Americanos: representaões da identidade nacional no Brasil e nos EUA


LÚCIA LIPPI OLIVEIRA: Belo Horizonte: Editora da Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 2000.

Lúcia Lippi Oliveira's Americanos follows in a long tradition of Brazilian soundings of the United States, a tradition that goes back to Eduardo Prado's A ilusão americana (1893) and Vianna Moog's Bandeirantes e pioneiros (1954). Americanos brings this tradition into the present day and, as its subtitle suggests, into the fashionable, if somewhat formless, intellectual territory of "representations" and "national identity." The latter innovation notwithstanding, the book hews close to the conventions of the genre; for example, like most, but not all of its predecessors, Americanos is directed at Oliveira's countrywomen and countrymen, that is, at brasileiros. The result is an interesting, if uneven, collection of articles, essays, and assorted musings on Brazilian and North American intellectual life, on the national mythologies of Brazil and the United States, and on contemporary culture and society in each of the two countries.

One of the most interesting pieces is "Iberismo e americanismo: um livro em questão." In this unconventional article, Oliveira summarizes a debate between Richard Morse and Simon Schwartzman sparked by the publication of the former's O espelho de Próspero (1988). Although one is left with the impression that Oliveira sympathizes with the essentialist Morse over the rationalist Schwartzman, she presents generally fair summaries of each exchange, thus remaining true to her stated goal of providing an impartial rendering of the debate.

A total of three chapters examine the roles played by geography and nature in national mythmaking. In "A conquista do espaço: sertão e fronteira no pensamento brasileiro," "Representações geográficas da identidade nacional: o caso norte-americano," and "A América e a fronteira: Turner e Roosevelt," Oliveira revisits these well-worked themes. The collection also includes essays on comparative studies of Brazil and the United States, on public commemorations, and on multiculturalism. A set of closing remarks covers everything from Oliveira's daughter's experiences babysitting for young norte-americanos to her own epiphany at a Milton Nascimento concert in Boston.

One key topic is left unaddressed by this wide-ranging collection: that of region. To be sure, the bandeirante puts in his customary appearance and the cowboy gallops through part of another chapter, but questions of region and regional variation are left otherwise unexplored. The failure to engage questions of subnational identity along regional lines in a book ostensibly about national identity is striking, particularly when one reflects upon the roles played by regionalism, whether as sectionalism, separatism, or simple bairrismo, in the national histories of Brazil and the United States. But the author is not solely to blame for her inattention to regional specificities. Indeed, working within a genre that insists on the existence of single, stable, and homogenous national identities, a priori generalization is not only inevitable, but necessary. The needs of the genre are complemented by the exigencies of itinerary, as Americanos and like works have been written almost exclusively from the perspectives of Brazilians who have spent time in the northeastern or midwestern United States, or, more rarely, a refined corner of California. The southern United States, by contrast, seems to have received few distinguished Brazilian visitors since Gilberto Freyre's schooldays, and as a result plays what is, at most, a bit part in Brazilian intellectual imaginings of the United States. The critical absence of the former slave South allows Oliveira and authors like her to reify a dynamic, meritocratic, individualistic, relatively egalitarian, and always modern past and present for the United States (which is then contrasted with a Brazil that is forever static, clientelistic, corporatist, hierarchical, and traditional), while sidestepping a significant portion of the country that, until fairly recently, shared more than a few similarities with Brazil and where, depending on the specific locale, one is still as likely to hear "Do you know who I am?" or some similar seersuckered variant of Roberto DaMatta's "Você sabe com quem estaacute; falando?!" as "Who do you think you are?"

In the end, Americanos is meant for a Brazilian audience, not a North American one, and it is not up to this reviewer to say whether or not such an audience might benefit from a close read. It is clear, however, that the book will be read for a long time to come by historians, in Brazil and abroad, alongside books like the aforementioned Bandeirantes e pioneiros and A ilusão americana. For this audience, Americanos will serve as a document valued for the insight it offers into perceptions of the United States in certain Brazilian intellectual circles at the close of the twentieth century.

James P. Woodard Brown University




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