The Other American Exceptionalism


As the bus headed North leaving Mendoza, Argentina behind, I looked out my window at the mountains in the distance. In the seat next to me, my wife sat transfixed. The Andes impose their beauty on you. It’s no wonder they have inspired poets and novelists like César Vallejo, Mario Vargas Llosa and Pablo Neruda, who remarked about his trip across the mountain range to return from exile, “Todo era a la vez una naturaleza deslumbradora y secreta y a la vez una creciente amenaza de frío, nieve, persecución.” (Everything was simultaneously a dazzling secret natural world and an increasing threat of cold, snow and abuse). Even from the relative safety of the highway I understood him. The mountains seduce you with an otherworldliness and a capacity both to sustain life and to destroy it.

Not everybody enjoys the song of the unknown, those tempting murmurs of another world. A comfortable life is incompatible with multiple truths. But for those who do, its call is rapturous.

My tastes had always been a bit out of step. In college I was an odd kid who walked around campus with a hollowed out gourd filled with wet ground up leaves and danced salsa by himself in the middle of the quad. They must have thought I was crazy. I started describing myself as “half-Irish, half-Jewish, gringo by nationality, and latino at heart.” The phrase perfectly embodied the estrangement I felt at home in the US and the affinity and affection I felt towards Latin America. Nevertheless it’s a phrase I’ve recently come to see as inadequate.

My interest in Latin America began with funny words printed on plastic packaging and mysterious overheard conversations. What were these opaque jumbles of sounds?

It soon turned into stubborn hunger. So I improved my vocabulary and grammar, started watching telenovelas, chose a Mexican soccer team, ¡Vamos Águilas!, started drinking mate and tereré, devoured online newspapers, and struggled through books full of paranoid dictators, bitter intellectuals, shrunken-head exporters and bunny rabbit vomitters. I interned at a laboratory in Chile and befriended Mexicans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Colombians and Peruvians. Back home I deejayed a Latin American music show on the college radio and learned Portuguese, allowing me to study abroad in Brazil and have my heart-broken.

I even wrote a sprawling mess of a manifesto inspired by Cuban novelist and essayist Alejo Carpentier declaring the Americas the future center of the art and literary world. He was confident that Latin American artists would produce “los clásicos de un enorme mundo barroco que aún nos reserva, y reserva al mundo, las más extraordinarias sorpresas.” (the classics of an enormous Baroque world that would still reserve to us, reserve for the world, the most extraordinary surprises). And how could I disagree?

Where else could you find Indians speaking Dutch, Japanese speaking Spanish, Arabs speaking Portuguese and Germans speaking Guarani? Where else could you see the medieval, the colonial, the modern, the indigenous and the natural world mix together with such ease? Where else could you find nations, founded on the whip and the gun to bring fast gold and cheap sugar to European shores, that kept on living anyways like a condor nesting in the crevices of the side of a mountain, because humans were born to dream and not to serve? As Cuban poet and patriot José Martí said:

“De factores tan descompuestos, jamás, en menos tiempo histórico, se han creado naciones tan adelantadas y compactas… no hay patria en que pueda tener el hombre más orgullo que en nuestras dolorosas repúblicas americanas… vencedora veloz de un pasado sofocante, manchada sólo con sangre de abono que arranca a las manos la pelea con las ruinas, y la de las venas que nos dejaron picadas nuestros dueños.”

(From such disjointed elements, never, in less time, have such precocious and compact nations been created… there is no homeland of which man can be more proud than our painful American republics… the speedy victor of a suffocating past, stained only with the blood from a payment that strips the hands of their fight with ruins, and the blood from the veins that our masters left perforated).

Great art starts with the siren call of the unknown and the promise of a better world, and in Latin America, both were all around me. How could Europe and the US, lost in their futile self-indulgent search for the end of history, compete?

