On being known as Brazilian

One of the most exciting things I did this past year was to work with the movement for Adult Literacy in Brasilia — a group involving people in various segments of society, such as the teaching force, university students and professors, an enormous number of volunteers from various social movements, teacher’s unions, and individuals like myself, with no particular affilliation, but who find this work absolutely fascinating, and is all too happy to be a part of it. We come together to see what we can do to help not only to end adult illiteracy in our communities, our city and our country, but also to promote the right to a good education to the thousands of people who, for whatever reason, fell through the cracks of the school system.

My friends in this group often ask me whether anyone in Canada has heard of our fellow countryman Paulo Freire, whose educational legacy is the foundation of the work that we do together. And they’re always startled when I reply: “yes, me, to name one.” 

In the last few weeks, I’ve spent many many hours in the OISE library at U of T. Here’s a picture of where I usually spend my Saturdays:

In the many years I have spent outside of Brazil, it’s not at all a rare occurrence that, whenever I introduce myself as being Brazilian, someone would reply: “Ah, that’s where Pelé is from. Cool!” Or “Ah, where it’s always Carnival! Cool! How is it living close to the Amazon?” But ever since I started my program in education, I have received a complete different variant on the country-recognition protocol. People in education often reply: “Wow, that’s where Paulo Freire is from! How exciting! It must be so cool to read him in the original!”

Take a closer look at the panel above — bottom left corner:


At first, I would just smile awkwardly: “Yeah… No… never read any of his writings… Seriously, just never got to do it… Yeah, I should put that in my list of things to read… Such a long list already though… But thanks, I’ll think about it…

 But after I had enough of these conversations, I decided I might as well read something, even if it were just to be able to say that I’d read him and didn’t like him. At least I wouldn’t be so constantly put to shame.

And so, a few summers ago, I went to Robarts library and found that they had a shelf full of his books. So I picked one. And I loved it. So I picked another one, and then another. And my life — as a student, as educator, as Brazilian, as a foreigner — was never the same again.


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