Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Comparing US Ghettos to Favelas

These are MY observations and opinions about what I see are the differences between American ghettos and the Brazilian Favelas. I am not a expert. This is my opinions from being in both places, what I see are the differences between the two places.

I remember reading a somebodys post on a internet website about them wanting to visit a favela. There were people who responded negatively and one response in particular made me think. The responder had wrote “You would not go into a poor neighborhood in your own country, so, why would you want to do this in Brazil?”

For foreigners, I think attraction to favelas is different because of the way the media portrays these communities. It first starts in how Brazil is promoted by tourism and films. City of God brought the favela issue to the front and this brought more attention to the favela. Carnival and Samba also created curiosity about the favelas. Foreigners were not raised with the prejudice against the favelas like Brazilians have been. Its sad becase much of Brazilian identity is from that of the favelas. Carnival, Samba, Feijoada, many of brazil’s top football players, and Capoeira all come from favelas.

Ghetto’s, favelas, whatever we call them are underserved areas of poor people. How poor? You would have to decide on your own what levels of poverty exist there. I can tell you in living in the favela here, yes, we are poor but we are not as poor as the slums in India or Africa.

My Observations about USA Ghettos and culture in the United States

Ghettos can be the inner city black neighborhoods or the midwestern predominantly white trailer parks. Ghettos are poorer neighborhoods.

In the US there will always be this thing about the individual. They are always talking about individual rights etc..American ghettos show this first hand in the way some of the people speak “I gotta get whats mine!” I heard this many times. Rarely did I ever hear the word “we” as part of speech. The US is about the “me” or “I”. There is little or no community bonding in the ghettos.

The problem starts when the country tries to brainwash people into believing they have a right at the “American Dream”. Whats the American Dream? A house, car, good job, nice neighborhood, picket fence with back yard, 2 kids? What? This is what the country feeds to the people. You gotta buy a house with a 30-40 year mortgage?? What??? 30-40 years with a ball & chain?? How do you know if you will live that long?? The US is a big corporation consumerist place. If you do NOT have the lastest technology, there is something wrong with you. This is the problem. The system of economics makes the people feel inadequate if they do not buy. And people buy into this. This dream is only afforded to the very few. Now in the US it is so expensive to live that both mother and father are working so much to provide these “things” that they call quality of life. Instead of having a smaller house and living within their paychecks, they need to buy some huge house, fancy car and put themselves in debt for the next 10 years. why? For what? Who are they trying to impress? For all that working they do, who suffers? The children suffer becase their parents never have the time to give them the attention they need to develop as compassionate human beings. Instead the children become drone like becase their “parents” are now the video game, tv, computer or nanny. There is a lack of personal connection between parents and child which results in the cycle of the child becoming the same as the parents. Why have children if you do not have the time to give to them?

My interpretation of the American Dream is people who are slaves to their jobs. I could never live this way. Working 8-10 hours a day 5-6 days a week with 2-3 weeks vacation a year? What? Where is the quality of life? But people do this just to have that Landrover or 30 inch flat screen tv????

I do not understand this? There is nothing wrong with wanting nice things but at what cost to time and happiness? What happens with this is sacrifice of the family.

For people in ghettos the same brainwashing exists. Everybody wants nicer “things”. The key word here is “THINGS”. How about strong family values or a good education? What happened to those? Everything is about material things. So with that comes a culture of feeling like they need to have the nicest clothes, jewelry, cars etc.In many ghettos, there are cycles of families living off the government on public assistance/welfare in public housing projects. This welfare and public housing is provided to the poor by the government. This sets up people to be complacent and lazy. When the government gives you housing and 500 or more a month, why work? People get comfortable with this and eventually get trapped in it. All your needs are taken care of so why go out and find work?

In these housing projects, there is electricity, water and proper sewage.so, people do not have to worry about their toilet not flushing. Most of the inner city housing projects in places like New York and Chicago tend to be high rise buildings where the basic needs are met. In a high rise every person has their own separate compartment. It may not be pretty but its adequate. There is very little embracing of community with the way buildings separate people. And sad to say, that most housing projects get destroyed by the residents who need this housing. This I do not understand. Why would a person destroy a place they need?

With poverty, drugs, like most impoverished areas, are the way some feel they can “get ahead”. I think the government of the US dumped drugs into the black neighborhoods to destroy their communities. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s the black power movement was strong and developing many powerful leaders and role models for their communities. After the drugs came in, the community died. Money and power became more important than family and community values. Now in these neighborhoods, blacks are killing blacks. There is not so much the race war. Its about power, drugs, women, fancy clothes, expensive cars and who can get the most. This is the capitalist way but at what cost to these communities? With drugs, brings addicts, crime, prostitution and other social problems. Instead of growing up to be the next astronaut or fireman, kids want to be the king drug dealer. They learn what they see, kids are not stupid. And some of the rap music reinforces this negative cycle.

