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With Traditional June Cultural Festivities, Vila Autódromo Celebrates Memory and Hope

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Like many other favelas in Rio, Vila Autódromo hosted its own Arraiá–a traditional celebratory cultural event in June. In contrast to typical festivals, Vila Autódromo’s celebration featured, above all else, a message of hope, memory and resistance.

On Saturday, June 25, about 80 current and former residents, local activists and supporters gathered in Vila Autódromo to celebrate the community’s years of resistance and struggle for their rights with a day of music, food and dancing.

The community, located in Barra da Tijuca in Rio’s West Zone, has spent more than five years fighting eviction linked to the development of the main Olympic facility bordering their territory. Their fight has been long and painful. Just 20 families remain on the land that once housed some 700 families. These residents recently negotiated with the city government for the construction of new homes for them on their land, scheduled to be completed by next month, just a few days before the start of the 2016 Olympics next door.

Under colorful flags and lights strung from a tent at the entrance to the community’s one remaining street, residents of all ages ate, danced and chatted late into the evening, as children dressed in the plaid dresses and straw hats typical of such June celebrations dashed around, laughing and chasing their friends.

The temporary housing in Vila Autódromo, where residents currently live as they wait for their new homes to be finished.

Dona Dalva, 82, sat with a friend in plastic chairs, close to the table where residents offered cake and caipirinhas to attendees. Dalva, one of the community’s oldest residents and a powerful example of resistance, smiled as she watched the children and dogs play under the tent.

“Everyone has hope now that things are going to go well,” she said. “After so much suffering, the people here deserve [to celebrate].”

Dalva spoke of the event as an opportunity for the community to “reclaim our rights” and expressed hope that others might follow Vila Autódromo’s example.

Hope and the right to territory were strong themes of the day throughout the crowd at the Arraiá.

Larissa Lacerda, a member of the Popular Committee on the World Cup and Olympics, has spent two years working with the community of Vila Autódromo.

“This event is a reaffirmation of the territory, of the preservation of memory, where residents and their supporters can meet,” she said.

She described events like the Arraiá and the ongoing construction of memory, through projects such as the Evictions Museum, as a way of changing the narrative about the community, challenging the story told by the City government about Vila Autódromo and the many other communities in Rio that have experienced forced evictions.

“It’s another way of telling the story,” she said.

One of the exhibits in the community's Evictions Museum.

At 7pm, after several hours of music and socializing, attendees gathered under the tent to watch a series of short documentary films about evictions and Rio’s favelas.

The first film, Remoções (Evictions), was introduced by its director, Luis Carlos de Alencar. The 26-minute short, produced by political film production company Couro de Rato and human rights nonprofit Global Justice, is part of a mini-series, Contagem Regressiva (Countdown), which aims to show some of the social impacts of the Olympics mega-event on the city of Rio. Remoções featured interviews with residents of favelas from across the city, including Vila Autódromo, and powerful footage of the destruction of the communities’ homes.

The second film, Museu da Maré, made by a group of architecture and urbanism students from the Anhanguera University, presented an overview of the unique Maré museum and its various projects. The museum, created in 2006 by a group of residents of Complexo da Maré in Rio’s North Zone, is committed to the preservation of favela memory, and was recognized as a tourist attraction by Rio de Janeiro state in 2014.

The last of the short documentaries, Irmão do Morro, produced by local communications collective Núcleo Piratininga de Comunicação, told the story of the relationship between the São José Operário community in Praça Seca in the West Zone and Dutch priest Padre Frank, framed against the community’s process of political organization and fight to affirm its housing rights.

Construction of hotels and other buildings as part of the Olympics complex next to Vila Autódromo.

The event also featured an exhibition of photos from the Olympic Revelations photography prize, a competition sponsored by the Popular Committee and the Observatory of Urban Conflict at the Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ). The striking photos, displayed at the entrance to Vila Autódromo, offered a diverse view of the impact on communities and rights violations in the leadup to the Rio Olympics.

The Arraiá in Vila Autódromo is the latest in a series of events under the Occupy Vila Autódromo banner. In this campaign, events are held in the community to show the world that a strong community spirit still remains in the favela, as well as to demonstrate support for the remaining residents. These events have included cultural festivals, soccer tournaments and book launches.

In the background of this latest event, the new homes for residents were under construction. In a landmark deal with the mayor–the first collectively signed relocation agreement in favela history–the remaining residents will each be given a newly built home in the community. While the victory remains heavily imperfect, as some residents who had been evicted and wanted to return to Vila Autódromo will not be able to, and many who left feel taken advantage of, those that remain are pleased with the progress on their new homes, which are due to be finished in time for the Olympics, and intend to maintain the community as a site of organizing beyond the Games.

June festivities in Vila Autódromo