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An American apology to Brazil

Caricature of SteveI studied Portuguese when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa. I loved the language and the enthusiasm about Brazil that Dr. Mary Daniel brought to our classroom every day.

My first airplane trip was from Miami to Rio de Janeiro in 1967. In the intervening decades, I’ve  traveled, lived and worked in  Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America teaching journalism students and professionals.

Today my heart belongs to my wife and family, America and Brazil—in that order. Yes, I love Brazil and her people.

Ugly Americans

 In 1958, Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer wrote their bestseller “The Ugly American” about the failure of United States diplomats  to appreciate the language, culture and residents of their host countries. The term has become a stereotype of the too often boorish behavior of U.S. tourists.

Regrettably that unfortunate image  was resurrected last week by American Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen. The four young men got drunk, trashed a Rio gas station, then fabricated a lie to conceal their stupid behavior.

Olympic fears

There have been many negative stories before and during these Olympic Games. Doubts about whether Brazil would be ready when the games began. Would there be violence and terrorism?  Would security for visitors be adequate? Yes and no.

The Australian team refused to move into their quarters at the Olympic Village until the facilities were fixed.

There was alleged violence. Two foreign Olympic boxers were arrested after Brazilian maids at the Olympic Village accused them of attempted sexual assault.  Other visiting athletes and coaches reported they were robbed.

But there have been no terrorist attacks as Brazilian and U.S. law enforcement have cooperated to assure security during the games.

Brazil deserves better

Contrary to negative media stories, all of my Brazilian experiences have been positive. Graduate student Clesio was gracious with his time during his years at Iowa State.

My Knight Fellowship in Manaus in 2001 was successful thanks to my host family Deocleciano, Alcidea and their children, Daniel and Raquel.

Marisa, Armenio, and their daughter Ana Teresa, whom we met in Ames, still are good friends. We had many good times with them when Beth and I were in Piracicaba for my Fulbright two years ago. They helped us remain cheerful as we navigated the occasional labyrinth of Brazilian bureaucracy and showed us the best of Brazilian city and rural life.

The Curso de Jornalismo faculty at the Universidade Metodista de Piracicaba (Unimep) made me feel part of their family. Dr. Paulo Roberto, wife Rose, and their sons, Luri and Leon were joyful companions. Dr. Belarmino, and wife Regina displayed the warmth for which Brazilians are famous. Dr. Ana Maria and her mother were delightful hosts and Professor Luiz helped me on numerous occasions.

Brazil could have no better ambassadors to the United States than Leonice, Roseangela, Claudio, and Luiza, who live in America and share their love of two nations.

And my students in Brazil. What a wonderful group of young people! As with American students, they give us hope for a better future.

I hope the majority of U.S. travelers to the Olympic Games represent our nation better than the four American swimmers. Prove we are not all ugly Americans and have a wonderful visit. We owe that to Brazil and we owe it to ourselves.


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