Most people assume Brazil is a Portuguese-speaking country, with tiny pockets deep in Amazonia where a smattering of native tongues survive. This is basically true. I mean, it's truer than assuming that because Brazil is in South America, everyone converses in Spanish. But look again.
"Arnica mea, patria haec non Portuguese est."
"I beg your pardon, sir? Did I hear you correctly?"
"Num Latin cognosces? No, I can see not. The amount of illiteracy around here is staggering."
"You're speaking Latin, aren't you? But why are you doing that in Brazil? Don't you know the country was discovered by the Portuguese in 1500?"
"Try telling that to all those naked Indians."
"Well, okay, there were already a few savages here, but where do you enter the picture?"
"My ancestors were sailing the estuaries of the Amazon when these retards were still trying to grow root crops and get a peccary to come when they called."
"You mean that your people were here before Christ?"
"My people were here because of all that Judaeo and then Christian nonsense. We Romans weren't free to practice our own religion. The persecution was something you wouldn't want to think about. When the Maccabees were revolting, and they were revolting, we were getting the Hades out of that part of the world. We brought a few Indians with us, ancestors of what you now call Native South Americans, I believe."
"So, you've been here since the second century before Christ. Why haven't you ever gone back?"
"The Dark Ages were nothing to walk into. Then the Inquisition took its toll of non-Catholics. Now, with the papacy just about ruling the world, we wouldn't stand a chance. Thomas Wolfe was right."
"Assuming you can't go home again, do you think you'll ever be able to revive Latin culture on this continent?"
"Latin culture! Latin culture! That's all I ever hear about over here! Latin dances, Latin food. They even call this place Latin America!"
The citizen of Rome began to sweat profusely and pull out his hair. A man with slanting eyes and yellow-tinged skin walked past him, shaking his head sadly. The stories he could tell about how his forefathers had discovered the New World!
Susan Packie teaches anthropology at Malcolm-King College, which is located in America's premier anthroplogical site, New York City. She has had her work published in more than 80 magazines.
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