I first moved to South America in 1993. I can still remember the first day I spent in
Bolivia where I went to be a volunteer after college. There were smells and tastes and
odd foods and also there was a sense that I as an American had come from a place very
far away. Over time I learned the nuances of Bolivian culture and I learned that it was me
as an American who was the odd one and that the norm for Bolivians was more normal world-wide
then my own coddled upbringing. I learned to speak Spanish and learn how to read new expressions and it was the adventure of my life.
I spent most of the next 10 years either living or working in South America. After time in Bolivia I found a job in Brazil. In of all paces Blumenau in Brazil's south. Santa Catarina is one of the those places that no one knows about but is so great, kind of like the Carolinas.
In the process I met my wife, learned Portuguese and got to know Brazilian poets. I used that knowledge to work for many more years with Latin America and in the end I have either lived or worked in every nation on the continent except Canada,Cuba and the Guyanas. I loved working South America but I never doubted that life is easier in the USA and that one has more opportunity here.
Every time I visited South America, until last week, I had the feeling that the U.S. was a dynamic place that . That "The Future" was somewhere in Texas or New York but never in Sao Paulo, Blumenau or Buenos Aires. That feeling is no longer part of my thinking.
We arrived in Sao Paulo on a Friday. Sao Paulo is the largest economic engine in all of Latin America it is larger than the rest of Latin America combined in GDP and it produces more things than the country of Mexico and it is just one state in Brazil. You see it all over the city, factories, malls and restaurants this is a place that is moving and growing. The feeling I got upon arriving was that unlike Chicago or New York there was no pall of depression or fear. In the USA right now many people are living lives of fear and doubt we see a false credit driven reality that made many of us feel secure when we were not and today many are wondering how to get out of the dead end? It seems evident why the International Olympic Committee Picked Rio over Chicago the energy and the hope is obvious.
In Brazil, for all its poverty and violence you can see a society that is emerging and growing. We spent time in Sao Paulo and the restaurants were full, the factories were humming and the people seemed confident in the future- perhaps Brazil has finally lived up to it's moniker "the country of the future"? For the entire 10 days in Brazil you could see the "Future" around you with growth and change even my Father in law saying that it is hard to get someone to do manual work because their are other jobs to be had. If that were only true in Chicago. So as the week progressed things became hopeful for me. For the first time in a year I felt that maybe things would get better and that there were possibilities.
I read in Florianopolis at the Centro Cultural Arquipelago a wonderful space where a young artist opens her home and studio to readings. The reading was a delight and poet Sergio Medieros did a great job of helping me to present my work to an audience- along with some great translations from Paulo Henriques Britto. In the end the day was a great, albeit a little hot and so humid it was like wearing a wet wool sweater. The whole trip was a joy and returning to the place where my life began as an adult was a sure way to begin again...
I left Brazil hope full... upon my return to Chicago my hopefulness lasted a day.
I turned on the TV news and watched the fighting and the insults, spoke to my many friends who are unemployed or underemployed, learned that another set of relatives have declared bankruptcy-- and for the first time in my life wished that I was not living here in the 'land of opportunity' but instead in the 'country of the future' . Things are not perfect in Brazil- but the pall that sits over everything I know here in the US remains like a dark rainstorm blocking out the sun.