I thought this work was one of the more obviously transnational texts we have read so far in class. As the author states in the introduction, the interrelationship of the U.S. and Brazil is not obvious at first, but Seigel proves that the nations’ connection is closer than we may think. Chapter one is critical in introducing this concept- that “race and nation” are made in cultural spheres just as much, if not more, than in economic and political ones. Chapter one proves this point thoroughly through the presentation of the coffee advertisements; I admittedly did not grasp how chapter two’s focus on the folkloric Maxixe dance shaped race and nation in a transnational context specifically. It did not strike me as a reciprocal exchange. It seems like an aspect of Brazilian culture that the U.S. (and other western countries) appropriated for their own consumption. Erasure and appropriation is not a mutual exchange in this context; it conveys U.S. imperialism more so.
What are your thoughts? More insight on chapter two would be much appreciated; can anyone make that connection?
I think you are right, that race and nation are constructs made in cultural spheres just as much, if not more than in economic and political ones. I also think that you did indeed grasp Seigel’s idea about dance and other cultural aspects. Seigel argues exactly what you are saying: things like erasure and appropriation are not “mutual” (thus the title, uneven encounters). In my opinion she argues that transnational does not always equate to an equal and mutual exchange of ideas and culture. In fact, one might say that Seigel believes that there is always an uneven exchange due to a number of factors. When it comes to music specifically, you are right, the development of Maxixe and other Latin and Brazilian art forms were influenced by what was popular at the time in North America and Europe at the time. By popular I mean by what the consumer (primarily white) chose to accept as the right amount of exotic (black or foreign).
Without being too comparative, another interesting example from chapter 2 is the reluctance of Brazilians to embrace black North American musicians when they came to Brazil. In this example, you can see some of the nuances of nationalism and race as Brazilians had different views on these two constructs. They associated African Americans (USA) as linked more to Africa and black rather than their national Brazilian identity. They also saw Europe as more sophisticated than a backwards and racist USA. This is just a generalized summary of the idea that Seigel posits, but again shows that while there was definitely a transnational exchange and influence on each group of people, what these people do with these exchanges when it comes to national and racial identity varies.
There are several interesting aspects of Seigel’s study this week. This is a study of how notions of culture and identity formulate via transnational influences, with Brazil and the US racial and national identity in the early twentieth century as the example. Rather than presenting a chronological narrative of race relations and nationalism between the two nations, Seigel focuses on how its different actors subconsciously and consciously contribute (unequally) to its development and why.
I thought one of the most interesting chapters was the one on “Race Drag”. I equated African American’s use of race drag to a form of “brega” so that they at least have the ability to perform and sometimes even make the transition to a more refined art form that they wanted to take part in. I also think that Seigel missed a chance in this chapter to go further into detail about gender. Seigel does mention that female performers had to not only deal with the race issue, but also the gender issue and the sexuality that goes along with it but doesn’t go into further detail about the nuances and context of this.
Alan and Soraya, I think you guys pretty much hit the nail on the head with Seigel’s argument about race and nation. I’m sure your points were implying this but I figured it’s worth mentioning; Siegel points out how race and nation, though formed in cultural spheres, are tied together and have mutual dependence. I found one of the most interesting undertones of her argument to be that racial discrimination cannot be fought without a decrease in nationalism.
Furthermore, her focus on culture also made me think of Edward Said’s work “Orientalism” (even though we didn’t look at it in this class, I’d recommend it as a good read). This is because in his work he describes the effect of differing cultures and how they inevitably create an “us” versus “them” dichotomy. Seigel examines this dichotomy through the exotic culture of Brazil and the imperialist culture of the US. The “us” versus “other” mentality can be attributed to all aspects of the “nation” when comparing to separate states. I understood from her book, that nationalism creates an environment where cultural hierarchies are necessary, in order to maintain power. In this case, she observed it through racial hierarchies.
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