Burn, Borba Gato!

Image: @lucasport01 (Free Journalists).
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By CARLA TEIXEIRA*

The symbol only makes sense if it is a cultural reference for the community, otherwise it may be a symbol of power over the community.

The overthrowing of statues of slaveholders during popular and anti-racist demonstrations, which took place in 2020, in the United States and Europe, ignited debates about the legitimacy of actions that destroy symbols and representations of secular violence against certain population groups. Here in Brazil, the burning of the statue in honor of the bandeirante and murderer, Borba Gato, during the 24J demonstrations by Fora Bolsonaro, in São Paulo, again brings the opportunity to reflect on symbols and traditions.

No symbol is natural, every symbol is cultural. The symbol only makes sense if it is a cultural reference for the community, otherwise it may be a symbol of power over the community. In the specific case of Borba Gato, the question arises: for whom is the statue a cultural reference?

Manuel da Borba Gato was a prominent pioneer who undertook numerous expeditions to explore lands during the XNUMXth century. Along with his father-in-law, Fernão Dias Paes Lemes, he was responsible for murders, rapes and the enslavement of blacks and indigenous people from the regions he passed through. Both figures make up the group of sertanistas called “Bandeirantes” who, from the XNUMXth century onwards, violated the land and peoples of South America in search of gold and mineral wealth. Their names appear on the main highways of the state, with the “Palácio dos Bandeirantes” as the seat of the government of São Paulo.

When considering such historical and secular violence, how can a peripheral revolutionary movement, composed essentially of young people, blacks and the poor, pass in front of the statue of a bandeirante and not manifest itself? If it is possible to identify in Borba Gato the symbol of the historical process that places them in a situation of subalternity – as an origin – why would it not be legitimate to question and destroy this origin?

Heroes, like historical truths, are products of their time, which builds, destroys and rebuilds them, in a process of maintaining, breaking and reinventing traditions. During the French Revolution, in 1789, the Bastille Day (a symbol of the oppression of the Old Absolute Regime) was the milestone that defined the expansion of the revolutionary process to other regions of France, culminating in the fall of the monarchy and the installation of a new order. political and social.

Those who ignore the daily violence suffered by blacks, poor people and indigenous people in this country may not understand secular violations and the consequent weight that the symbols of these violent practices have in the daily lives of individuals and the community subjected to them. The authoritarian regression advocated by the current government is accompanied by strong popular opposition movements, with a political agenda aimed at combating racism, inequality and all sorts of physical, economic and symbolic violence.

If there was a genuine concern of public power with the well-being of the population and the memory of the country, these symbols – objects of popular contestation – should be removed from public places, sent to museums and exhibitions, replaced by monuments that translate collective aspirations. and represent the heroes of our time.

Far from constituting a mere act of vandalism, the fire against the statue of Borba Gato may be a symptom of a change in progress in Brazilian society. The black and poor youth who sing “fire on the racists” sent a signal to all the rapists, fascists and racists by setting fire to the statue of the bandeirante murderer and slave owner. Burn, Borba Gato! From its ashes we will make the democratic revolution that Brazil and all of Latin America long for.

* Carla Teixeira is a doctoral student in history at UFMG.

 

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