A blessing and a curse? Online in Resplendor, Brazil. Photo by Dreaming in American.
Technology is a huge part of staying in touch. Even in rural Resplendor, Brazil, a place where “you don’t flush the toilets because the sewer can’t handle paper, they have internet,” noted the film team for Dreaming in American, Sara Dosa, Milla Dias Araujo, Eliot Gray Fisher, and Zoe Bird. Their documentary footage captured in January and February of this year shows Resplendor families attaching menageries of grill-like antennae to houses, trees, and flowering bougainvillea.
A project which started simply as a study of immigration patterns for a town that has lost almost half its population to America in recent years, Dreaming in American has evolved to touch on the larger discussion of technology and separation as well. In the new film’s trailer, children, parents, and grandmothers can be seen crowding around computer screens to watch miniscule images of their relatives talking to them from far-off Massachusetts. Most cannot afford or do not have the proper paperwork to visit one another across the border. Fathers are unable to come back to Brazil for birthdays and weddings, sisters can’t see their nieces’ first steps or attend their mothers’ funerals, cousins miss relatives’ high school graduations and nuances of everyday lives. Much like us in sprawling America, they rely on Skype, webcams, cell phones, email, wire transfers, and calling cards to feel connected.
“We realized that technology is actually an important part of the story: besides money, the main thing people send down from the US to their relatives in Brazil is technology, which is much more expensive to buy there. It's something they try to replace their presence with---video game systems, televisions, dvd players, and especially laptops and webcams so they can try to stay in touch with each other. What we noticed was that this illusion of intimacy through ever-evolving technology makes the lack of actual, physical presence all the worse. It can never be the same as the person being there. This is another phenomenon we're all seeing more and more of in our lives,” said team member Eliot.
It’s true that there are some things any of us who live or spend travel time away from our families know technology can never truly replace: hugs, smiles, the way someone’s voice sounds when it’s coming from right next to you, the touch of a hand, a laugh, seeing the sun on a person's face. For Resplendor natives now living in Peabody, Massacusetts, that list also includes favorite foods. There are Brazilian import shops that have sprung up in the neighborhood, vending special flour, snacks, fruits, crafts, and clothes, but even there they find a few things missing. Namely, the treasured Brazilian soft-cheese and local dulce de leche made in their hometown are nowhere to be found. It has become a tradition for visitors or newcomers who make the trip to Massachusetts to bring these treats along for the ride.
One last note on technology: A second but equally important function of the notorius antennae is to capture novellas, those zealously watched Portuguese-language soap operas. In an unheard-of occurrence witnessed by the Dreaming in American crew, the recent US Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama was allowed to interrupt novellas for broadcast in this particular small town of Brazil. It was also featured on the beginning of the local Resplendor news every day. “A lot of people became more hopeful about the improvement of their lives- there was much more hope,” said Zoe and Sara. With a pervasive global sense of happiness and excitement, the ideal of the American Dream seems to still be alive and well. It has arguably received a fresh burst of new hope, and still exerts its Siren’s draw for people in America and around the world. Resplendor is just one tiny example of a place where people think America is part of the key to a better life. Maybe that’s a good thing; if enough people keep believing, maybe the dream will come true.
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