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Pride/São Paulo/Festa Junina

Boa tarde pessoal!

My two week blog promise has been broken- so it goes. My last post was just over a month ago, and so much loucura has happened since then! This will be a long one, and it's gonna get gay eventually, so strap in.

Izzy had to return to Florida to pick up a computer for their new job (woohoo job!). Her return coincided perfectly with the Pride parade in São Paulo, and who are we to mess with fate? I booked an overnight bus and met her for the week to work and check out the city in the evenings. Our AirBnB had the coolest rooftop pool.

São Paulo is the fourth largest city in the WORLD, and the largest city in the Western hemisphere. To put it into perspective, New York City is the 26th largest city in the world. This place is ginormous, which means that there are countless sights to see and restaurants to try.

Brazil was/is a popular destination for Japanese immigrants, and São Paulo has the second largest concentration of Japanese outside of Japan. Many live in a neighborhood called “Liberdade” which is home to a variety of Asian cuisine, beauty stores, coffee shops, and street markets. We spent an evening walking the streets and then waiting in a crazy line to eat at a famous no-frills ramen restaurant called ASKA. Beware, they are cash and Pix only. Hot take, I don’t love ramen. It’s good but like... not decadent enough to justify much effort. Personal opinion!

I was satisfied later in the week, though, because I got to eat good Indian food (Tempero Indiano in Pinheiros) AND good Thai food (Thai E-San in Liberdade or Pinheiros), all in the same week! Absolutely spoiled. My upbringing revolved around appreciating good food, and I have not been able to shake that fixation in my adult life. Poor Izzy just wants to eat a sandwich!

We visited the Mercado Municipal, which was impressive but quite overstimulating with everyone getting in your face trying to sell their nuts, meats, or fruits. We tried the famous mortadella sandwich, which was good but not my favorite meal of the trip.

We also had the privilege of attending a ballet at the Municipal Theatre, which was surprisingly entertaining. We loved both acts, even from the cheapest seats in the house.

I love museums. We have recently discovered that Izzy has a museum limit. 1 museum per 3 days, I would say. We visited the famous MASP, which I loved. The concept is so open and original. Somehow, the way the museum is structured fosters conversation, in an environment that is usually so quiet. I didn’t realize the museum's restaurant was only open for lunch, which was disappointing since it had such good reviews. But no worries, Méqui 1000 is just a few blocks away! This insane McDonald’s is so damn fancy, and horrifically delicious.

We also visited Pinacoteca, which I didn’t get the chance to visit last time I was in São Paulo for Fulbright orientation in March. It’s an art museum within a beautiful historic building. It way larger than I was expecting and the cute little café with a view of the adjacent park was a great place to relax.

After much contemplation, we decided to dish out the cash to visit the Edificio Italia bar on the 44th floor of a famous historic building in the city center. It was quite close to our AirBnB, which meant and the building’s shadow tempted us every day. The drinks were good, the sunset was beautiful, and overall I would say it was a good experience. I wish the timing worked out so that you could watch sunset while the piano performance was starting, but the performance didn’t start until 8 p.m. (and sunset here is close to 5 p.m.!) We each got one drink, balked at the prices, and enjoyed our accompanying peanuts as the never-ending skyline glowed with the setting sun. There’s some cool mountain ranges on the outskirts of the city that we couldn’t see until we went up so high, so it was cool to enjoy the view.

We also visited the famous “Beco do Batman”, which is an outdoor graffiti museum with breathtaking murals and colors. It’s nestled in the hipster-chic Vila Madalena neighborhood, filled with cute little antique shops and restaurants. 10/10, would recommend.

As the day of the parade approached, several other Fulbright ETA’s trickled into town to celebrate. I got to meet up with Isabel and Mac, and their respective group of friends. We went out to a Pride themed party in the gay-club district of the city, and it was a blast. I love meeting new people and seamlessly slipping into a comfortable demeanor from the ease of mutual friends.

And finally, the parade. The big event. When I tell you I have never seen so many gay people in my life!! In a world where you have to carefully identify fellow queers by the nuances of their clothes, rings, hair, etc., it was so fun to be in a space where millions of queer people were the dominant group. We did almost get trampled a few times, but that keeps life interesting.

In the U.S., pride parades are something you watch pass by, and the floats usually throw something at the crowd: beads, lube, candy. But, of course, we were thousands of miles away from any pride we have ever known. São Paulo Pride is South America’s largest Pride parade, and is listed by Guinness World Records as the biggest pride parade in the world starting in 2006 with 2.5 million people. This year, an estimated 3 million people crowded Avenida Paulista for the event. The sheer magnitude stopped us in our tracks when we entered the gated area.

At this Pride, people joined the parade. It was much more participatory than any parade I’ve ever been to in the U.S. It seemed as though people would choose the float that was playing music they liked, and then fall in line behind that float to dance, walk, and drink. We were a bit confused as to what to do, but this concept of becoming a part of the parade felt empowering and invigorating. Dancing along with thousands of people felt more like a march of protest than a commercialized parade.

