History, Identity and the Struggle for Land in Northeastern Brazil, 1955-1985

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Sarzynski, Sarah R
Weinstein, Barbara
Drawing from Edward Said, Durval Muniz de Albuquerque Junior has argued that through a repetition of texts and images, Northeastern Brazil was "nordestinizado," or turned into an imagined area of misery, violence, folklore, fanaticism, and rebellion that became the Other of the modern, urban center-south of Brazil. My research builds on Albuquerque's arguments about the construction of o Nordeste in the twentieth century by situating them in the milieu of political and cultural debates that attempted to redefine Northeastern Brazil during the Cold War. Rural social movements (associated with the Catholic Church, the Communist Party, and the Ligas Camponesas), large landowners, filmmakers and intellectuals, popular poets, U.S. and Brazilian politicians and journalists, and Brazilian military officers proposed projects to change the structures that they saw as perpetuating regional inequalities. To gain support for their political projects, these social, political and cultural movements appropriated regional historical symbols and narratives, imbuing them with new meanings. In doing so, they sought to redefine regional identity, and to a certain extent, also looked to redefine national and Third World identity. During the Cold War, identity expanded to becoming a product of local, national and transnational discussions, facilitated by the expansion of film as a medium of mass culture. The debates over the meaning of regional historical symbols and regional identity in Northeastern Brazil are at once an exaggerated and exemplary microcosm of Cold War political and cultural struggles in Latin America and in the Third World. The characters in the story had counterparts in other countries, and the setting was one of the most socially unequal areas in the world espousing all of the problems and possibilities of impoverished areas during the Cold War. The struggles also occurred at a key moment in Cold War history in Latin America: the era of the Cuban Revolution. But, the Northeast was not a blank slate for Cold War policies; in fact, the region had entrenched cultural symbols and historical narratives that composed the framework for the debates over regional identity.