Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant.
I was sitting on Rio de Janeiro’s rightly famed and beautiful Ipanema Beach, crafting lofty academic thoughts while humming Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” when I heard clapping. I looked around, thinking someone was performing and could not find the source. As more and more people began to stand up clapping, I too kept my energy focused on an unknown event. Something was happening. I stood up. And then I saw where everyone was looking, a tiny happy boy was perched on someone’s shoulder, raising his toy word high in the air. His skinny arm was straight and strong, raised in a triumphant gesture of confidence. The clapping got louder and louder until a man trailing a few other kids in tow calming walked up and the tiny boy climbed down for a hug. A family was reunited. The clapping turned into a few happy cheers and then everyone went back to their beach chairs, beer, and high academic musings. I stood stunned, tears stinging my eyes as I witnessed something normal to the people of Posto 9 at Ipanema.
As I sniffled I thought how easily the community here could transcend language and class, culture and borders and help a lost child out with a simple clap. And why not? Posto 9 has a history of being a gathering place for liberals and countercultural movements, but a friend also said this kind of clapping happens all over Latin America. After all, it is the most logical, easy, and cost effective solution. Forget fear and shaming, isn’t it more productive to NOT instill fear in a lost child or shame the parent when these things happen all the time and with no ill intent? When everyone gathered together, the solution was simple and clear. Just clap, people will look, and everyone gets to share in the joy of reunion. Never before have I seen such a instinctual, genuine, and collective responsibility for the young. No one tried to pass the responsibility off to another, no one had any fear of being held responsible for someone else’s problem. Higher authorities were not turned to for a solution, the little boy was not handed off to the Police. And a child learned that he had neighbors, he had people he could turn to who would actually help him. He belonged. He knew the land was his, the people were on his side, and while things new seem as simple when we are grown, for a moment he was the center of a movement. Where the state often instills a culture of fear and shame, the community overcame and the people stood in joy. In five minutes my whole notion of what is possible was turned on its head, and I was so grateful to be in Latin America where people graciously showed me more truly is possible.