A few days ago on September 7th, 2021, Brazil was celebrating its National Independence Day.
On that same day, there were protesters in support of Brazilian President Bolsonaro making the news as you can see in this video here.
As you can read here, apparently there were over 100,000 people at these rallies in cities like Brasilia and São Paulo.
Regardless of your opinion on Bolsonaro and the rallies that day, one thing was interesting that caught the attention of people on social media like Twitter.
In which I saw photos of Brazilians at these rallies holding up signs in English!
Now, as we all know, English is the national language of Brazil, right?
Or is it that maybe they were using signs in English for another reason while the cameras were all around showing the world what was happening?
That’s my argument.
It’s a small detail about life down here in Latin America and something you also occasionally see in other parts of the world too.
In which, when a massive amount of people want to bring world attention to something, they try getting an international journalist to report on it, share the news via social media and hold signs in English for the cameras to take pictures of.
All because of the belief that English is the global language most commonly understand across most continents and that it’ll bring more attention to their cause.
Of course, the photos of Brazilians holding signs in English did provoke leftist folks on Twitter to mock them for it.
Questioning how patriotic are they really if they want to advertise their cause in English.
After all, isn’t Portuguese the language of Brazil?
Where’s their national pride!?!
Though that’s not my belief.
That’s simply what some folks online said to diminish their efforts and cause because of political disagreements.
And, if we’re being honest, leftists in Latin America don’t really have much to argue here because, as we’ll see, it’s not uncommon for folks on their side to use English to get world attention either!
While we will see examples of that soon enough that extend beyond Brazil and into other countries of Latin America…
It is worth asking also – does appealing to an international audience have any impact?
Well, to be honest, this is a blog you are reading and not an academic study quantifying how often and how big the impact is with advertising your cause in English.
So I can’t tell you how often advertising your cause in English works to your benefit down here.
But, as I have noticed over the years down here, it usually does have at least some minimal impact.
The least of which being that promoting your cause makes it easier for groups to establish solidarity with ideologically similar groups in other countries.
And that solidarity that sometimes translate into real world results that benefit the cause of either one or both groups.
So let’s get into some other examples that I am familiar with.
SOS for the Zapatistas?
So we covered one group of people on the ideological right in Brazil.
What about a group on the ideological left in Latin America?
This one being a group of indigenous people with their own self-proclaimed “autonomous” communities in rural areas of Chiapas, Mexico.
A group I’m formal with as you can read about here and based on my subsequent experiences looking into them years later after I first travelled to their territory.
Though I could go all day talking about them, let’s keep it brief and focused on the topic at hand.
In 1994, the Zapatistas decided to launch an uprising in Chiapas in which they began taking territory that they claimed was stolen from indigenous people long ago.
Consequently, they had an armed engagement with the Mexican military and lost a lot of the land that they took before retreating back into the Lacandon Jungle.
You can learn more about this movement here.
At any rate, the Zapatistas were very effective and still are to this day in generating international support for their cause.
Though you can argue that the Mexican military had the capability at eliminating the remainder of their movement, there was also intense pressure on the Mexican government internationally for their actions during the initial days of the conflict.
Reports of human rights violations as you can read here.
With the figurehead of the movement, Subcomandante Marcos, doing his best to appeal to the world.
In which, on various occasions since 1994, hundreds of foreigners and more have been accepted to Zapatista territory.
To Marcos working with activists to create media that would spread their message and concern about the violence of the Mexican military as you can see here.
And their most important messages were translated into English as you can read here.
They even have their own website now that has English and other languages available in different posts as you can see here.
And, to this day, they have numerous groups in countries like the US, Germany and various others who support their cause by buying their products at a premium price.
With some groups, like one called Schools for Chiapas, which helps bring funds to construct schools in their communities.
Finally, you have this recent example of the Zapatistas going to Europe to spread their cause again not too long ago.
All around, their initial efforts after 1994 were considered to be a great example of how grassroots groups can use the media to promote their cause internationally.
Consequently, those efforts can and did translate into bringing pressure on the Mexican government to limit their offensive actions and establish international solidarity with ideologically aligned groups that support them financially.
Despite your opinion on the movement, it’s all around a classic example of how advertising your cause in other languages like English and using the media can work nicely for your efforts.
