A New Year - by Regina Casé
See what Regina Casé (mentioned in the previous post) wrote about culture, people and slums, as the last episode of her "Periphery Central" went on air.
A New Year
transation by Ronaldo Lemos
Having viewed some of “Periphery Central”, you have probably noticed that I often look like I’m raving mad, foaming at the mouth, amazed and delighted with the slums, the poor folk, the black folk…
If you allow me to explain myself, it’s just that the favelas offer a wide variety of drugs, and I’ve become addicted to the strongest, single most mind-altering drug there exists. This is the same drug that makes the boys from the favelas to be eyed with suspicion when they cross the frontier into the city to buy bread; the frontier that separates the slums from the offices where they work; the frontier that makes these boys speak differently, stare differently, and walk differently if they don’t want to be fired.
Such frontiers are like battlefronts, sometimes with actual concrete barricades. Crossing over, the women who work as cooks in the city stop walking with their usual swinging gait, and lower their tone of voice. The men who work as waiters cease to vocalize the opinions they have of the clients they serve. These frontiers are the same frontiers that thousands of taxi drivers in Paris, Mexico City or NYC cross every day when they leave their homes, to follow our orders, to take us places. We don’t get to see much more than the back of their necks; they don’t get to suggest us a destination in the peripheries we might just need to see. Every one of these people’s thousand aspirations and dreams completely disappear when the boundaries that separate the periphery from the center are crossed, along with substantial parts of their cultural backgrounds. If the inhabitants of the periphery are invisible, their dreams and aspirations are even more ethereal.
That is, if you don’t take that special drug I’ve mentioned earlier. It’s very easy to do. It’s equally invisible, and extremely fast-acting. All that it takes is to cross the frontiers into the periphery but a single time, and see one of these ghosts back in the flesh, as a whole person, different from anyone else. Unique, and not as part of another figure in social exclusion statistics. It’s impossible not to be carried away, it’s unconceivable to feel this rush and be left unchanged. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to look so insane, so in love with all of this. But there’s no other way.
And it empowers you with a different set of sensorial skills. You start noticing that when you see the Carnival parades as you always do, only this time you recognize the lady who serves you coffee shining like a queen in the middle of the street. Or when you go to a Brazilian rap concert and hear the same beat of the samba schools’ percussionists in the voices of an enraptured audience, singing all the songs, not missing a lyric, getting every syllable right in sequences that are much harder to memorize than the usual samba lyrics. When, likewise, you see those terrible pictures of living conditions in prisons, with those hundreds of pairs of arms reaching out from behind bars, and immediately realize how each hand holds so many different wishes, hatreds, fears and passions, but a common desire: that the favelas cease to be an extension of the prison, and that the prison ceases to be an extension of the favelas.
We still believe in an old fashioned illusion, much along the lines of some traditional Brazilian soap opera scripts, whose protagonists are white, rich, beautiful farmers with different personalities, surrounded by a supporting cast of black slaves who are interchangeable and expendable - with the exception of a single token evil slave among hundreds of indolent mates. Not much different than American westerns with their white characters, and Native American caricatures. Even today, when stories are set in the peripheries, and written by well-meaning people, actors are almost always split into two groups: one with “society’s victims” and another with those who have managed to escape from a life of crime.
After a year traveling around the world, visiting the peripheries of different countries looking for similarities - and sometimes finding enormous differences - I feel that none of these roles is representative of anything. But what to make of this discovery? And what to make with all of this invisible power? How to close the year, to review what has happened, and to wish for a better New Year?
There is only a single image that comes to me. In Moçambique’s countryside, we found a village that I believed to be the most remote place I had ever set foot on. No one spoke a word of Portuguese, English or French. The chief had many wives...there was no asphalt…a woman was cooking in front of a hut made of mud. I couldn’t stop saying “Shoot that, shoot that!” to my cameraman. I was amazed with myself and my surroundings, with how far away my universe was from that place. But suddenly, the woman stopped working, and picked up a cell phone. My world fell down. And from its debris, I can build my wishes for a different kind of New Year.
I don’t know if “the periphery” is the same periphery everywhere in the world. But that day, I realized that “the market” is “the market” absolutely everywhere. What we need to do now is pray. Pray for Saint Market. Pray for Saint Market to lose control, to carry these masses someplace else, where things are fairer and everything is beautiful. Let “God” become this chaotic intelligence; and let’s surrender to randomness, and let randomness surprise us. May a revolution come with these home appliances and cell phones that are reaching the hands the poor, and may this revolution be plotted in the thousands of LAN houses that are hidden among the drug outposts in the slums. May the pamphlets of this revolution be the billions of pirate CDs and DVDs that are flowing through the veins of the favelas. May these weapons be used against the weapon makers. When that happens, we will all finally have a New Year.