From India to US, a citizenship crisis is burning across the world

Dispiriting reading:

Across the world, there are fires burning and they are not only climate-change induced or climate threatening. The concept of who is a citizen of a nation and what are their rights has become a burning topic.

Under President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazilians who are Amazonian Indians are increasingly under threat. In Bolivia, the fall of leader Evo Morales has disenfranchised indigenous Bolivians. Many living under US President Donald Trump are worried about their lives and the well-being of their families, and fear deportation despite being an integral part of American socioeconomics.

As Brexit looms, there is trepidation among many Europeans who have made Britain their home. The Roma in many parts of Europe continue to face persecution from their governments.

There are upheavals in the middle economies of the world too, with millions in Hong Kong and tens of millions in India facing an uncertain future. The unfulfilled obligations in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Hong Kong government’s increasing coordination with Beijing has unsettled many citizens of the special administrative region.

In India, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has decided to implement a two-pronged strategy which threatens the country’s secular ethos. This government’s amendment of a 1955 citizenship act grants citizenship to refugees from neighbouring countries belonging to religions other than Islam. This legislation has been amended in the past to limit citizenship to those having at least one Indian parent and, later, to the parent not being an illegal immigrant.

Simultaneously, there is a plan to conduct a biblically inspired National Register of Citizens which will be the arbiter on the citizenship of each Indian. Though the implementation of both or either is perceived as targeting Muslims, the collateral damage will be in the millions because many people do not have, or have insufficient, documents to prove their citizenship.

Source: From India to US, a citizenship crisis is burning across the world

The 2010s’ grim legacy: the decade of the far right

Of note, and Canada to date remains an exception:

The past decade was the decade of the far right.

In January 2010, leftist and centrist politicians led three of the largest democracies in the world: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Brazil), Manmohan Singh (India) and Barack Obama (US). In December 2019, all three countries have far-right leaders: Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. In Europe, center-left parties have been decimated, while mainstream right parties mainly survive by adopting frames and policies from the radical right. Only Germany still has the same center-right leader, Angela Merkel, but that will probably change in the next year, too.

This political sea change is in large part the (delayed) consequence of demographic, economic and social shifts. After 9/11, the political debate in many countries shifted from socio-economic to socio-cultural issues. Even the Great Recession only changed this temporarily; once the dust over the bailouts had settled, immigration and security quickly replaced austerity and economic inequality as defining issues once again.

Source: The 2010s’ grim legacy: the decade of the far right

Brazilian immigrants have it hard in Japan. Could music help?

Nice story on music as a means of recognition and integration:

The three music teachers — armed with a violin, a guitar and a drum — are ready for class. But the elementary school students jump around the room, screaming and laughing.

“Quiet! Stand up straight!” one teacher shouts.

“OK,” another says. “Who remembers this song? Leticia — silence! Kenji, come on, we’re gonna make music.”

The scene plays out at a school here in Tokyo’s industrial hinterland, but all the chatter is in Portuguese. The students and teachers are Brazilian, and the music includes samba and bossa nova.

The class is part of a project called “Music Without Borders,” the brainchild of Rafael Kinoshita, a 35-year-old Brazilian who endured a difficult childhood here as an outsider and believes music can help spare his students from that kind of distress.

Japan has long considered itself the unique homeland of a single race: the Japanese. But when the economy faced an industrial labor shortage about 30 years ago, officials had no choice but to bring in foreign workers.

In 1990, the government started offering visas to descendants of Japanese immigrants to South America. Today, the more than 200,000 Brazilians living in Japan are part of a foreign community, including Koreans and Chinese, that makes up 2% of Japan’s population of 127 million. Immigration is set to increase under an expanded migrant worker program launched in April.

Kinoshita, whose paternal grandfather was Japanese, was 6 when his family arrived in 1991 and settled in Oizumi, a factory town 90 minutes from Tokyo. His parents worked in the factories, and he enrolled in Japanese public school.

It wasn’t easy.

“Even the teachers discriminated against us,” Kinoshita recalled. “If you made a mistake, the teacher would say right in the middle of the class, ‘Foreigners just don’t understand, do they?’”

Kinoshita learned Japanese within months of arriving, started karate when he was 8. But all he could think was: This is not really my country.

At 12, he discovered the violin when his family church, Megumi Baptist, started a musical group. He improved quickly and at 14 became the first Brazilian to join a local Japanese youth orchestra.

Still, like most Brazilians in Japan, he remained on the margins of society.

Immigrants are not granted Japanese citizenship even if born here, and children can face bullying in school. Brazilian schools have spread to relieve the pressure, but career opportunities remain limited for those without Japanese pedigree or native-level language skills.

Kinoshita quit school at 15 and went to work at Sanyo Electric’s sprawling plant in Oizumi. He kept playing violin at church on Sundays and took private lessons.