There are gangs which control drugs but they are in certain small areas of neighborhoods. If the guy on the next corner is selling more drugs, the other guy further down the road eventually wants to take the guys corner becase its about money. He doesn’t care if the guy is black or where he’s from. He just wants more money and will kill that guy to take his corner. This is how the gangs expand. And they instill fear in those neighborhoods by killing anyone who gets in their way. Some of the gangs are organized and connected to mafia like groups and some are more small time dealers. Everybody buys their stuff from somewhere and the connections run deep.

I always found it strange how in some of the US cities, whites would live in one area and other races would be in separate areas. In the southern states there is so much more racism against African Americans. They still have extreme groups who try to spread propaganda against immigrants and races who are not white as well. And violence against minorities still exists today. The only American city that I found had good integration, was San Francisco. That city still had areas like Hunter’s Point and Bayview which tended to be African American neighborhoods, but there were many areas where all races lived together with little or no problems.

People in ghettos are part of the problem with the drugs and violence. In order to have a drug dealing problem in your neighborhood, you first have to accept drugs in your neighborhood. Too many people turned their backs to this all becase of money and now look who’s in control. The parents are responsible to raise kids to stay out of that trouble. Parents are responsible to educate their sons and daughters about not getting pregnant at 15. Babies having babies and letting their kids run wild. But when they get shot, its all denial about how their kids was caught up in some bad shit. It all starts with parenting. If you raise your son/daughter to value school and education and follow through with discipline, why would he want to become a drug dealer. Every drug dealer has a mother or father. Kids learn from examples. The ghettos have lost their neighborhoods to thugs. And the people in those neighborhoods are responsible and to blame.

Americans have access to everything, if they have the money. The living standard is good. Food is plentiful. Water, eletricty and sewage work 99% of the time. Technology is some of the best in the world. Yet, when I was living there, people would complain about everything. It was as if the stress of trying to live up to a society expectation was a burden on some people. I saw many scenes of parents aggressively yelling or even hitting children in public. I started to see a country and people who were angry and on edge about their lives. It was as if it was impossible to keep up to expectations.

In the US they have everything, yet they are still not happy. I started to question, what is happiness in the US?

The FAVELAS (Rocinha)

Our origins in the favelas come from ex-slaves. We favelados started with nothing. We never had expectations. Our lives were about survival. But our communities are far different from the US ghettos. Our communities started with people migrating to different parts of Brazil to find work. We worked together to build our communities with very little resources.

The only thing we have in common with ghettos is that they are poor areas, but the way we in favelas function, it’s a world apart. Our favelas are very different from ghettos. I am glad I grew up here and not in a American ghetto.

The favelas are also called slums or shantytowns becase of the way the people constructed their houses. In the beginning we had no running water or electricity, no infrastructure. We would find land and we would build becase we had no choice. We built houses on the hills becase this was the land available to us. We used whatever materials we had or could get. Jobs paid very little and not enough for to afford rent in the “formal” city. So the government for the longest time turned their back while the poor would build their shacks on the hill. In the beginning there was not much confrontation becase the favelados represented a large work force for the middle and upper classes. Who else is going to clean your house or sweep the streets? As favelas grew the state started having concerns. When you live in conditions where there is no sanitation, eletricty, water or anything else, problems start. We had problems with garbage removal and becase of this rats and diseases spread. The government ignored our problems but always complained about us. In my favela Rocinha people started to organize and in 1961 we developed our own form of government to represent us to the outside world. We called it a residents association becase our leaders represent the people who live in our favela. They help educate us about our rights and protect our interests in the place we live. It is not perfect but they do more than the Rio government has ever done.

We are seen as marginalized becase we live in areas where the government does not or rarely provides services. Marginalization also has to do with the media and how we as people are portrayed to the non favela world. Most favelados do not have much education but then again we do not have opportunity to receive quality education becase the tax money is not there. But how can a person pay taxes when they are living on less than $700R (aprox.$400US) a month? The rich can send their kids to private schools which ensure them opportunity to get into university. This is foreign to the favelado. Our public schools fail to give us that opportunity no matter how smart you are.

In the favela, everybody works. We have no public housing/housing projects, welfare, food stamps or social programs. You don’t work, you don’t live. We care about our community regardless of the problems. In the favela it is a community effort for survival and nobody is better than anybody else. We are all equal, we are all favelados. Are favela is far from perfect but for us, it works.

