On August 2, 1967, you wrote in your Brazilian diary “Favela Children” that São Paulo was “a madhouse”. At that time the city had five million, today the metropolitan area has more than twenty-one million inhabitants.
São Paulo is still a madhouse, but an interesting one. What I didn’t notice at the time of my first visit was that there is also a rich cultural life here. Until the nineties it was reserved for members of the educated upper class, but a lot has changed since then, more and more people enjoy culture in a different way.
How can you imagine that?
Afro-Brazilian and North American culture are increasingly coming to the fore. But the art of the Indians is also perceived more strongly. This is also due to the fact that this and African culture have been anchored in school lessons by law. But in reality, perception of indigenous art and culture is still lagging behind. Because what is taught is very superficial. In addition, the indigenous culture is quieter. Afro-Brazilian culture knows the whole story, slavery. Much of what the Indians bring with them – starting with the basic foodstuffs cassava and tapioca – is not associated with any of them, since it is practically the unconscious basis of all of Brazil.
In the early 1970s, you wrote that Brazil was not a nation at all. It is hard to imagine in today’s populist roar, or is the impression deceptive?
Of course, my view has changed and expanded over this long period. I wouldn’t write it like that anymore. I am a member of a study group called Pindorama. This is the old Tupi word for Brazil – land of palm trees. Not only does this mean that there are hundreds of types of palm trees here, it mainly means that the palm tree is something much more spiritual than just a simple tree. Pindorama as the forerunner of today’s Brazil has been heavily enriched by African and European elements throughout its history, today there are strong influences from East Asia, Japan and Korea. This is why many Brazilians say that Brazil has no identity.
Are these voices right?
I would answer the question like this: The various peoples and religions are currently in the process of forming a people that can become very interesting for the future of the planet. The advantage of Brazil is that foreigners like me can just live here – as a human being. No one in Brazil is just Afro-Brazilian, everyone is mixed. The Americans like to talk about the melting pot, but there doesn’t melt as much, they live much more separately than the Brazilians. Brazil’s task is to show the international community that a wide variety of people can live together fruitfully. But the thought is currently losing approval.
Why is it that society is not making progress – apart from crime and corruption?
The big differences between rich and poor keep separating people, especially in education: those who have money send their children to a private school. Why? Because it’s better. If you go to a public school and are poorly trained in Portuguese and mathematics, have no general education, do not even learn to think and still want to progress, you must either be a genius or find other ways of continuing education, for example on the Internet or through NGOs. Those who had poor education as poor people have to work during the day in order to be able to afford a private university in the evening. Unfortunately, they are expensive and bad. I think this is a tragic waste of talent and potential, both for the individual and for the country.