Brasileiros are agreeing on one thing: Barack Obama is their man. He can jump through fire, he can win elections without raising so much as an eyebrow, and my god, if he isn’t handsome. This candidate reminiscent of a Kennedy from long ago is someone who has been fancied by many Americans as the hope to turn this country around. Brazilians, too, want to see Obama at the front of the race in November.
He is an image of America that might help improve opinions of this country abroad (and we all know we need a more positive image abroad these days!). And it is exactly Obama’s face that is converting Brazilians to Obamamania. Singer Caetano Veloso said in an interview with Folha de Såo Paulo newspaper, "Obama looks like my father. He’s a mulatto who looks like someone from Santo Amaro (Veloso’s hometown). I’ve heard he’s said he looks like a Brazilian."
That last bit may be a bit of a stretch, but everything else is pretty much true. For people like Veloso, the fact that Obama is a "black" candidate is very important. If appointed as president, this would be literal proof of change in the American government, which has been ruled by, well, old white men. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–I like Clint Eastwood as much as the next person–but if that was the only actor I had to watch, eventually I’d get annoyed too. Even more so in Brazil, a country where a huge portion of the population is of mixed race–the demographics: white 49.7%, mulatto (mixed white and black) 42.6%, black 6.9%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 4.05% (2006 census)!
In a place of 185 million people, it’s fascinating for the Afro-Brazilians to see someone like Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. John Stanfield, Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Indiana University held a conference in Såo Paolo in May to discuss the Barack Obama phenomenon and described him as the poster-child for diversity.
I can see why the appeal of Obama is so keen. If there was someone who looked like your neighbor–of course there’s no neighborhood in Brazil where anyone would ever imagine being a leader of America–then you know I’d root for him too. Even if I couldn’t vote for him from a different country. But nonetheless, Obama should pay attention to this country, as China and other countries are starting to recognize the economical potential that Brazil and other rising Latin American nations are carrying and have been ignored in the past.
And this likening the Brazilians have taken to Obama may be something Latino voters who were originally for Hillary Clinton could look into. In the primaries, Obama received a shy 35 percent of the Latino vote versus Clinton’s 63 percent. As reported by CNN, "He needs to get out there and … listen to Latino voters and understand what they care about," said Arturo Vargas, of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Too true. Too true. But it seems that the heads might already be turning by themselves. In a Gallup poll from today shows that 62 percent of Latinos are willing to vote for Obama.
As much as Obama might appreciate this attention from Brazilians, could their opinion be a tad naive? All I’ve seen is that Brazilians feel his mixed race means improvement in the government. But I think for the time being, Obama needs to show that he cares for the Latinos.