In time, he concluded that factory work in Japan was a dead end.

“All you have to do is be there, hammer some boxes, and you go home,” he said. “But what is it really? I’m selling my body by the hour, and I’m not imagining anything good for myself.”

In 2008, he decided to use his musical skills to show Brazilian children that life held better possibilities than making cars or air conditioners for a living. He started teaching violin in Oizumi, and things grew from there.

He now has 180 students, all from Brazilian immigrant enclaves scattered across three prefectures surrounding Tokyo.

On a Monday in July, Kinoshita is teaching at Escola Opcao, a cluster of single-story buildings wedged among rice fields along a potholed gravel road in Joso.

A green map of Brazil covers the wall of the dining room. In one classroom, a paint-splattered air conditioner blows through broken vents, and corkboard conceals a hole in the concrete wall.

The day starts with younger students, who work on rhythm and singing. Cristiano Petagna, the teacher with the guitar, leads the session. Kinoshita pitches in with violin.

After a mix of children’s tunes and traditional Brazilian songs, the morning crescendos to a rousing rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” with Freddie Mercury’s voice blaring from a Bluetooth speaker while the kids provide percussion by banging rhythm sticks on the tile floor.

Then the teachers split up. Petagna takes the guitar students. Kinoshita and a third teacher, Vitor Novak, a 20-year-old Brazilian born in Japan, take the violin students to another classroom.

Kinoshita often lightens his classes with slapstick. He grabs his head and staggers in mock surprise when students make mistakes. He dances around the classroom to the music, swinging his hips and rubbing his belly, making the children laugh.

He peppers lessons with snippets of encouragement: “Why are you playing? To get better!” and “It’s good to play music that’s difficult. Easy is boring, right?”

Today, he pumps up the confidence of his middle-school violinists for a public concert in September.

“You’re gonna be famous,” he tells them. “Japanese reporters will be taking photos, saying, ‘Oh, they’re so cute!’” The kids laugh.

The group warms up with the scales, moves to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” then takes on the Brazilian standard “Asa Branca,” a favorite at Kinoshita’s concerts.

He hopes one day to attract Japanese students and create a bicultural orchestra to foster understanding between immigrants and their hosts.

“Discrimination is everywhere. Why? Because people don’t communicate. They don’t make contact,” he says. “I want to let these children dream, and forget this thinking that nothing but the factory can bring you money.”

But money is one of Kinoshita’s biggest problems.

His fees are modest — between $18 and $36 for a month of lessons — and the low wages he can pay assistants make it hard to retain help. In the fall, Novak quit for a better-paying construction job.

Kinoshita works nights doing clerical work and giving Breathalyzer tests to drivers at a 24-hour delivery company. The round-the-clock grind — and the fast food he eats on the go — has taken a toll on his health. The married father of a 2-year-old son is already on cholesterol drugs. By year’s end, he plans to quit his night job.

“I have no choice. I need to sleep,” he said. “I can’t die — I have to take care of my family.”

That means he’ll have to raise more money to keep the project alive. He’s planning a major push this month to win over skeptical sponsors and widen the scope of the program.

He said he’s thought about quitting. No one would blame him if he closed up shop and withdrew to a factory, where many in Japan think he belongs.

But that urge vanishes when he is teaching.

In the final session of the day at Escola Opcao, he and Petagna lead kindergartners in an original song featuring the sounds of different animals.

“Which animal has a sharp voice?” Petagna asks the kids, ages 4 to 6.

“Birds!” they scream.

“And what does a lion do?” he sings.

The children respond with a roar.

At the end of the session, Kinoshita leads dozens of children in a raucous conga line around the common room, waving a speaker over his head.

“Do the samba!” he shouts. “Do the samba!”

Source: Brazilian immigrants have it hard in Japan. Could music help?

Black or white? In Brazil, a panel will decide for you

While the policy intent was understandable, implementation is another matter. Having officials develop an assessment table was bound to end up like this (like the history categorizing Blacks by their percentage of Black bloodline):

Public-service jobs in Brazil pay significantly better than private-sector ones and come with a host of generous benefits such as meal and transport allowances; workers are rarely fired and can retire at age 55 with large pensions. Competition, consequently, is fierce. Candidates must pass a gruelling exam that some study for and take repeatedly for five or six years.

Until August of this year, the quota system relied on candidates’ self-identification of their race. That system was being abused, by white people claiming to be mixed-race (although researchers estimate that no more than 5 per cent of applicants were lying).

Under pressure by some advocates from the black community, the government decided the solution was “commissions of verification” – tribunals that would evaluate each candidate. Guidelines from the Ministry of Planning said that panels should consider only physical attributes: “The forms and criteria for verifying the veracity of self-declaration should only consider the phenotypic aspects of the candidate, which will be checked in the presence of the candidate.”