Colombian Protests: “Nos Estan Matando”
For anyone paying attention to Latin American politics, you probably would’ve noticed all of the massive protests in Colombia this year.
Being honest, I’m not the biggest expert when it comes to all of the motivations behind the protests.
But, from what I read in articles like this one here, it apparently was sparked, in part, by proposed legislation to change the tax code in which the threshold at which salaries are taxed would be lowered.
This comes at a time in which the Covid Recession has greatly impacted the economies of around the world obviously.
Here’s a video explaining the situation in greater detail.
At any rate, a large police presence with violence committed against the protesters sparked even greater rage across the country with people chanting the phrase “Nos Estan Matando!”
Meaning “they are killing us!”
So, as a side point, that’s obviously an example of how obviously not every protest sign is going to always be in English.
And it didn’t have to be necessarily because obviously the international media can translate that easily.
And also because the scenes of police shooting protesters caused outrage internationally against what was happening in Colombia as you can see in this video here.
Still, as you can see in these stock photos taken of the incident here, you had signs translated into English saying the phrase “they are killing us.”
Along with other signs that said stuff like “Free Colombia.”
Unfortunately, I can’t post those photos here because I don’t have copyright ownership of them.
At any rate, what happened in Colombia this year did bring a lot of international attention to the country.
With protests happening elsewhere against the violence from San Francisco as you can see here to other parts of the world.
And though I couldn’t quickly find any articles showing US or world action against the Colombian government for the violence, there is this article here where 55 congressmen demanded a response in the US.
Otherwise, you mostly just had organizations like the UN and OAS condemn the action in words as you can see here.
Of course, it’s likely organizations like the UN would’ve condemned it anyway regardless of if signs in English were used or not at any of the protests.
In this example, we can only see some incidents where some protesters decided to advertise their cause in English but, unlike the Zapatistas, it isn’t as clear how much of a benefit that produced for this specific situation.
Telling the Foreigner to Go Home in Bolivia
Next up, we have the “Water Wars” of Cochabamba, Bolivia that occurred from December 1999 to April 2000.
In this case, you had protesters against the privatization of the city’s water supply company known as SEMAPA.
In this case, you had a new firm called Aguas del Tunari working with an American firm called Bechtel in which they began working on a new dam and raising water rates.
After the massive protests, the privatization was reversed as you can read here.
And here’s a video explaining the water wars in greater detail.
Still, you have this photo you can see in Wikipedia here in which the sign is telling these companies “to go home.”
Among any other signs that day that had any English on them.
Of course, in this example, you could also argue that the use of English in signs that say “go home” are also just meant to clarify their anger at the foreign company that is American.
You know – to drive the message more clearly in the language of the American CEO behind the company so they think he’ll at least understand some of their protest signs.
And, to be fair, this did get some international coverage and also media awareness.
In which a movie titled “También la lluvia” or “Even the Rain” in English was made in 2010 and was successful enough internationally in earning 3 Goya Awards and the Ariel Award for Best Ibero-American Film.
Here’s the trailer for the movie.
Of course, those are just 4 examples in total in Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia and Brazil.
There are many more protests that I considered looking at from the protests against Canadian mining companies in Peru to older protests against college debt in Chile.
Among many others!
But I think you get the point.
It’s an interesting and minor detail for us foreigners living in Latin America.
For example, if the US were to have a protest, I can’t imagine any signs would be written in Mandarin or Arabic.
Unless the protests maybe had something to do with China or the Middle East perhaps.
Outside of having some relevancy there, we’d imagine the protests to basically only be in English.
But in Latin America, as I said, it’s not uncommon for protesters to sometimes have a few signs here and there in English because they think it’ll help spread their message internationally.
And, like in the case of the Zapatistas, effective marketing actually can generate real world results from international pressure against whoever you are fighting to financial benefits that support your cause.
Or, in other cases, it might not produce much benefit.
For example, I’m a little bit doubtful that any signs in English for the Colombian protests were necessary given they seemed already to be getting lots of international attention.
So your results may vary if you choose to market your cause in English down here.
At any rate, if you have any examples yourself of this happening in Latin America, drop them below!
Or any comments at all in the comment section.
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Thanks for reading.