I reinterpreted the pan-Americanism of South American liberator Simón Bolivar and later Martí to include the US, dreaming of a future great continent with no economic, political or cultural center, and with pride, I declared myself just as much a Guatemalan, a Chilean or a Brazilian as an American.

Then I moved back to Brazil, fell in love and got married.

But as I settled into life in São Paulo, adjusted to living with somebody with a different view of the world and traveled more, something changed. I realized what was novel and romantic for me could be oppressively familiar to someone else. My wife didn’t have much patience for a foreigner extolling the beauty and virtue of her national traditions. From early childhood she’d been hearing variants of it. She wanted more.

I rethought my fervent Latin American boosterism. I didn’t want to be a cheerleader helping governments attract investors, helping travel agencies attract tourists. Nationalism needs myths to survive, but myths don’t need nations to grab us and make us wonder. My regional preferences were getting in the way of seeing what it was that I truly loved.

I looked upon the mountains now covered in an ethereal orange and thought about the people who were still loving and dancing and fucking and making music and writing poetry and taking care of each other and dreaming of more in spite of everything, in spite of every flaw outsiders claimed they had. That’s the America I wanted to be part of, a place that exists wherever people struggled to live together and overcome a cruel past.

Someday the frigid winds will come for me and bury me under the snow. They won’t ask me for my papers. They will only roar, and I’ll be gone. Just like everyone else. A memory of an unknown world, a whisper of what might have been. I hope when that day comes, I’ll be able to say I danced and dreamed and fought by my neighbors’ side.

A Quick Guide to the Brazilian Protests of 3/13 using Images Shared on Facebook

You are what you share.

A lot of people went to protests against corruption in Brazil this past Sunday
Av. Paulista, São Paulo’s main artery
A big question is who went and why

Supporters of the protests argued they were a legitimate expression of the Brazilian people’s frustration with government corruption. Opponents criticized the protests, claiming they were were overrepresented by a white economic elite more interested in advancing their own political interests than seriously combating corruption.

Some protestors were in fact from the elite
Vice-President of Finances for popular Rio de Janeiro soccer club Flamengo, Claudio Pracownik, accompanies his wife in protests, while a uniformed nanny pushes their children.
Iate Fora Dilma
Caption reads: Protestors go to the streets to protest against Dilma government. Banner reads: Dilma out!
Though this wasn’t necessarily representative of all present

Man carrying cart with children

Some protestors were less concerned with corruption than with what Brazil could become
Menos Venezuela, Mais Argentina
Sign reads: Less Venezuela, More Argentina!! (Brazil’s neighbor to the South recently voted the right-wing Macri into power)
Or with how much of their money was going to the government
Sonegar e legitima defesa
Sign reads: Tax evasion is self-defense!
Or with whom this was benefiting
A Dilma nao foi eleita por pessoas que leem jornais

Shirt reads: Dilma wasn’t elected by the people who read newspapers, but by the people who clean themselves with them. Dilma Out
Or with food?
+ Coxinha - Acaraje.jpg
Coxinha is a fried food typical of São Paulo; acarajé is a fried food typical of the Northeast of the country. This could refer to a Federal investigation of former President Lula for corruption and/or be a swipe against the economically poorer Northeasterners who traditionally make up the PT’s base.
Or with, well… ???
Inconfidente Brasil
Really not sure about the reference. Historical hero Tiradentes? It should be mentioned the homeless are sometimes found murdered in Brazil.
Some were just feeling nostalgic
Porque nao mataram todos
Sign reads: Why didn’t they kill everyone in 1964? (A reference to the coup d’etat that brought a right-wing military dictatorship to power. Many members of the ruling PT had active roles in opposing the dictatorship.)
Main targets of the protests were current President Dilma, former President Lula and the leftist Worker’s Party (PT).
Fora Eu.png
A man dressed as Dilma. Sign reads: Me out
De Grades Abertas
Sign reads: [the city of] Curitiba welcomes Lula with open bars
Aceitamos cartoes.jpg
Inflatable dolls of Dilma and Lula. Banner reads: We accept cards
Main sign reads: PT: Father of Aedes aegyPTi (the main mosquito vector for the Zika virus)
The opposition party didn’t come out unscathed

Governor of Sao Paulo Geraldo Alckmin and Senator of Minas Gerais Aécio Neves, both former presidential candidates from the right of center Social-Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB), were booed when attempting to participate in the protests, protests which they themselves had supported. Both have been accused of corruption.