I saw Pablo Vittar, but she wasn’t performing at the time. Maybe next time. Izzy was most excited because her favorite TV show of all time, Sense8, included a scene from São Paulo Pride. She said it lived up to the depiction. Overall, a memorable Pride.

We bussed back to Apucarana together, with prime seats right next to the bathroom because that was all that was left. Oopsie. It wasn’t too bad, though, and we each got some sleep. I love long buses because I read so much, which fills my heart up just enough to feel satisfied for a couple weeks. When we arrived, it was raining (and didn't stop for 3 days) and absolutely freezing. These Florida girls were not having a good time.

A friend of a friend invited me to her family’s Festa Junina party, which is a particularly Brazilian tradition. During the month of June, Festas Juninas, also known as festas de São João for their part in celebrating the nativity of St. John the Baptist, are the annual Brazilian celebrations adapted from European Midsummer that take place in the southern midwinter. Similar to a harvest festival, the party is centered around dancing and eating. There are several foods that are special to Festa Junina…

  • Canjica- a sweet, warm porridge made with white maize kernels (hominy), cooked with coconut milk, shredded coconut, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves

  • Paçoca- dried up peanut butter?? with extra sugar

  • Pamonha- grated sweet corn wrapped in corn husk and cooked… tamale vibes

  • Quentão- warm red wine mixed with spices like cinnamon

  • Bolo de milho- corn cake, similar flavor to cornbread but with a cake texture

  • Hot dogs- sliced and stewed in a red sauce, served in bread or bun (this isn't only festa junina, but it is important)

The holiday looks different in different regions of Brazil, but it is generally pretty similar. People hang colorful banners, celebrate corn, and dress up as mock country people (think plaid, straw hats, drawn on freckles, pigtails). Characteristically, people dance traditional quadrilha, which is like square dancing.

I recently visited a local middle school, and the children were flabbergasted that we don’t celebrate Festa Junina in the U.S. They looked so sorry for me. What a cultural wasteland that US of A is!

The strike has ended in the state universities of Paraná. Students are scrambling to finish overdue assignments and reconfigure their schedule to allow for four hours of classes every night. This, of course, puts more stress on the professors that are temporarily abandoning a political movement without the practical changes they were fighting for. Good vibes all around. In all sincerity, though, most people are jovial to be back in the classroom, if at least to joke and laugh together again.

Something that I find interesting here is that many students work full time during the day, and so their identity aligns more with their job than being a student. Many people work during university in the U.S., but I feel like the student identity prevails because most people work part-time. The fact that the university education here is free also plays a part, I’m sure. For those who aren’t familiar with the Brazilian higher education system, state and federal universities are completely free, for all levels (undergraduate and graduate courses). These free universities are also the most respected, and hardest to get into. Students have to take an entrance exam to get into the course.

For many students, they work all day and then go straight to campus for classes. There is little time for relaxation, hobbies, or personal time. Their lack of free time is evident in the way students act during classes; it is not that they lack respect or commitment, but rather that there is only so much you can take seriously in a day.

Anywho, it has been weird to go back to in-person classes. I struggle to be a coherent person at 9 p.m., and I do not have an additional 40 hour job. But it is so sweet to see all of the students and professors I have missed over the last two months.

I have been quite busy during the strike. I had the privilege to participate in two Pride related educational events this month. The first was a “Queer Identities” panel with three other Fulbright ETA’s working in different parts of Brazil. We talked about our personal history, the intersection of our identities, and our current experiences in Brazil. It is quite nice to recount my current experience, as I have felt so welcome as a queer professional at my university. There are so many fellow queer students and professors that I feel comfortable to share my life experience without fear of judgment or push-back.

This is a welcome experience of acceptance that contrasts starkly with how I felt in my last professional job as a substitute teacher in Florida. In that role, I avoided the topic with anyone I didn’t know well for fear of retribution.

Which brings me to my next pride event, a lecture I gave this week titled “LGBTQ+ History and Culture in the U.S.” We talked about Stonewall, Marsha P. Johnson, the AIDS crisis, and current anti-trans legislation that is sweeping the country. Here’s a website to check out that anti-trans legislation if you are interested.

I also got to talk about pride events in the U.S., gender neutral pronouns, and queer representation in the media.

Stepping into these very vulnerable roles as a representative of the queer community brings up so many feelings I struggled with when I first dipped my toe into the LGBTQ+ world. Feelings of not being gay enough, queer enough, non-binary enough. The beautiful part is that I know now, in my heart of hearts, that I belong to a community that cannot be defined; we are constantly changing, revolutionizing what it means to be human. There is no ‘enough’. There is just being. There is just loving.

Happy pride to every one of you. Celebrate the freedom of queerness, and strive always to make a safe and happy place for the queer people in your life. And visit São Paulo, if you ever have the chance.


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