That means that a panel of assessors (three, five or seven people) would look at each candidate and decide if their appearance matched their self-declared race.

Last August, officials in Para, Ms. Chaves’s state, released a chart of criteria for investigators to use, with a point system for physical characteristics such as “lips: thick,” “gums: pink,” “hair: frizzy.” It caused such an uproar that it was hastily withdrawn. But no information has been disclosed about what criteria examiners are using instead. Some tribunals work purely from physical appearance; some panelists apparently see race as more than that and ask candidates about their experience of discrimination, or their families.

The end result, frequently, is confusion. Ms. Chaves has no idea how the three people who made up her tribunal concluded she was white.

Eduardo Sobral, 30, a geologist who says he is mixed-race, was rejected for a reserved position with the Ministry of Planning in Brasilia. He was examined by video-conference, then asked about his “day-to-day life as a brown person.” He replied that it was “normal,” the interview ended and he was rejected. He is suing the ministry.

Rodrigo Campos, an electrician in the central state of Minas Gerais who says he is black, never even got before the assessors: They rejected him based on photos they asked him to submit. Meanwhile Igor Anatoli, a mixed-race police officer from Rio who is trying to join the diplomatic corps, went before a panel of seven in Brasilia in September; they chatted at length about his family and his experience of prejudice and ruled that he is, as he had declared, black.

Source: Black or white? In Brazil, a panel will decide for you – The Globe and Mail

No longer buried: Rio’s slave past unearthed at Valongo Wharf during Olympic renovations

One of the likely enduring legacies of the Rio Olympics, a greater understanding of the past:

In an abandoned train depot near Rio de Janeiro’s derelict port area are stacked dozens of black plastic boxes. Two young researchers are sorting through their contents. Inside one box: a ceramic pipe. Inside another: a plate used in a traditional religious ceremony.

All of the objects belonged to former slaves and most of these finds wouldn’t have been discovered if it hadn’t been for work related to the Olympics.

In 2011, the city of Rio embarked on an extensive project to rejuvenate the long-neglected port area. Among the planned projects: the Museum of Tomorrow, an Olympic village for judges, light rail to carry the tourists expected during the Games, as well as better housing for the area’s residents.

To their surprise, they began unearthing hundreds of artifacts dating from the early 1800s.

“These objects prove the existence, the materialization of this terrible process in the human history — the history of the slave,” says Claudio Honorato, a historian with the New Blacks Institute for Research and Memory.

I meet Honorato at a spot rife with historical import: the Valongo Wharf, where close to half-a-million slaves were off-loaded during Brazil’s slave trade. It was built in 1811, then later buried, only to be unearthed again during a $2-billion excavation project.

Port Area Rennos-2

“The development work was really to be done faster but they had to stop the process,” Honorato says. “The Museum of Tomorrow and the Mauá Pier were expected to be opened in 2011 with a big party and were only opened now. When they came upon all the African-Brazilian materials — these archeological traces — the development work had to stop.”

That’s because developers have to comply with legislation passed in Rio relatively recently that says no development can go ahead on land where evidence of historical interest has been discovered, without doing further archeological research.

“This port area was a place where a lot of ships from Africa came, bringing 500,000 slaves,” says Ondemar Dias, with the Brazilian Archeological Institute. “The amount of materials related to these cultures demonstrates, along with other research, that it’s a very important place to tell the story of this culture that came to Brazil.”

….”We have lots of objects in the museums here that are, for instance, gifts of African embassies to our emperor, and even other objects that were conquered in wars in Africa,” Honorato says. “These, on the other hand, were objects built here. They are part of the culture of these individuals who lived in this society, who contributed to this society.

“I think this is a material that reveals the day-to-day life, the common life, in the places that these Africans lived, where they’ve worked, where they’ve celebrated. And that’s why we call this the ‘slavery paths in Rio de Janeiro.’ It reveals the aspects of this ‘Little Africa’ — what they were actually doing in their daily life.”

African history, he says, has rarely been valued in Brazil. At other sites of historical importance, discoveries have been quietly covered up to enable construction to continue. But now advocates are hoping to turn the area’s African history into an important tourist attraction.

“That’s why Brazil is requesting that this place go on the World Heritage list,” Dias says.

There are already tours incorporating the area’s African history, including an area where the bodies of dead slaves were dumped. Honorato says he hopes this will lead to a change in attitudes; that African history will no longer be buried, like the Valongo Wharf.

“[It’s important] to preserve this history, to preserve this culture, this memory,” he says. “And also ensure the memory of those who resisted, and are here, until the present moment.”

