Rio's Favela Museum Organizes Community and Memorializes Its People

Editor's note:

This is an article taken from Vice magazine.

November 06, 2020

The old Brazilian saying “fazer um jeitinho” does not have a direct to English translation. The Portuguese phrase, which roughly translates to “finding a way,” has become a defining aspect of Brazilian culture. It boasts creativity and a carefree lifestyle. When in difficult circumstances, not all hope should be lost. Antonio Firmino, a 53-year-old geographer, says that this phrase has become somewhat of a lifeline for him and his family during the pandemic. 

Firmino, the co-founder of the Sankofa Museum, has lived in the hillside favela of Rochina for the past 30 years but now rarely leaves his home. When VICE News spoke with Firmino over Zoom, he sat at his kitchen table while the television blared in the background. He remains vigilant when going outdoors because of his wife’s health, so he spends most of his time at home with his two daughters.

“We are well, in the middle of all of this, as is the Brazilian way,” he said. The carefree lifestyle of “jeitinho,” however, may have its limits.

The favela has always functioned as a self-made social order where the residents must depend on each other because the federal government refuses to acknowledge their existence. In an authoritarian state like Brazil where the government treats essential workers as disposable, members of the favela depend on local organizations for survival. “[Favelas] have this long history of social organizing and already had these networks in place,” said Ana Paulina Lee, assistant professor of Latin American and Iberian cultures at Columbia University, “You see a really common thing across many favelas is that they started doing their own public health ads and getting the resources to people.” Community museums like the Sankofa Museum are networks for survival.