the land-drunk poet and the
Fernanda stopped to tie her shoe
while Miguel sauntered over to a Leaf Near You
Tomas turned around, on solid ground,
while Julieta went to go ride the pike
The kids of St. Paul are
short, thin, fat, and tall
black, brown, white, and small
that the parks
spray-mist in the summertime
The kids of St. Paul aren't greedy at all
they are polite, without respite, and
really are a delight
The kids of St. Paul: God loves them, one and all
Security: it's the topic of political speeches in both South and North America, and also the name of a great Otis Redding song.
I'm spending this week in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and so far have seen and heard three curious instances of folks seeking security:
1) The Cop-Killing Police Brutality protestors
The big news story last night was a police brutality scandal. The news channel had obtained raw video footage of five policemen rounding up a man in his suburban home (in Sao Paolo, the outer, poorer areas are referred to as the suburbs), prentending to put him in a police car, and then shooting him at point blank range.
The police then drove to the hospital, and dropped the dead man off.
This is a weird story of security: the footage wasn't taken by a journalist, it was taken by a witness and leaked to the press. This video shows a new chapter of the war between the police and the PCC, a criminal organization that calls themselves Primeiro Comando da Capital (the Capital's First Command). They've declared war against the Sao Paulo's police from inside Brazil's prisons. This year alone, they have killed almost a hundred police officers, many of them being executed on their free time, mostly at dawn.
Ironically enough, the release of this video on one of Brazil's most important TV channels has sparked national outrage about police brutality against the citizenry and shows how the police have been executing their own trial on the streets.
2) The (Businesswoman) Housewife
I talked with a woman who worked cleaning houses who, ostensibly, is part of what is often hailed as the slow but sure rise of women and the (lower) middle class in Latin America. She had been a housewife while raising her three children, but now that they are grown, she has the time to work.
Her name is Elena, and she is evangelical, soft-spoken, and very sweet. She explains that she likes to work, and earn her own money. She says that people ask her what exactly she needs money for, if her basic needs like food and shelter are accounted for.
"I just want it for me," she explains.
She also wants to add on two new rooms to her and her husband's house, but she doesn't tell him that how much she earns. She says that if she told him she had it, he'd ask to borrow it. So she keeps it hidden, she explains with a light chuckle.
This doesn't phase her: she goes on about how great her husband is, and how blessed she is to have someone to share a household with. He had a debilitating work injury four years ago which makes it impossible for him to work, but he makes up for it by cooking and cleaning at home so she never has to.
She shrugs her shoulders, but smiles. "He can't work, but I can. We have a nice life, one where things are taken care of."
"I mean, accidents happen, but that's life, right?"
"Gotta button up the loose ends."
3) The Illegal (American) Immigrant
While in the hour and a half long Customs line at the airport, I struck up a conversation with the person behind me, who, like me, also happened to be Californian. He explained that since he couldn't find architectural work in San Diego, and was in a relationship with a Brazilian woman, he decided to try his luck in Brazil.
By (illegally) overstaying his tourist visa.
He had packed up his entire life, and had had all of his worldly goods with him in the Customs line. He had a (relative) plan - he would get a Google voice number so his friends could call him, get international health insurance, and hope for the best.
I wished him the best, given that Brazil'st protectionist economy makes it difficult to immigrate into. Their benefits - insurance, work visas, bank accounts, even apartments - are by and for Brazilians.
What a 21st century security story - the American from the U.S. side of the US/Mexico border was reverse migrating into Latin America, led by the promise of greater opportunity.
Eventually, the customers officer called his number. As he scrambled to pull his bags along with him, he signaled to his Brazilian girlfriend (who had finished the Brazilian customs line an hour prior) to come accompany him. He yelled to compete with the loudspeaker, "Hey, can you come translate for me?!?"
In this week's analogy series, American rapper Mos Def is to Brazilian rapper Criolo, or, in his full name, Criolo Doido/Dumb Creole.
Just as Mos Def used to set the standard for independent American hip hop, Criolo is now setting the standard for independent Brazilian hip hop.
And here's Criolo:
Mos Def's classic song Umi Says:
There's a reason why Criolo has that uniquely Mos Def and NY "Lions of Hip Hop" aesthetic - urban, smart, and aggravated. Criolo was abjectly inspired by the OG rappers of yesteryear; in fact, in one of his songs, he fondly remembers dancing to Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." Much of Criolo's early work had that mid-90's hard-core rap sound, and it had the same concerns. Criolo grew up in the Sao Paolo equivalent of Brooklyn - more BedStuy than Brooklyn Heights - and at the time found only American musicians willing to talk about ghetto life.
Rap was Criolo's, and Mos Def's, entree into their art. But it's not their end point. They're both the baddest - the most doidao - in their fields, and mostly because they're unafraid of their own evolution as artists. Mos Def has swam in more lyrical directions with newer songs like No Hay Nada Mas, and Criolo is now really embracing his voice as a singer, and not just a rapper. He sings beautifully, in fact. Here's a project he did with National Geographic; like Mos Def's newer stuff, his poetry is front and center:
So, who's more doido - Mos Def or Criolo? Well, that's up to the listener. It's not a question of talent, just question of which language you're listening in.
That would be a big deal indeed. Maybe 2012 can be the year in which we stop worrying about the larger political picture, and just celebrate ourselves (to the tune of Common’s new song). Maybe we can liberate, and let love. Stop waiting on a social revolution, and raise our interior standard of living. It's the ultimate sense of freedom - loving just because you want to.
As per usual, Brazil is beating the U.S. at its own cultural game. Hapa musician Curumin, a mixed Japanese Brazilian, gets the sound of (inter) American life right.
Curumin's music ranges from Samba Japa, which layers auto-tuned Japanese chants on modern beats, to the crunk, 90's club style Caixa Preta.
I don't know who the American equivalent of Curumin is. Who does pop like this? Where can we hear Chinese L.A., or Pilipino San Francisco, in fun young music?
Let's get going. I want to hear it. Cuz serious musicianship + playful mixing = la cosa nostra.