Rebeca Andrade and Herbert Conceição are two young Afro Brazilian Olympians whose performance and presence in Tokyo shined a spotlight on Brazil’s Diaspora identity.
The majority Black population has historically seen themselves underrepresented on the Olympic podium. This is undoubtedly due in part to the insurmountable challenges presented specifically to hopeful athletes from the poor-working class communities.
Illustrator Helô D’Angelo tackles this issue in a recent political cartoon:
In it, she shows the duplicitous nature of the popular conservative meritocracy rhetoric. In an international contest symbolic of fair competition, the obstacles for Afro Brazilians include, “lack of incentive”, “lack of equipment”, “lack of training resources”, “and a lack of time”. In spite of these obstacles, these athletes are dominating on the big stage and receiving the support of the Black world.
Rebeca Andrade’s story is truly one of triumph.
She comes from the city of Guarulhos, a city on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Her mother, Dona Rosa, worked as a maid to support her eight children in a one-room house with an outside bathroom. Rebeca’s gymnastics has helped the family to move into a more comfortable house. She began training at age four at a local community gym, where her older brother would chaperone her to classes when her mother could afford the fees. People in her community donated food and clothes to her family to help offset the expenses.
At age 9, Rebeca was invited to a prestigious gymnastics school in Rio where she would leave her family home to train full time. Her career was a difficult trajectory with several injuries and surgeries, and recovery periods. Despite this, she became the overall champion in the Pan American Championships to qualify for Tokyo.
Rebeca has shined in Tokyo, winning a silver and gold medal so far. This win makes the athlete become the first Olympic medalist in women’s gymnastics in Brazil During both wins, she had a special supporter cheering from the stands.
Simone Biles cheered from the stands, “Go Rebeca!” and the clip went viral. Brazilians collectively celebrated, but for Afro Brazilians, it is much deeper.
Simone Biles, along with Naomi Osaka made headlines for prioritizing her mental health and leaving competition. For Team USA, the theme of Black women’s sovereignty has dominated the press. Afro Brazilians see her support of Rebeca as a sign of Black solidarity. Her joyous waving and cheering have gone viral.
Another viral moment occurred when 23-year-old boxer, Herbert Conceição, won bronze in the men’s middleweight competition. This marks Brazil’s first boxing medal. Herbert was boombastic after the win. He is a native of Salvador, Bahia in northeast Brazil. His Bahian pride was on full display after the judges scores. Herbert looked into the crowd and shouted
“Trabalhei muito pra isso! Eu mereço pra caralho. Meu Brasil, meu país. Salvador!” (I worked hard for this !!! I f*cking deserve it. My Brazil, my country. Salvador!)
During the press conference, he dedicated his fight to his beloved city by reciting a song from the samba-reggae band, Olodum. The song, Madiba, is an ode in itself to Nelson Mandela.
“Nobre guerreiro de alma level (Noble Lightweight Warrior)
Nobre guerreiro preto lutador (Noble Black Warrior Fighter)
Que os bons ventos calmos assim te levem (That the good calm winds so take you)
Aonde você for (Where are you)“