Gregg Bocketti’s new book offers a fresh examination of a key moment in the history of modern Brazil, the hundredth anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence from Portugal. All the more exciting, it does so just in time for another Brazilian centennial and, perhaps, another inflection point in the trajectory of the South American giant. Not for these reasons alone, Claiming Brazil should find a wide readership among scholars and students of Latin American history and memory.
Brazil marked its centennial as an independent country in 1922. Claiming Brazil explores how Brazilians from different walks of life commemorated the event, and how this led to conflicting ideas of national identity. Civic rituals hold enormous significance, and Brazilian citizens, immigrants, and visitors employed them to articulate and perform their sense of what Brazil was, stood for, and could be. Gregg Bocketti argues that these celebrations, rather than uniting the country, highlighted tensions between modernity and tradition, over race and ethnicity, and between nation and region. Further, the rituals contributed to the collapse of the country’s social and political status quo and gave substance to the debates and ideas that characterized Brazilian life in the 1920s and then under the transformative rule of Getúlio Vargas (1930–1945). Now, at the bicentennial of Brazil’s independence, which itself unfolds in a period of political crisis and economic dislocation, and in the aftermath of several large civic events, it is an opportune moment to consider how Brazilians used civic rituals to engage with questions of identity, belonging, and citizenship one hundred years ago.
Brazil’s 1922 Centenary was marked by marches and monuments. Claiming Brazil asks why elites believed their own unifying rhetoric about public displays even as the events emphasized long-term fractures. Skillfully analyzing bifurcations like modernity/tradition, nation/region, citizenship/foreignness, and whiteness/Blackness, Gregg Bocketti shows how the Centenary contributed to the rise of the Vargas dictatorship and seeks lessons for the 2022 bicentenary.
Claiming Brazil is an excellent contribution to scholarship investigating Brazilian history from multilayered perspectives. Chapters clearly demonstrate the complexity of the analytical task undertaken by Bocketti. Alongside the official Centenary of Independence festivities, Bocketti discusses displays of immigrant identity and regional performances of citizenship, rarely acknowledged yet crucial dimensions of this history. The book is timely: in 2022, Brazil celebrates its bicentenary while facing history-defining federal elections. By shedding light on the history of racial, cultural, generational, and regional fissures in Brazil, Claiming Brazil offers solid ground for our understanding of the country’s contemporary challenges.
In Claiming Brazil, Bocketti artfully merges two views about 1922 as a key year in Brazilian history: that it was a moment of celebration of the past and the beginning of an exciting new vision of Brazilian society. Bocketti is able to stack time, showing how Brazilians have used 1922 to take stock of the present, memorialize the past, and create visions of the future. Bocketti scrutinizes the organization and importance of the years’ events in an innovative way: incorporating not only governmental and intellectual discourse, but the participation of Brazilians and resident foreigners from all walks of life. Claiming Brazil presents us with how the meaning of independence, citizenship, and the Brazilian nation came to be developed by an extraordinary array of Brazilians and foreigners, from fishermen, athletes, and aviators, to immigrants, intellectuals, and governmental figures.