In the United States popular stories of heroes and villains, bandits and fallen women are seen in films or graphic novels. In Brazil those tales frequently come in cordéis or little books hung on strings, filled with narrative poetry and popular images and sold in the streets on market days. Now you can see a selection of cordéis, and graphic novels from popular Brazilian authors in the Herzstein Room on the second floor of Zimmerman Library.
You will also see books from well and lesser known Portuguese language authors as well as cartoneras, hand-made books with reused cardboard covers. The cardboard is gathered, taken to community centers and fashioned into cartoneras by people with 4th or 5th grade educations. Their use of interesting graphics and literary references elevates the work in a way that excites popular and academic interest.
Sometimes cordéis are a way to bring traditional literature into a form that can be read by the poorest people in Brazil, a mixing of high and low culture. University of New Mexico Libraries have invested in Brazilian literature for decades. In the circulating collections, one can find established literature. The special collections have traditionally focused on items like cordéis that document community action, visual reference and popular literature.
This small exhibit in the Herzstein Room and a larger one at the National Hispanic Cultural Center at 1701 4th St. SW in Albuquerque use these collections to explore how art and literature cross boundaries in Brazilian culture.
This project began when professors in Spanish and Portuguese at UNM began planning the American Portuguese Studies Association conference here. UNM Libraries’ Latin American Collections curator, Suzanne Schadl wanted to showcase special Portuguese language collections. She enlisted the help of UNM graduate student Viviane F. de Faria.
Faria is from Brazil, but studies Hispanic Linguistics and Brazilian and Literary Cultural Studies at UNM. She works part time in the Latin American Collection and was very interested in helping put together this exhibit to celebrate Brazilian literary traditions.
Curators at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque were simultaneously pursuing an exhibit on Afro-Brazilian culture. They invited Schadl to help design the exhibit, and she asked Faria to join the team because of the shared focus on race and cultural tradition in Brazil.
In Brazil Faria says, “We don’t have the separation of communities, like here. Everything is really, really mingled so it is hard to tell. You can tell physically, like the phenotype thing. But people wouldn’t say, OK in a census, I’m this or I’m that. It’s kind of blurred - this part of the culture in Brazil.” “I think the blending has been so pervasive over the course of four or five hundred years that it isn’t necessarily something that people acknowledge,” Schadl says.
Northeastern Brazil for example, is where Portuguese and Dutch settlers established large sugar plantations, run with the use of African and Afro-Brazilian slave labor. Over time, Europeans and Africans and the native populations in the region blended families and cultural traditions.
Attending UNM has changed the way Faria thinks about the authors whose work she has researched, and about education itself. “When I go back home I want to work with communities and collectives so that we might prepare the children so they can get into the university without a quota system,” she says. “No matter what, I want to be a teacher.”
Currently in Brazil, the government sets a quota for minorities and people of color. They don’t have to pay, but they also frequently don’t have access to the elementary and secondary education of quality, which is a requirement to pass the entrance exams for the universities, so few actually receive a university-level education. Faria is thinking about that and about changes that might be made,
Schadl and Faria are now preparing a presentation about their work on these exhibits for a professional conference. They will present at a seminar for the acquisition of Latin American Library Materials at Princeton University in the summer.