Speaking of Flowers: Student Movements and the Making and Remembering of 1968 in Military Brazil: Books

By Sarzynski, Sarah | Times Higher Education, November 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

Speaking of Flowers: Student Movements and the Making and Remembering of 1968 in Military Brazil: Books


Sarzynski, Sarah, Times Higher Education


Speaking of Flowers: Student Movements and the Making and Remembering of 1968 in Military Brazil By Victoria Langland Duke University Press 352pp, Pounds 67.00 and Pounds 16.99 ISBN 9780822352983 and 53126 Published 11 July 2013

Student activism during the dictatorship of 1964-85 is a far from obscure topic in Brazil. Many of today's politicians began their careers as student activists in that era and, as Victoria Langland notes, Brazilians remain captivated by stories about the young men and women who rallied against a repressive military government.

I am a Brazilianista cultural historian, and iconic images and the melodies of protest songs sprang immediately to mind when I first read this book's title, which refers to Geraldo Vandre's 1968 song Pra nao dizer que nao falei das flores (also known as Caminhando), popularised in protests after student Edson Luis was killed by police. The story of these student movements has been retold frequently in popular media: Globo's 1992 television mini-series Anos Rebeldes, for example, interspersed historical photographs, songs, news footage and headlines with insipid soap-opera romance, commodifying the collective memory of the military dictatorship and student protests via what literary and cultural studies scholar Rebecca Atencio has called "memory merchandizing". I dug into Speaking of Flowers eager to find a subversive critique of the mass media's packaged historical narrative.

Langland's accomplishment lies in providing the backstory of the student movements, tracing their changing relationship with the Brazilian state throughout the 20th century and contextualising them in the country's political history. The National Union of Students (UNE) that emerged in the 1930s was elitist and male-dominated, a reflection of the general university student population in that era. But by 1960, the UNE had adopted a more radical stance in reaction to both local struggles and international Cold War politics, and this book's central chapter on 1968 emphasises the tensions between local and international concerns. While Brazil's student movements were rooted in protests against the military regime's growing repression, global student movements influenced both their strategies and the public's perception of their activities. …

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