When I described Rios de Encontro to my father last year, he suggested I reach out to an organization called Creative Connections. It was founded about 21 years ago by an old neighbor of ours, Alan Steckler. Creative Connections works to facilitate art-based exchanges between U.S. students and students around the world. Their mission is to increase young people’s awareness and understanding of different cultures. I knew a collaboration between Creative Connections and the young leaders of Cabelo Seco could be really interesting. So I put Dan and Alan in touch and Dan sent in an application for Creative Connection’s International Young Performers’ Tour. The tour intends to bring international students to the United States to share their culture through performances and workshops. In the past, Creative Connections has hosted groups from Russia, Columbia, Ireland, Cambodia, and other places around the world.
In the beginning of September, Rios de Encontro received notice that they had been selected for the Young Performer’s Tour of 2015. Next spring, eight young performers from Cabelo Seco will be traveling to New York! This is a huge accomplishment for Rios de Encontro, Cabelo Seco, and the Amazon. Particularly important is the article and photograph that appeared in one of the local newspapers last week. Now this is not the first time Rios de Encontro has received coverage in the media. But all of the newspapers in Marabá are owned by local politicians and more recently, the multinational corporation Vale (which funds all local politicians and is currently purchasing every leaf in the city*). Therefore, it is significant when a headline reading “Cabelo Seco ganha prêmio mundial e vai a New York” “Cabelo Seco wins international award to go to New York” and a half page article is published about an organization that denounces the destruction of the Amazon. One quote by Mano about the growth of the organization’s young people reads, “Cada um tem uma forte personalidade e questiona todo. Os prêmios respaldam esta coragem e autonomia de pensamento” “Every one has a strong personality and questions everything. The awards affirm this courage and freedom of thought”. The courage to speak out against Vale stems from the strength these individuals have gained by being a part of the project. Rios de Encontro is the only voice that speaks out publicly against Vale’s growing empire. The majority of people who live in Marabá do not openly oppose the way Vale is slowly gaining complete control of their environment, their culture and their imagination, even if they disagree with it. Authoritative structures such as the local government, the education system and multinational corporations intensify mindsets of self-doubt and self-disrespect that can be traced back to colonial pasts. By buying newspapers, politicians, and public spaces, Vale is destroying all possibilities of independence. These mindsets radically weaken people’s ability to question or enact change. In voicing their opinion and then seeing it affirmed in the newspaper, the young coordinators of Rios de Encontro are finding the courage to break a silence they have inherited or developed as a form of self-protection.
*The Brazilian multinational corporation Vale is one of the principal economic actors in Marabá. Vale mainly works in the diversified metals and mining industry, however also participates in the development of hydroelectric dam projects. It is the biggest exporter of iron ore in the world. In coordination with the Municipal Government of Marabá, Vale is involved in various regional projects, including the construction of Marabá’s potential hydroelectric dam, airports, port improvements and the expansion of roadways.
** Just another note to point out that my name was mentioned in the newspaper article (top right column). So awesome!!!!