Alckmin e Aecio Hostilizados.png
Heading reads: Harassed by protestors, Aécio and Alckmin stay just half an hour on the Paulista
They’re a protest movement in search of a hero. But who do you turn to when everybody is corrupt?
Queremos os Corruptos na Cadeia do PT, PSDP, PQP

Sign one reads: We want all corrupt politicians in jail, from the PT, PSDP, PP or PQP (Wherever the hell they’re from)! Sign two reads: Cunha (the opposition President of the Chamber of Deputies from the PMDB also accused of corruption), we haven’t forgot about you!
A judge?
Super Moro
The first inflatable doll is of Sérgio Moro, the Federal judge leading the current round of corruption investigations.
The police?
Thank you, Federal Police
Shirt reads: Thank you, Federal Police (responsible for investigating corruption)!
The far right?
Jaraleco, bolsanaro, Olavo.jpg
The hashtags on the sign in front say: Olavo (a fringe political writer) is right and Bolsonaro 2018 [for president] (an extremist Deputy for the PP, recently interviewed by Ellen Paige)
The military?
Military Intervention
The sign reads: Military intervention now!! Brazil demands: Order and Progress!!
Donald Trump?

Trump help us

A fast food chain and an Austrian school of economics?
Habib's & Austrians.jpg
Habib’s, a Middle Eastern-style fast food chain, launched a campaign encouraging people to protest.
The Power Rangers?
Power Rangers.png
Sign reads: Heroes against Corruption

Final Thoughts:

More than anything, Sunday’s protests highlighted an underlying trend of increased polarization and mistrust in Brazilian politics. A deteriorating economy and a weakened central government can’t be helping. Those who attended the protests, mostly people from the right, view supporters of the government as good-for-nothing mooching hypocrites who will support the PT’s crimes as long as they get welfare benefits, without any concern for the way the party is apparently driving the country to economic ruin. Meanwhile those who objected to the protests view the opposition as elitist/racist/sexist/paternalistic/etc. hypocrites, uncomfortable with the social changes that the PT has brought about in recent year and unaware or uninterested in the harsh reality of Brazil for the most vulnerable sectors of the country’s population. Both sides are haunted by ghosts: the left by memories of a military dictatorship that only ended 31 years ago and the right by fears of a Castro-style Communist takeover.

The protests also brought out two less-talked-about protagonists: a far right mistrustful of both the mainstream center-right political elite and the center-right mainstream media and an ideologically-unfixed middle mistrustful of politics in general, who only want to see lawbreakers punished and have somewhere to direct their anger. The direction this middle swings the next few years could determine the shape of Brazil’s political landscape.

A few questions remain: How serious of a problem actually is corruption in Brazil relative to other issues like poverty, education and violence? Can it be fought against in a bipartisan fashion? If not, should it be combatted in a partisan fashion regardless?

They are especially important in a political climate where plausibly denying the implications of one’s beliefs takes precedence over responsible coalition building.


Were there any images that I missed? Feel free to share with me in the comments.

Also for an article I did on a different kind of Brazilian protest from 2013, see here.

A chuva

O horror está nos olhos

A lâmina fria arde na mão. Está quase na hora, e começo a estremecer. Não lhe resta muito tempo. Uma piscadinha de luz balança na parede antes das trevas voltarem a reger.

Até o perdoaria se a ofensa não fosse tão grave. Não sou severa por natureza. Quando atrasou por conta da chuva, compreendi. A vida é mesmo imprevisível. Não peço que ele possa controlar o tempo.

