The Americas 62.4 (2006) 623-650
[Access article in PDF]
"Immigrants with Money Are No Use to Us"
Race and Ethnicity in the Zona Portuária of Rio De Janeiro, 1903-1912
On a steamy mid-summer day in December 1901, a "clearly inebriated" 105-year-old Afro-Brazilian, Rita Lobo, leaned heavily on a walking stick as she made her way up Rua General Pedra. Known to all as "Pereréca" ("frog"*), not for the first time had she been the victim of cruel taunts by a group of Portuguese youths and, in particular, Luís Nascimento, the seven year-old son of a local hardware and pottery shop owner, Luís Antônio Pereira do Nascimento. That afternoon, however, Rita decided that it was time to fight back and began beating the young boy with her cane.
Emerging from his store, the boy's father then attempted to restrain "Pereréca" who, in turn, launched herself at him. In the process of repelling his elderly assailant, Luís caused "Pereréca" to fall heavily to the ground, wounding her seriously in the face and arms. Screaming in pain, "Pereréca" was soon surrounded by a crowd of locals who became increasingly agitated by the ferocity of the shopkeeper's actions. A journalist from the Correio da Manhã continued:
At this stage the Portuguese retired inside his place of business to tend to the bruises inflicted upon him in the earlier scuffle. Minutes later, however, the establishment was invaded by the local Inspector of the 7th Urban division, Thomas Pessoa, and a number of young policemen. Informed of his arrest, Nascimento made for the calm of one of his tenants' lodgings which he rented out from above his shop. It was at this point that the situation began to change dramatically.
Seemingly without cause, the shop became the scene of the most disgraceful destruction. And on the order of our own Snr. Pessoa plates, crockery, cans of oil and all manner of hardware were destroyed. Indeed, nothing of value was spared from the truncheons of the police.1 [End Page 623]
Matters would continue to deteriorate for Luís do Nascimento. Soon the officers dragged him down from the upstairs room before kicking and punching him in front of the crowd. His heavily pregnant wife, Dona Joaquina, was not spared several blows, although she later managed to flee clutching her three young children and a bag of valuables. When the shopkeeper was finally taken to the local station for interrogation, the crowd took it upon themselves to loot whatever remained untouched by the police. "Scenes from the jungle," wrote a Jornal do Brasil reporter as the crowds "completed the absurd brutality" started by Inspector Pessoa.
Later that afternoon, Rita Lobo died from her injuries—thus it was somewhat fortunate for Luís that the contradictory accounts of the eyewitnesses resulted in his acquittal.
Almost four years later, Luís do Nascimento and his son were involved in a dispute with the same officers who had vandalized their family business in 1901. On 17 September 1905, police heard loud wailing noises outside the store. On arrival they were surprised to find the storekeeper's eldest son, Luís, with bruises on his cheeks and large scratches on both elbows and knees. Luís Sr. and Dona Joaquina, however, were nowhere to be seen and so Luís Jr. was taken to the local station where he remained for most of the day. Arriving in the early evening, Luís Nascimento Sr. was arrested on the testimonies of two officers who alleged that he had been seen inflicting "grave bodily harm" on his son. The officers also produced a signed declaration from the 11-year-old blaming his father for the injuries.
After five days in the Casa de Detenção, Luís was granted an appeal and was quick to recall the hidden agenda of the arresting officers. Not only was it clear...