When people construct their homes, there are always people willing to help. My neighbors helped my father build his house. There are groups of men in the community who know how to build houses so there is not shortage of help. The only thing that separates our houses in the favela from those on the outside, is money. This is the way it is. I remember a story my father told me when I was 8 years old. He was leaving the house and I asked him where he was going. He told me that he had to help a guy fix his roof. I asked him why? And he replied, becase someday son, you may need help with your roof. So, it shows that the people try to build a bond in their community. When the outside world ostrasizes the favela, the people in the favela bond together for support.

The difficult thing about favela life is that everybody lives so close together. There is very little privacy. If you are not careful, people can get in your business. My father always taught me to be nice to people but we don’t need tell everything about us to everyone. The house I live in has good privacy becase the walls are thick made of cement and bricks. I do not hear much noise from my neighbors. But when we lived in the shack, we heard everything.

Many people who do not live in favelas in Brazil think the favela is one big shit hole full of vagrants, thieves, and drug gangs. I think every place has bad people. We have people like this but the favela is much more than a few bad people. Most of the people who live here are honest hardworking types who only want their opportunity. The word “favelado” to me has only one meaning, a person from the favela. Just becase one is poor does not make them a criminal. This attitude of stereotyping favelados as marginal is similar to American ghettos residents being thought in the same way. Not every African American kid growing up in the ghetto is a drug dealer.

When I was a teenager growing up in the favela, life was very different. The favela did not have as much organization and we had more people who did bad things here. There was more petty crimes and abuse. Around 1983 came the drugs into the community and with that came the organized gang. There was a good and bad side to this but the community changed drastically after this point. In Rocinha, our first drug lord “Dennis” changed the way of negative social behaviors in the favela. The “traficantes” (drug dealers), not only sold drugs but acted as a internal police for the community. They protected the community from outside police and rival gang invasions and established social codes inside the favela. Dennis and his gang laid down the laws. There would be NO stealing, robbing, raping or killing. If you did any of these things, you would be punished severely. There were several reasons for this. First the gang was in control and wanted to establish stability in the community. The second was to show that the favela was a safe place for outsiders to come to buy their drugs. They only sell marijuana and cocaine. They have no interest in meth, crack, heroin, crank or any of that designer drug stuff. So if your looking for ecstacy (E) or mushrooms, you find that in the nightclubs outside the favelas.

Today in Rocinha, its one gang that sells here, only one and they work like a business. They work like a mafia type enterprise. They are a very organized cohesive group. If there is a problem within the gang, it is dealt with internally. The gang wants no problem with residents here. In exchange for selling inside the community the gang does provide some need help to people and will sponsor community events. They are certainly far from angels, but if you are not a threat to their business, they do not care who you are.

Today, the same social codes exist and unlike a US ghetto, I can safely walk through my favela anytime, day or night without fear of having crime done against me. In a ghetto in the US, I could be killed just for being the wrong color. There are no controlled social codes in the American ghetto. Its only the strong survive, again, all about the individual, certainly not about community.

Becase of our simple and different way of life, Brazilian society has referred to us marginals. Our community is not seen as the same as outside neighborhoods. Also, becase of the drug traffic and other bad things that go along with it, the “formal” city fears us. To admit to living in a favela is a stigma. I am at the age where I do not care and I will not lie about where I am from. I am proud of the people and my community here in ROCINHA.

Where else can I feel totally free and walk the streets safely at 3 in the morning with total freedom? Where can I walk in my community where I get greeted 10-15 times a day by my neighborhood people? All I need to do is walk out my door and find a party, no need to “crash” the party as there is no such thing. Today I decided I wanted peace so I stayed inside and relaxed. In Rocinha, you will never be lonely.

People socialize all the time here and there is always people out in the streets. When I show people my community they are amazed at how people are so friendly. I always tell them that just as you are curious about the favela, they are also curious about you. The media spreads so much lies about favelas that the outside world only knows this. When you have no more information about a place, you don’t have much choice on what you can think. We, who live in the favela knows that all the media talks of is negative things. So, we who live there often wonder if we live in such a bad place, why would people want to come. But we also know that people out there educate themselves and want to see for themselves. It is common to hear upper class Brazilians say to foreigners, “why would you want to go THERE?” Our lives are simple here, but we know how to enjoy life too.

Our street parties include everyone, nobody is excluded. We can have a party for any reason, samba, funk, football, birthday or just people who want to get together. If you decide to want to come for a visit, I am always available to show people a good time here that you will never forget. I do not know if the American ghettos have street parties anymore. In our club called “Emocoes”, we can have 3,000 people in there dancing and not one fight breaks out. Can that be said in any US ghetto club?

As I see it after all I have written, I hope you can see too that American ghettos are nothing like Brazilian favelas. We are both economically challenged but the people and the way they interact have nothing in common.

Facebook: "DeeJay Zezinho"
Orkut: "Favelado do Sucesso"
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