Jacarezinho, a favela in the North Zone of Rio de Janeiro, was founded during the industrialization boom of the 1920s, which offered extensive employment and was the principal reason for the increase of the area’s population. Like other favelas, Jacarezinho faced threats of eviction but demonstrated resistance in holding onto the land. Neighborhood Associations and other resident groups were established in the region with the help of syndicates. Due to the oil crisis (1970-1990), many factories left the area, or failed, leaving the workers who remained to make their own way. The warehouses that previously housed the factories were abandoned and became residences for the families who were not able to sustain themselves in a situation of mass unemployment and poverty.
Today, Jacarezinho is considered a neighborhood, going by the name of XXVIII – R.A. Jacarezinho, but the 11 favelas in its boundaries have characteristics which are considered informal for an established neighborhood. These include a dense concentration of homes, precarious road conditions, untreated sewage, and irregular water and energy supplies, in addition to questions of health, education, poverty, and violence.
With regard to violence, the approach of the police in the favela is completely different from their approach outside it, on ‘the asphalt.’ In addition to carrying high caliber arms that are used in wars, these police officers are underprepared, carry out operations at any hour, and shoot at passers-by who look to them like suspects, and as we know, racism is an influential factor in the execution of black people, the majority of them young males. In the cruel logic of the state we live in, the typical suspect is black, and the orders obeyed by the police are “shoot first and ask later.” Claims of acting in self-defense provide justification for this, recently masked in a new nomenclature—“corporal lesions or homicides resulting from opposition to police intervention”—which continues to justify the use of the “death penalty” in the urban peripheries. The acts of cowardice committed by these agents, who are authorized to kill, take on various proportions: verbal, physical and psychological aggression (terror), infuriating body searches, many times in front of our own homes, invasions of homes, rapes, tortures, disappearances and the genocide of the black population, mainly young men.
We know that the police do not act alone in these cases of homicide, but receive support from public officials, state prosecutors and judges, who together legitimize the deaths. These cases are never investigated, and instead of identifying what happened, the motives for homicide are justified through the victims’ biography, speculating whether he was a worker or a ‘bandit,’ as if this would justify the execution of those who are involved in selling illicit drugs. The mothers of those young men who were assassinated fight for justice in order to prove that their sons were not involved with drug trafficking, without any kind of help from the state, which always understands the action of the police to be defensible. These mothers face threats, suffer from depression and aggravated chronic illnesses; they are disrespected in public hearings and still live alongside the nightmare of the police officers responsible, since the majority are only transferred to another post. This without even speaking about those mothers who don’t believe they have the right to prove that the police officer made a mistake, since they believe their kids’ involvement with the practices of the ‘traffic’ deems their death excusable.
Apart from maintaining a reign of terror in the favelas, the police prohibit any kind of cultural or entertainment events. One of the leisure activities of the favela were the funk balls, but since the arrival of the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in 2012 this has been prohibited. In practice, the police attribute this prohibition to the supposed links of the event to the illegal selling of drugs, ignoring the fact that the parties mobilize business, facilitating the local employment of people who often are not able to access the job market because they cannot meet certain requirements. Today, the GRES Unidos of Jacarezinho samba school, which puts on shows and events throughout the year to finance its carnival parade, is the only leisure option, even though the events’ entrance fees mean not all residents can take part.
Once again we see the sharp dichotomy between the favela and the asphalt in the way we know that for the local, black resident, it is impossible to take part in funk, the principal cultural creation of the favelas, despite being born part of the funk movement. In contrast are the parties that take place elsewhere in the city, principally in Centro or in the South Zone: places of privilege and of the privileged, who enjoy the beat and essentialize and stereotype the hard and resistant reality of the favelas. In order to create their sets, these parties use decorations to exhibit characteristics of the poverty and challenges of favela residents.
The famous maxim is: ‘It is the sound of the black person, of the favela resident, but when it plays no one keeps still.’ What is the point of funk, if not for the funkeiro? How can the parties run by white elite producers be funk, while favela residents cannot promote their parties, inside the favela for the favela? The same racism that kills the young, poor, black favela resident, judging him to be a ‘bandit,’ also prevents all young people from developing and constructing their own ancestral cultural identity. As the funk dancer Cebolinha said: “Funk is not only a product of the market, it saves lives.” Through the rhythm, young people gain an elevated sense of self-esteem, and can develop in different areas within this world, as producers, MCs, DJs, dancers, sound technicians, photographers and filmmakers among other roles.
Some examples of the cultural potential in the favelas are the residents of Jacarezinho who responded to the abandonment of the community by deciding to create something themselves. Léo Lima, who grew up in Azul (the upper part of Jacarezinho), is a photographer, student of pedagogy and representative of the Coletivo Cafuné na Laje, an independent art education movement in Rio that uses art and technology in an organic process of exchange between individuals. The photographs of Léo Lima are a great success among children and all the residents of surrounding areas; they bring all the delicacy and nuance of the dreams of children, and recall homes, laughter and happy moments in the favela.
Launched by Júlio Cesar, widely known as Júlio Moda, the Jacaré is Fashion agency showcases talent from the favelas and suburbs of Rio to the world. The initiative seeks to empower young people through fashion and reduce the distance between the periphery and the fashion world. Júlio is the nephew of the centenarian Tia Dorinha, known for being the last rezadeira in Jacarezinho and for looking after many children while their mothers were working, even though she did not have children herself.
To live in Jaca means to sit in the doorway of the house, on the edge of the Jacaré river, to place a laptop on your knees and enjoy funk in the breeze of the afternoon. This is an image of the ideal place; if we could stay in the doorway of the house, without running the risk of a stray bullet coming from armed conflict provoked by the public security Military Police, the UPP; if the river were not polluted due to the lack of sewage treatment; if the door of my house was not in a narrow alley where other people need to pass by; and if my house had electricity.
Jacarezinho is resistance!
Raised in Maré and Jacarezinho, Diana Anastácia is a black favela resident, funkeira, philosophy student at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), and cultural producer in Fortaleceu Produções.