Tudo bem, quis esperar passar. Eu mesma não faria diferente. As estradas viram um túmulo nessas horas. Só precisa errar uma vez. Voando no vento, a vida é um fio frágil, impossível de segurar. Sobe e cai ao seu próprio ritmo.

Sabia que minha mãe morreu assim? Um caminhão fechou o carro dela. Pois é! Perdeu controle, Deus guarde a sua alma. Sei quão perigoso pode ser.

Mas um pouco de juízo não faria mal. Precisava sair da van naquele momento? Entendo que a fome não tem hora. Mas tava chovendo! Não seria melhor ficar onde estava?

Encontrou um restaurante duzentos passos para frente, e resolveu parar para comer e trocar uma ideia com a garçonete. Ainda me contou todas as carnes ‘gostosas’ que tinha para escolher: alcatra, lagarto, costela, picanha, coração… Quebro corações por onde ando, me falou rindo.

Acha que sou trouxa?

Vai puxar saco de vagabunda do capeta enquanto a chuva engole tudo e todos? Vou te falar uma coisa, os homens de hoje em dia não valem nem a cutícula do meu pé. É só passar um rabo de saia que esquece o próprio nome. Só Jesus na causa.

E cadê a van?

Não teve como; desapareceu na chuva. Ainda contou do ‘acidente lamentável’ com aquele sorriso idiota. As pessoas não pensam. Será que contratei ele para comer garçonetes na estrada?

Vai aprender logo cedo, que a vida não é uma brincadeira, não. Se cuspir no olho de alguém, vai ter que pagar as consequências. Não ganhei aquela mercadoria toda do Papai Noel, e odeio decepcionar meus clientes.

Só não entrego pessoalmente por causa do médico. Ele acha que não deveria fazer viagens transnacionais com minha idade. Eu mandaria ele calar a boca, mas sou uma mulher de família. Pode perguntar qualquer amigo meu. Sempre trato os outros com respeito. Que nem o Sérgio!

Aquele magrelo ridículo vivia bebendo e fumando na porta da igreja do Pastor Marcelo. Me deixava muito mal. Mas não xinguei ou gritei. Não fiz um escândalo para todo mundo ver, pois não é assim que as coisas funcionam. Só olhei direto na cara dele, disse que tinha que ir embora e se foi. Simples assim. Levo esse negócio de respeito a sério.

Meus filhos nunca entenderam. Preferem curtir. Preferem bagunçar. Não pensam em construir algo que dure. Não percebem que sem o respeito, não somos nada. A vida nos tem pendurados à beira do caos. Um sopro alheio é o suficiente.

Fechei meus olhos e aguardei em silêncio. O moço não parava de falar. Pedia desculpas. Prometia que mesmo se nevar, nenhum outro pacote iria escapar-lhe. Me abraçava e sorria. Aqueles dentes amarelos, aquelas mãos sujas e suadas, aquele fedor… Seria eu capaz de perdoar?

Os faróis do carro iluminam a sua casa. Espero ele descer. Parece que está rindo de uma piada que não tem graça.

Espero mais um pouco. As sombras ressaltam do corpo dele com cada passo, numa fútil ginástica secular.

Chega perto, e desacelero minha respiração. Se ouve um trovão na distância. Quando ele vira, já estou pronta. A faca quase voa fora da minha mão. Está começando a chover. Olho para o céu e sorrio. Não se pode parar a chuva quando Deus manda cair.

FAQ #2 – Gringo safadinho

FAQ #1

Soccer in the Land of the Tupiniquim

I wrote this article in May, just before the start of the World Cup in Brazil. I post it now, believing it has lost none of its relevance. 

I’ve passed by the stadium where the opening game of the World Cup will be held at least a dozen times. You can see it from the gaps of the Itaquera metro station. There were lots of cranes, unearthed dirt, and lobs of concrete. The “future” of an otherwise dreary lower-middle class São Paulo suburb. I’ve never been curious enough to get out and see the construction up close.

