Michael Conniff, Associate Dean, College of Social Sciences and Director, Silicon ValleyCenter for Global Innovation and Immigration
BayBrazil: You’ve been teaching Brazil and Latin America history in various institutions in the U.S. and abroad, including Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. How was that experience?
M. Conniff: I’ve enjoyed teaching Brazilian history immensely, especially in the last 15 years of Brazil under democracy and good presidents. The course attracts good students who are fascinated to get acquainted with nossa terra querida. And in my case, I’ve lived over 40 years of Brazilian history and met a number of prominent politicians, intellectuals, artists, and business people.
BayBrazil: What was the impact of this experience in your career?
M. Conniff: Brazilian history has been good for my career. I’ve published several books about its modern history, and lots of chapters and articles. It’s also given me entre to a wonderful group of other researchers, Brazilian and non-Brazilian. We have an organization, BRASA, and lots of meetings and listservs.
BayBrazil: What are the goals of the Center for Global Innovation and Immigration and how it will affect professionals in the Bay Area?
M. Conniff: The SVCGII is intended to undertake research on global issues, especially related to global migration. We’re especially interested in immigrants in the Bay Area, including Brazilians. We encourage research teams on campus, organize annual meetings, participate with other California institutes and centers, and build bridges to immigrant associations. I hope your BayBrazil prospers and can provide liaison to our Center.
BayBrazil: How do U.S.-Brazil relations have evolved in the last few years?
M. Conniff: Relations have improved under Obama, and Brazil’s growing authority and effectiveness in world diplomacy make the two nations more like equals. Brazil has assumed leadership in the hemisphere as the United States, especially under Bush, have relinquished that role.
BayBrazil: What are the most pressing challenges that Brazil faces as a global player?
M. Conniff: Its relations with China will be crucial in order to continue its impressive growth. It must find ways to trade, invest, innovate, and collaborate with China without losing its identity and wondrous social system. The second challenge will be to manage relations with Iran in a way that does not overly antagonize the NATO countries.
BayBrazil: Have you noticed a change in the level of knowledge and interest on Brazil among undergrad students?
M. Conniff: They are certainly more aware and interested today than in the 1970s, when I began teaching. In part that was due to the dictatorship but also to lack of knowledge among the general public. Today more want to study Portuguese, travel to Brazil, even live there (one of my students who went to Salvador with me in 2006 wrote to say she wants to go back and live there!).
BayBrazil: What everyone should know about Brazil?
M. Conniff: What an incredibly diverse country it is, from sertoes to rainforests, from caipiras to world business leaders, from towns and villges to global cities, and what a rich, appealing, and dynamic culture it has.