Construction of a national identity: a Brazilian-Israeli case

How to philosophize as a Brazilian Jew

How to philosophize as a Brazilian Jew is a series of texts that attempts to approach the multiple cultural identities and Jewish traditions. In which it also aims to distance itself from the great spotlights of North America, Europe and Israel. It also seeks to find meaning to the Jewish roots from a different and new ethnic, cultural and regional perspective. Thus, this essay focuses on experiences from a periphery country, and in this case, Brazil

“Um povo sem memória é um povo sem futuro” 

(“A nation without a memory is a nation without a future”)

  • Julio Martínez Pradanos National Stadium (Chile).

The topic of memory has always seemed to me to be something pertinent to be taken up, both in my academic and personal life. Something almost intrinsic to the human trajectory, presence and life’s needs. The long months of the pandemic and the social isolation became important to resume some questions that were presented to me years ago, in my high school days. I bring that memory back through this article, as an attempt to relive that moment, and as a desire to answer some questions that accompany me since then.

Thus, in 2015, at a World and Brazilian History class, in my senior year of high school, where black memory and remnants of slavery in Brazil was discussed,I ended up being presented, through one of my classmates, to the music of the group Inquérito; ‘Eu só peço à Deus’ (I only ask God). The song itself is extremely sensitive and recalls, through its lyrics horrendous acts committed at the time of slavery, as well as the entire inhuman and precarious system of that social structure during Brazil Colony and Empire. (And let it be clear between us, not just that system, but the same system that we see today, just reconstructed).

If you continue listening to the song, at the  1 ’27 “ minute, in which the group Inquérito brings the following quote; “… bandeirantes, anhanguera, raposo, castelo são heróis ou algoz? vai ver o que eles fizeram. colocar o nome desses cara nas estrada é cruel é o mesmo que rodovia hitler em israel” (“… bandeirantes, anhanguera, raposo, castelo are heroes or executioners? will see what they did. putting these guys’ names on the roads is cruel, it’s the same as a hitler highway in israel ”). At that very moment, when I first heard it, this sequence of words came to me in a surprise, and at the time I was unable to find an answer to understand my discomfort with such references. To this day, I still try to look for possible parallels.

Thus, to start this reasoning, I am only taking into account the atrocities caused to minority groups between both historical figures (Bandeirantes X Hitler). Still, this comparison could be problematized. But, in my view, the criticism of the Inquérito group in this part of the music occurs, especially, in relation to the representative bodies of the government having the interest to name streets, avenues, squares and highways with names of historically emblematic and controversial personalities. In this sense, such nominations not only deny the existence and importance of indigenous and black groups, but also contribute to once again placing these same minorities on the margins of the history of the formation of Brazilian national identity. And because of that, I rethink and put such questions into account, trying to understand if the nomination of the Bandeirantes highway (and others) in Brazil and a possible Hitler highway in the State of Israel could be comparable.

I have already made my position clear, stating that; ‘No, it would not be possible’. At least not in the sense of comparison proposed by the music; “… a hitler highway in Israel”. My claim can be justified by the fact that the historical and social composition of Brazil is strictly marked by the discrimination and marginalization of socially minority populations. And that such construction and awareness, of a national belonging within a composition like Brazil, ended up segregating the populations affected by the ‘bandeiras’ to the idea of ​​non-nation and / or non-citizen. Hence, that same racist Brazilian construction is the one that made it possible for such nominations to be even accepted – clear representation of what the nation considers as a hero. That way, it is controversial to find in a country where 56.2% of the population is self-declared black, according to PNAD data (Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios), monuments of historical figures such as ‘Borba Gato’ (17th century bandeirante and enslaver) in Santo Amaro, district of Sao Paulo.

On the other hand, when looking at the Israeli case, the formation of the national identity was quite different. Despite being a young country, the construction and affirmation of a national memory was essential for the consolidation of the State in 1948 – rooted in the memory of Shoá, as a memory of non-erasure. In this way, Israel would never have ‘… a hitler highway in Israel’ as the music describe, since those affected by Nazi persecutions were also those who founded the Israeli nation and legitimized their presence as citizens. The repulsion for Nazism and Hitler’s historical figure is a national historical character, which occurs through the construction of this collective memory.

However, when we think of Israel as a state, other historical erasures are presented. This same historical nation-building that repudiates figures like Hitler is what allows the vast majority of Israeli cities to have streets and squares named after great figures of Israeli military. Perhaps this is a possible comparison between Rodovia dos Bandeiras in Brazil and streets and squares named after high rank army characters. Of course, I do not have the intention of comparing both atrocities, but rather to rethink possible constructions of heroic figures in each country.

I also understand that it is not of my interest to bring this type of discussion to this article. Possibly in a second take would be more useful to expand on it and, thus, to continue the in-depth discussion about identity constructions. Then, how a constant attempt at national unification ends up creating a script of unique history, generating continuous erasures of multidisciplinarity and plurality of several other narratives of social groups that make up a country.

That way, I end up the same way I started – looking again for inconclusive answers to my cloudy questions. In brief valuable reflections, I can finally conclude my year of 2015, or at least a see you later.

About the Author
Tamara Crespin is Jewish and Zionist. Resident in São Paulo, Brazil, where she is pursuing a B.A in Architecture and Urbanism Studies. She has productions linked to the fields of design and fine arts and her own research in architecture, culture and Jewish tradition and its manifestations in the current scenario.
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