Soccer hasn’t ever held much interest for me. I used to play, but I wasn’t somebody you’d want on your team. The damned ball never went where I asked it. However, I used to watch it on TV and buy a jersey of a local team in every country I visited. Sports are the easiest way to a stranger’s heart, and I’m not good at talking to strangers.

In Brazil, that team was São Paulo FC. They’d won a couple international tournaments, even beating out AC Milan and Liverpool. They were also the team of a good friend of mine and of an ex. Nowadays, they’re decent but never great. Always a few steps behind the eventual state champion be it Corinthians, Palmeiras or Santos. I didn’t watch many games, but it was fun to keep up, laugh at the barrage of insults on- and off-line. When the 2010 World Cup arrived, everybody became my best friend (as long as I was wearing the green and yellow). The day after the Netherlands knocked Brazil out, I mourned along with the rest.

And I’ll admit it: I’ve gotten lazy. My Brazilian wife never stops to watch her favorite team. My friends all share other common interests with me. After a while I became sick of the volley of firecrackers keeping me up at night and the street parades trapping me for hours inside of hot poorly-ventilated buses. I was done putting on the gruff macho voice and playing pirates with Peter Pan.

But in the land of the tupiniquim, soccer never grows old. Every foreigner will tell you that futebol is a religion here in Brazil. Blame it on Pelé or on Nike. These aren’t fair weather fans like in the US who might occasionally dip into the sport the few days of the year there is no football, basketball, baseball or hockey on TV. This is genuine passion. It’s in their DNA or in the tropical heat and the sensual rhythms or who knows, I’m running out of clichés. The point is that soccer means something here!

…what exactly does it mean?

Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said in a speech in 2007 after Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup, “Soccer isn’t just a sport for us, it’s more than that, soccer is a national passion.” Together with Carnival, it’s the best known example of a lust for life supposedly unique to Brazilians. In this vision of Brazil, its people love like the heroes of epic poems or at least the protagonists of popular soap operas; they dance samba with such joy that they could overcome any of life’s problems; they treat strangers like close friends, acquaintances like long lost brothers; they try to leave everybody in the group happy; they’re playful, fun-loving and obsessed with simple pleasures; their love for romance is only outmatched by their love for the team they hold in their hearts and their desire to share this love with everyone.

It’s this Brazil and this meaning of soccer that Lula is referring to when he says, “The thing that will most excite the players, the journalists and the directors of soccer the world over, more than the fans… will be the extraordinary behavior of the Brazilian people. The treatment that this people will give, you can be certain it will leave a mark on the history of the World Cup…”

This vision can be seen in many examples of Brazilian popular culture including the romantic comedy Romeo and Juliet Get Married, which tells the tale of a man who roots for Corinthians and a woman who cheers for arch-rival Palmeiras and the difficulties they face to get their sports fanatic family members to accept the union. In a recent advertisement, Nizan Guanaes, one of the most important publicists in the country, explains, “This country is a presidential democracy, but during one month it will become an imperial dictatorship. His excellency, Soccer, will reign; that cruel tyrant who mistreats us, and still we love him so much.” It’s the greatest of national traditions that brings together rich and poor, black and white, young and old, man and woman, all together for the only game that matters. It’s the reason Brazilian pop rock band Skank asks in one of their songs, “Who’s never dreamed of becoming a soccer player?”

But more than just a unifying force, soccer is also hailed as the grand equalizer in Brazil. It’s a sport where poor dark-skinned boys like Pelé or Garrincha, who also had crooked legs, could become national heroes and quite wealthy ones too. This isn’t nothing in a country where 72% of Brazilians earned the equivalent of two minimum wages or less in 2010 according to a census of the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics). It’s a sport where the ex-Portuguese colony is the only five-time world champion and where European teams fight to give its players multi-million dollar contracts as did Barcelona last year with recent acquisition Neymar. In a world order where Brazil is known as “the country of the future and always will be”, “not a serious country”, just another interchangeable poor violent Latin American country or the country that’s destroying the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s total dominance over developed nations in soccer is a source of pride.

