Porto Alegre and the whole Rio Grande do Sul, for that matter, has a history that I find very interesting. Back in the early 1800s the dwellers of the state were given the role to produce beef jerky and leather (hence a cowboy culture), these products in great part were distributed throughout Brazil, the jerky to support the diets of slaves on the sugar-cane plantations. Yet at the same time, the Rio Grande do Sul was competing with Uruguay and Argentina in the prices and distribution of beef jerky to the other regions of Brazil. The crazy thing is that they were paying taxes just to compete and sell some product that could prove the state to be very fragile if they weren’t winning in the markets. Meanwhile, the Imperial Government of Brazil was making various inconsiderate impositions on the state’s provincial legislative time and time again. The Rio Grandenses have always had a spirit of separatism when comes to national identity, reveling in their own uniqueness and Gaucho way of life. On September 20th, 1835, the Revolt of Farroupilha marked the days when the rebels (farroupilhas) identified themselves and took control around various points of the state, in pursuit to eventually make the Rio Grande do Sul a republic. These victories lasted for around ten years, but in the end, the Gauchos are still speaking Portuguese and I am still studying abroad in “Brazil.”
Nonetheless, I can sense this attitude in some of my Brazilian peers who were born in the state. That being Gaucho is almost a different thing from being Brazilian. When I first became interested in Brazil I would reminisce on its beautiful bossa nova or samba music, the lively capoeira culture, the many shades of skin color you can find in Rio, probably all of this somewhat folkloric. And so I admit now that I am in the Rio Grande do Sul, I am appreciating Brazil for something, that still in my head, it seems not to be. I am taking perfect advantage of a culture of churrasco in the home (barbecue), walks through the park instead on the beach, a drive or bus ride through the Serra Gaucha (gorgeous mountains), an enchanting, song-like accent to Portuguese, and friendships with people who are mostly of Italian or German descent (not Mulattos, like the ones I use to imagine). Some proclaming their selves as less “Brasileiro”‘ than I would have liked.
Recently there was a holiday for all of Rio Grande do Sul, vinte de Setembro. From what I heard, its like a parade and celebration of the Farroupilhas (who in the end, did not suceed, a little ironic). I was actually excited to see all this and listen to more explanations as to why Gaucho pride is much more real than a national pride in the state. At the same time, I don’t like that I came here to learn the language of the nation and know a little more about its people, yet coincidentally I end up with the people who’s “iconic” identity is more connected perhaps with Uruguay and Argentina than Brazil itself; in the sense of the boundaries between these countries and the old way of cow boys and herding (feels kinda cheesy to put it this way, I am no anthropologist).
In the end, I wasn’t able to be in Rio Grande do Sul during these festivities. I will share my whereabouts, during that holiday, for the next post.