities. There was too much underrepresentation in the history of Chinese Brazilians immigration.
The English version of “Chinese Brazilians” only had introduction page, notable Brazilians and references. The page only provided limited knowledge to readers who were interested about Chinese in Brazil, which would result that less people know about the existence of Chinese immigrants. Furthermore, Brazil portrayed the country as a diverse country, whereas they neglected the impact of Chinese influence to their country, as they have aimed to whiten the country. Chinese Brazilians have contributed themselves as laborers starting the 19th century. To an extent, Chinese immigrants also built Brazil, but they were not credited properly in the Brazilian history. Chinese Brazilians made up of Brazilian historical development, and readers should learn about the impact of Chinese to Brazil to better understand Brazilian social issues and immigration.
To help the edition of the article, I would take advantage of my language background, so I am going to read some articles written by Chinese authors on Chinese Brazilians. Those primary sources would be reliable because those are interviews, pictures and journals from Chinese. I would also track back to history timeline by combining Chines History, European history and Brazilian History to find the overlaps among them. By incorporating the historical backgrounds in different countries, I am going to investigate the factors that led to the Chinese became laborers and the reason why they started the immigration to Brazil. I would like to read scholarly works like Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil by Jeffrey Lesser. Those secondary sources would aid my overall understandings of Chinese immigration and their social struggles.

Research Project Tongtong Wu

Brazil is a country with diverse racial groups like Europeans, Africans, indigenous people and Asian immigrants. Miscegenation was common in Brazil since colonial era under the ideology of white supremacy, and the white Brazilians believed that Brazil would eventually become a white society as a result of mixing races. Even though Brazil stresses racial democracy, there are discriminations, certain racial dominations and socioeconomic difference among different racial groups.
During the period of slavery abolition, Brazilian slave masters gradually lost those Afro-Brazilians who were their main source of labor. To compensate for the labor loss, the Brazilian slave owners to lower their overall cost, they tried to hire cheap Chinese laborers in Latin America, the US and Guangdong Province. The Brazilian slave masters took advantage of Chinese immigrants were distant from their home country with little protection from the Chinese government and had lower status as a new group of settlers. The Chinese government negotiated with the Brazilian government reluctantly on sending Chinese laborers to Brazil temporarily under a five-year contract while granting the Chinese the freedom to entry and exit Brazil.
Brazilians reacted to Chinese immigration with different attitudes. Some regarded hiring Chinese laborers, as a transitory move for the abolition of slavery, while others were fear of Chinese immigration would worsen the existing racial problems. There were stereotypes about Chinese immigrants with compliments and dislike simultaneously. There were compliments that the Chinese were hard-working, tough and resistant to hardships, while others said that Chinese were unwilling to fit into the society. Unlike the Indians and Africans who Christianized themselves after arriving at Brazil, Chinese with their unique cultural heritage made them unable to assimilate into a western society. As an isolated group in Brazil, the Chinese Brazilians were neglected. Similar situation also happened to the Brazilian Japanese, which they were living in Brazil as a unique group with some level of discrimination. As unique racial and ethnic groups in Brazil, they struggled to live in Brazil and build connections with their home country.
As a Chinese international student in the US, I would like to explore the life of Asian immigrants in Brazil because their struggles would make me better understand discrimination and the hardships they have. To incorporate my projected major Psychology, I would like to explore how does the Brazilian society impact the mental health of Asian immigrants. As the Asian immigrants were placed in the middle of Brazilian society and parted from their home country, I would like to investigate the challenge to blend into a different westernized culture and separation from their cultural heritage impact their philosophy, education, career development and mental health in Brazil. I am also interested in exploring the social dynamics between Asian immigrants and other racial groups. I have started reading books like Negotiating National Identity by Lesser on Japanese and Chinese immigrants history in Brazil and Racism in a Racial Democracy, which I am currently reading for the Book Presentation, as I have learned about how Euro-Brazilians and Afro-Brazilians interacted with each other, and racism in a smaller Brazilian community. Therefore, I could draw comparisons among racial groups and identify the discrimination Asian Brazilians experience. I would find more primary sources on Asian Brazilians talking about their immigration experience either from documentaries or journals, but I might need assistance on those primary resources. I would also find more secondary resources on psychological health of those immigrants.


Conrad, Robert. “The Planter Class and the Debate over Chinese Immigration to Brazil,
1850- 1893.” International Migration Review 9, no. 1 (1975): 41.
Dantas, Sylvia Duarte. “An Intercultural Psychodynamic Counselling Model: A Preventive
Work Proposition for Plural Societies.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly 24, no. 1 (March 2011): 1–14.
France Winddance Twine. Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White
Supermacy in Brazil. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 1998.
Jeffrey Lesser. Negotiating National Identity : Immigrants, Minorities, and the Struggle for
Ethnicity in Brazil. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press, 1999.
Twine, France Winddance. 1998. Racism in a Racial Democracy : The Maintenance of White
Supremacy in Brazil. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Week 1 Wikipedia Review Blog Post

By reviewing Wikipedia’s article regarding Brazilian history, I read “Race and Ethnicity in Brazil”. The article covers the racial issues in Brazil like the presence of indigenous people, the “Abolition of Slavery” in 1888, “miscegenation”, “genetic studies” and regional demographics. However, not everything in the article is strongly related to the topic, as some of those deviate from the topic by using facts, but failed to tie with the main focus. For example, the “Abolition of Slavery”, the content of this subtitle mostly talked about the dynamic of labor, income and immigration after the end of slavery. “Gilberto Freyre on the criticisms that he received” was extra in this article because this subtitle was mostly comprised of quotations instead original edition of those sources, and those information was not strongly tied to the title of the article regarding racial issues. As a result, the subtitle failed to continue the previous subtitle “Gilberto Freyre’s work” on racial democracy. The article overall covered most of its content on early Portuguese settlement and other European countries’ immigration as the main focus of the race and ethnicity issue, which whitening Brazil to some extent. The article only wrote some brief sentences on African, Arab, Indigenous and Asian culture without furthering into their cultural heritage to the contribution of Brazilian race and ethnic groups.

The citations in the article are made up of sources in Portuguese and English with a variety of facts from articles and statistics from the country and American authors. Some links work, whereas, other links only show a webpage with a display of a list of articles, which it did not direct me to the source. For instance, [37] failed to cite the right page in the book Who Is Black?:One Nation’s Definition. Moreover, the source is biased as the book proposed the idea of having higher socioeconomic class as being “white”. I think that it is offensive to those non-white people because the book portrays whiteness symbolizes superiority. Some citations like [5] and [38] do not direct to the source by only displaying a website with a list of articles and blank page. There is no information out of date because most articles are published within twenty years.

The talk page addressed the ambiguity of the title of the article, as it was written as “Race and Ethnicity in Brazil”. One user thought that it would be better to title as “Race in Brazil” because the article mainly focused on race groups based on physical features instead of describing cultural groups like “Russian Brazilian” and “Italian Brazilian”. Therefore, the user thought it would be better to change the title to “Race in Brazil” and elaborate on race groups instead of immigration from specific countries. The use of language was stressed by another user because some words were not correctly described the specific race group. The word “preto” was considered offensive to the user, and another correct word to describe African Brazilians is “negro”, which is not offensive in Brazilian culture.

This article was rated as a C class article. It is part of the Wiki-project for Geography, Sociology, Anthropology and Ethnic Groups. The way Wikipedia discusses about the topic starts with an overview of ethnic groups and addresses the idea of racial equality. Our class started with the influence of African culture, as many foreigners have failed to learn about Brazil this way and African culture has been neglected by audiences.