This was the Brazil and the meaning of soccer that President Dilma Roussef hoped to address in a speech she gave before the sorting of teams for the World Cup in 2011 when she said, “Brazil continues to be identified as the country of soccer and this flatters us… But our people have many reasons to be proud… In the last eight years we lifted 40 million Brazilians into the middle class. We are a country that promotes social inclusion and that has in its ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, one of its greatest resources…” Brazil’s dominance of soccer represents an ideal of social and racial equality that she argues her administration has fought for and come close to achieving. In both aspects the world ought to respect and learn from the country.

Sérgio Rodrigues from Veja magazine, which is vocally opposed to Dilma’s administration, agrees with the importance of soccer and the World Cup to the nation, “It will be necessary to demonstrate live, before the eyes of the planet, that the title of “the country of soccer” is not an empty slogan… [It’s] the chance to allow the Brazil of our dreams to coincide with the Brazil of our reality… the beautiful story of Brazilian soccer, an epic that coincides wonderfully with our own political and social evolution in the twentieth century…” He goes on to emphasize what this Brazilian ideal of soccer is, “wasn’t this a tale of claiming of space by poor players and of how they sculpted out of the hard rock of a European game a creation full of surprises and sinuous lines that the world reveres as the ‘Brazilian school’… ‘soccer in verse’ as opposed to the “soccer in prose” of the Europeans… the principal aesthetic contribution that Brazil gave to the world…” Brazil too has something to offer humanity, and it starts with soccer, but it won’t end there.

But all is not right in the land of the tupiniquim. Support for the World Cup has fallen, sporadic protests interrupt the fanfare and preparation, and the edifying grandiloquent vision of soccer appears under attack. From the shadows an internet truism whispers, “The people are only Brazilian once every four years.”

This is the soccer that’s the opium of the Brazilian masses, panem et circenses, the green giant whose dazzling feats draw attention away from the man behind the curtain despoiling the nation’s treasures. It’s everything that is wrong with Brazil, that poor corrupt mutt who would rather play around with his black-and-white bauble than go to school and take responsibility for the future of his land, that grinning Don Juan who would rather con his way into money and into the bedroom of his best friend’s wife than do an honest day’s work. It’s a Brazil that’s selfish, lazy, inefficient, illiterate, incompetent and in denial.

This is the soccer of the military dictatorship. It’s General Médici in 1970, the president at that time, with his arm around Pelé’s shoulder after Brazil won the World Cup, and the crowd chanting, “All of us together, Brazil marches onwards!” It’s the 1972 Independence Cup, which Brazil hosted to celebrate 150 years of independence, an expensive nationalistic bonanza that few watched, and many European national teams skipped. This is the soccer where club presidents would become politicians, and politicians would become presidents of clubs. It’s a national league, which by 1979 under the rule of Admiral Heleno Nunes, commissioner of the ruling body of Brazilian sports, had expanded to 96 teams, as more and more entries were granted in exchange for political favors, leading to a popular saying, “Wherever ARENA [the political party of the military dictatorship] is doing poorly, another one gets into the National.”

This is the soccer of betting scandals, match fixing, and tax evasion, whether it was the Sports Lottery in 1982 or online gambling in 2005. Mino Carta wrote in the magazine Carta Capital, “It frightens me the tragic symbiosis between soccer and corruption. Soccer and crooked interests. Soccer and dirty exorbitant sums of money. Soccer and crime, to be more precise.” It’s the soccer of “The Cup of all Cups” where an estimated 150,000 residents, mostly from the most vulnerable segments of society, have been moved to make way for stadiums, where promised improvements in public transport haven’t come, sexual exploitation of minors is expected to rise, and construction projects hounded by the specter of corruption are behind and inexplicably cost several times more than predicted.

