Amidst the pandemic, Professor Umi Vaughan has traveled to South America’s largest country and fulfilled anthropological research on Afro-Brazilian culture. California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Center for Black Student Success (CBSS) hosted a virtual presentation on Vaughan’s experiences in Brazil on April 8. Providing personal insight to his discoveries, Vaughan shared with the audience essential information to building a cultural bridge.
“Brazil has the largest population of Blacks outside any nation not on the continent of Africa,” Vaughan said. “Ninety-one million Black people – 50.7% of the total population there, but at the same time Brazil has a fluid concept of race.”
Vaughn became enamored with Brazil when travelling there in 2007. Gaining a new fondness of the country, he learned Portuguese and returned to Brazil in the summer of 2008. In 2009, Vaughan participated in Carnival and maintained his relationship with Brazilian colleagues.
Bringing Brazilian music and culture to CSUMB, Vaughan was able to connect the arts and education through drumming classes. Continuing his research, Vaughan traveled to Brazil in December 2020 and January 2021 with fellow professors looking to study religious racism, funded by a grant through Notre Dame university.
“There is a clear attempt to eliminate these non-Christian, African derived religions like Candomble,” Vaughan said. “These religious communities pray for peace and health. In fact their footprint, historically and today in terms of destruction, is miniscule to Christianity.”
Anti-African beliefs have been plaguing the minds of Brazilians and causing conflict and competition over resources. Vaughan showed pictures of burned African statues in protest of their peaceful representation in popular plazas.
Speaking of his time in the city of Salvador, Vaughan feels a deep connection to the historical roots of Afro-Brazilian culture that continues to thrive in the community.
“Salvador is known for African religions and African foods,” Vaughan said. “Outside of Salvador, there are little towns called quilombos – [which are] runaway slave settlement[s].”
Using the term to describe instances where slaves would seek freedom from the plantations, or when plantation owners would leave and the enslaved would take over, quilombos represent a beautiful resiliency in building home and finding peace from difficult and traumatic circumstances.
Discussing different occasions where religious intolerance was observed, Vaughan shared there is a problematic reality occurring in Brazil. He recalled one town leader who was beaten to death with Bibles for embracing her African heritage and culture. In response, Vaughan and his team conducted an extensive interview with the woman to bring recognition and awareness to the issues of religious racism.
The acceptance of another’s differences is crucial for harmonious living. Vaughan continues to promote social and racial justice through scholarly research, informative discussions and hands-on involvement in Afro-Brazilian communities. CBSS plans to keep providing cultural academic resources and events for students in the upcoming academic year.