What it feels like being a cultural refugee

Or "Why you shouldn't go to the World Cup 2014 in Brazil"

Edgar Neto
I. M. H. O.
Published in
4 min readJun 14, 2013


A while ago I was talking to a friend of mine about the differences between the beaches in Australia and Brazil. While I was talking about the numerous shark attacks we had in the city of Recife some years ago, he told me that sharks are easy to spot and that in Australia the biggest danger are the invisible jellyfish. If you are lucky enough to be stung by just one, you’ll be fine with just a little bit of vinegar. But too many stings can lead to a painful death. And by the time you notice one, you’re more probably surrounded. That thought alone gave me the chills.

I’m brazilian and I’ve been living in Germany for a little over 2 years. I’d like to think of myself as an immigrant (or, as the cool kids say it, an “expat”). But I’m a lot closer to a refugee than most would think. And I’m not alone.

Throughout history we’ve come to know refugees as people who were able to flee their home countries to escape war, dictatorships or disasters. These people are usually terrified of having to return to their home countries. They lose sleep thinking of their families. They feel selfishly lucky to have found a way out.

But when you’re escaping a war, or a totalitarian regime, you’re swimming away from a shark. Your enemy is easy to spot. Everyone around you can see it. They can offer help. “It’s right there!” “Get away!” “Glad you could make it.”

If, on the other hand, you’re seeking to escape what is technically a democracy, you have an invisible enemy. It’s hard to find shelter, and you’re lucky to get out of there with just a few stings.

That’s how I and many of my friends feel by leaving Brazil to live in other countries. We don’t have embassies offering us a safety net. We don’t trigger international commotion. But that doesn’t make us lose any less sleep thinking about our families who are still there. We are fighting the invisible enemy.

People who live in Brazil are surrounded by an ever increasing deeply alienated middle-class, to whom the TV is still a big part of life. The increasing inflation presents a constant fear of suddenly going poor. The increasing violence presents a constant risk of not returning home for dinner.

This alienated middle-class has no option but to be near-sighted and focus on the next paycheck. They are the ones who, in order to be home in time to see the latest Telenovela, will do pretty much what they are told to, believe anything the TV says. Therefore, they are the ones who will complain about any social movement, any protest, any attempts to make a change.

In the light of the latest developments in São Paulo, where protesters were brutalized by the police, you can see a growing number of people rising against the manifestation itself. People who are convinced that the protests was nothing but an annoying overreaction because of an increase of R$ 0,20 in public transportation fees.

The protesters had to face the police's tear gas on one side, and angry tweets from an outraged middle-class on the other. They were surrounded.

What the brazilian jellyfish middle-class fails to see is that these protests are not anymore about public transportation fees. It’s about inadvertedly taking people out of their homes to build the most expensive World Cup in history on a country where people have very poor access to education and health care. It’s about paying the most expensive and most inneficient politicians in the world. It’s about people getting tired of having to look over their shoulders every moment of the day, fearing for their lives because of the ever increasing urban violence.

On top of that, the government brutalizes the population with techniques that resemble those of the nazism. We are fighting a brutal dictatorship very well disguised as a democracy. And it’s about time we have some international attention on this.

(If you read it this far, I’d like to invite you to take action. If you live in Brazil, join the protests next monday, June 17h. If you live in Berlin, join us in our support march this sunday, June 16th. If you cannot join a demonstration, please talk to your brazilian friends. Offer them support and ask them to talk about their country. They may not know it, but they need some refuge.)

Follow the latest developments of the Brazilian protests (in English) here.