Then there is the soccer that represents the oppressive force of the status quo. It’s a soccer that both perverts and sanitizes Brazilian values for the sake of social cohesion and national unity. It’s a soccer where everybody is expected to represent theirs: their friends, their city, their country, their team. This is soccer of an unrequited love approaching stalkerish obsession, a sport for real men, where you can shout, cry, skip work, curse, pray, punch, kick, bleed, break, burn, as long as you do it for the team. It’s the object of affection for organized fan clubs, whose confrontations have caused 30 deaths inside stadiums in 2013 alone.

It’s the soccer of patriarchal traditionalists like the father in the movie Brainstorm, a passionate Santos FC fan who locks his son up in a mental institute after finding a joint in his jacket. In a scene near the beginning of the movie, the character, after noticing his son’s earring, grabs him by the ear and shouts, “This is what those queers use!” It’s a sport where fans of certain teams such as São Paulo FC are derided as fairies, where attempts to create fan clubs for gays are met with online death threats and a photo on Instagram of Corinthians player Emerson Sheik kissing a male friend on the lips created an uproar. It’s a sport where it’s common for newspapers and magazines to publish photos of “the muses of soccer” and a female referee, Fernanda Colombo, is photographed in “inopportune positions” during a game. In a press conference, the president of Cruzeiro, a team from Belo Horizonte, recently criticized her, saying that a pretty girl should be posing in Playboy not reffing a soccer game. It’s a Brazil that according to the Gay Group of Bahia saw 312 homicides motivated by homophobia in 2013 and according to the Secretary of Human Rights in Brazil saw 4851 victims of homophobia in general in 2012.

These are soccers that hold Brazil back, preventing it from reaching its true potential, and this is a Brazil that’s doomed to fail, cursed at birth for not being the United States or Europe. It’s a provincial nation incapable of becoming more than an embarrassment and a disappointment to its people, a Brazil that keeps its expectations well-hidden under layers of self-hate and cynicism.

Above all, soccer in Brazil is a place-holder, the preferred symbol of Brazilian nationalists everywhere. It’s all the nation’s virtues, all of its ills, all of its hopes for what the nation could be if only its people tried harder.

However, there are other Brazils in the land of the tupiniquim.

There is a Brazil of volleyball, Formula 1 racing and MMA, a Brazil of country, soul, indie rock and hip-hop, a country that exports designers and dentists, a country of Catholics, Protestants, practitioners of Spiritism and Candomblé and atheists, a Brazil of Amerindians, a Brazil of the descendants of African slaves, a Brazil of the descendants of Japanese immigrants, a Brazil of blonde blue-eyed descendants of Germans and Italians, who sometimes still speak the local dialect of the old country, a Brazil of tropical rainforests, a Brazil of sprawling plantations, and a Brazil of towering high-rises next to cramped shantytowns. There is a Brazil of geographic, political and cultural regions ever looking down on one another.

They’re Brazils that don’t always get along. They at times callously exploit one another and fiercely defend their definitions of what the nation is and ought to be. They’re Brazils that can’t and shouldn’t be haphazardly stitched together by some vague notion of a “national religion” or a “national opium”, at least if there is any desire for it to be known as more than just “the country of soccer”.

Sports are great fun, clichés even more so. Both are easy to understand, easy to explain and easy to shackle to questionable agendas and nationalistic world views. That is why humanity’s gentle citizens, independent of the plot of land that birthed them, should constantly strive to reimagine themselves with more creativity, more depth, more intelligence and more vigor, or our futures will be nothing more than painful clichés of the past. History isn’t kind to the unoriginal. So let the kids play in peace in the várzeas, let the cachaça-drinking old men at the bar argue uninterrupted about penalties and keep your annoying national metaphors to yourself. With any luck, I’ll even be inspired enough to watch the Brazilian side play and befriend a couple strangers when the World Cup starts.