Source: No longer buried: Rio’s slave past unearthed at Valongo Wharf during Olympic renovations – World – CBC News

Brazil’s colour bind: How one of the world’s most diverse countries is just starting to talk about race

Brazil’s_colour_bind__How_one_of_the_world_s_most_diverse_countries_is_just_starting_to_talk_about_race_-_The_Globe_and_MailGood, in-depth profile of Brazil by Stephanie Nolen, its history of slavery, its national myth of colour blindness, racial inequality and efforts to acknowledge and address these legacy issues:

Even as the former slave owners set about diluting the country’s blackness, they also went to work on their cover story. In the Brazilian creation myth – the country’s version of Canada’s “cultural mosaic” or the U.S. “melting pot” – the country is a democracia racial, a racial democracy. This official story was built on the idea that from the day slavery ended, Brazilians of all colours were equal. After all, there was no segregation, no apartheid, no Jim Crow. Glossing over the massive disparities between the former owners and the newly freed slaves – who had no education, land or assets – the Brazilian elite, almost entirely white, declared the country uniquely equal and, in effect, postracial.

“It was ‘invisibilization,’” says Marcelo Paixão, who is black and a professor of economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “The discourse was that we don’t have race in Brazil, so you don’t have race problems in Brazil, and you don’t need to discuss the inequality.”

The first census after the end of slavery, in 1890, asked not about race, but about colour: Citizens were asked if they were white, brown, black, yellow or caboclo – a Portuguese word for those with some indigenous ancestry, more commonly known here as being vermelha, or red. Over the next years, racial identity was steadily replaced with considerations of colour. In 1976, the national statistics institute, seeking to hone the precision of the census, surveyed thousands of Brazilians about what word they themselves used – and came back with a list of 136. They included terms such as amarela-queimada (burnt yellow), canela (cinnamon) and morena-bem-chegada: very nearly morena, a word for brown.

On some level, it was a progressive ideology, notes Prof. Paixão – it allowed for nuance instead of clear-cut indicators of racial purity. It also resulted in a more genuinely mixed culture, although that mixture is the outcome, in part, of appropriation. Cornerstones of black culture – such as samba music and the martial art capoeira, practised in secret by slaves – have been thoroughly co-opted into Brazilian identity.

But within that culture, and that society, there was an ineluctable hierarchy of what were to be considered racial traits. The dominant idea, propagated by whites, and eventually accepted by many black and mixed-race people as well, he explains, was that the “white” part of the mix brought a European rationality, while Africans brought happiness and creativity, a positive outlook – he ticks off adjectives and rolls his eyes. The more white that one was, the more of the “valuable” characteristics one had. To be whiter was to have a better chance of getting a job, and of earning more in that job. To be whiter, in other words, was to have it easier. Brazil became what is sometimes called here a “pigmentocracy.” (Prof. Paixão is among the fewer than five per cent of faculty members at the Federal University who are black.)

Brazil’s colour bind: How one of the world’s most diverse countries is just starting to talk about race – The Globe and Mail.

Expats Find Brazil’s Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality

Not really new but nevertheless good examples:

There is a joke among Brazilians that a Brazilian passport is the most coveted on the black market because no matter what your background — Asian, African or European — you can fit in here. But the reality is very different.

I’m sitting in café with two women who don’t want their names used because of the sensitivity of the topic. One is from the Caribbean; her husband is an expat executive.

“I was expecting to be the average-looking Brazilian; Brazil as you see on the media is not what I experienced when I arrived,” she tells me.

As is the case for many people from the Caribbean basin, she self-identifies as multiracial. The island where she is from has a mixture of races and ethnicities, so she was excited to move to Brazil, which has been touted as one of the most racially harmonious places in the world.

“When I arrived, I was shocked to realize there is a big difference between races and colors, and what is expected — what is your role, basically — based on your skin color,” she says.

Moving to a new country can be difficult; when you throw racial issues into the mix things can get even more complicated.

The other woman is from London, and she also relocated to Brazil because of her husband’s job. She describes herself as black.

“My skin is very dark, so going out with my children, on occasions people would say to me, ‘Are you the nanny for these children?’ And I’d have to explain to them, no, these are my children, I look after them,” she says.

A quick lesson on race and class in Brazil: The country was the last place in the Americas to give up slavery. It also imported more than 10 times as many slaves as the U.S. — some 4 million. That’s meant that more than 50 percent of the population is of African descent, but those numbers haven’t translated to opportunity.

For example, these days among the whiter, wealthier classes, it’s common to have a nanny, or baba, who is darker-skinned. The woman from London says that the babas are required to wear all white.

“I promptly stopped wearing white,” she says, because it was tiresome to have to constantly explain that her children were in fact her children, despite Brazilians’ assumptions. “I got rid of the white that’s in my wardrobe, and I do not wear white anymore.”

Expats Find Brazil’s Reputation For Race-Blindness Is Undone By Reality : Parallels : NPR.