Editor's Letter: The Search for Equity

By June Carolyn Erlick

Brazil is different. Brazil is huge. Brazil is colorful. Brazil is magic. In Brazil, the people speak Portuguese instead of Spanish.

I’ve written a variation of these phrases some five times over, trying to decide if they are clichés. I’ve only visited Brazil four times, mostly for conferences. But once, in 1977 on an Inter American Press Scholarship, I spent five-weeks on luxury buses, traveling along the Brazilian coast, wending my way from startling European-like villas in the south of the country to primitive conditions amid decayed splendor in the Amazons.

I was struck by the inequity, but I was also struck by the wealth. I had seen an abundance of riches elsewhere in Latin America, but for the most part, it felt ephemeral, set off by the oil boom or spiraling coffee prices or the incipient drug trade.

Brazil somehow felt more grounded, both in its poverty and its wealth. The buses I rode in were several times better than Greyhound or Trailways in the States and light years away from the so-called “chicken buses” of Mexico and Colombia. These buses had comfortable seats and even hostesses to serve us snacks. The passengers seemed to be ordinary folk. The buses and the clean, ample, and even elegant bus stations from which they left seemed to tease me with the puzzle of Brazilian difference.

Fast-forward many years. I speak Spanish, not Portuguese, although Brazilians always manage to praise my Porteñol—an awkward mixture of the two languages.

ReVista (or its former embodiment, DRCLAS NEWS) has featured Mexico, Colombia, Cuba and Chile. Brazil seems a logical next choice, especially given that the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies opened an office in São Paulo last year. In December, I attended a Visual Rights conference, sponsored by Harvard’s Cultural Agency Initiative, in São Paulo, and was hosted by the DRCLAS office there. The modernity and hustle bustle of the Avenida Paulista just about rivaled New York. In my few days there, I began to learn of Brazil’s experiments, its search for social equity.

There was no way I could do this issue alone, not without Portuguese, not without a deep prior knowledge of this “impávido coloso”—this dauntless colossus, as my friend Daniel Samper entitled his novel about Brazil. ReVista is always a collective experience, a collaboration among writers, photographers, academics, non-profits, students and others who give their time and energy. But this issue is even more so. We formed a Brazil team, spearheaded by Kenneth Maxwell, director of the Brazil Studies Program in Cambridge. Jason Dyett, the program director in São Paulo, Erin Goodman, the program officer here in Cambridge; and Lorena Barberia and Tomás Amorim in Brazil helped craft this magazine.

You might have noticed by now that the Brazil issue is in living color. That’s not a change for ReVista: we’ve had one color issue before, the art issue in 1999. Thanks to support from Jorge Paulo Lemann, we’re able to do it again. But this time, we also see it as an experiment: what do you, dear reader, think of the use of color? Would you like to see it in each issue? On a limited basis? Is it distracting? Is it exciting? Please write me at jerlick@fas.harvard.edu with your comments.

For now, it’s to show that Brazil is different. It is colorful. It is huge. And, as you will read in these pages, it has taken up the challenge in its search for social equity.