When President Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) referred to Northeastern Brazilians as "Paraíba," he used a term loaded with prejudice—an act punishable stance by law, according to linguists and lawyers heard by Folha.
The origin of the term is linked to the northeastern migratory flows to the Southeast from the 1960s, in particular from Bahia to São Paulo and Paraiba to Rio de Janeiro.
"This generic designation of 'baiano' was created in São Paulo and 'paraíba' in Rio because of tension," said Dante Lucchesi, professor of letters at UFF (Fluminense Federal University) and a reference in the area of sociolinguistics.
"It was a poorer, marginalized population on the outskirts of these cities, as the migrants from the Northeast were migrants, low-educated, and employed in less-skilled jobs."
Last Friday (19), in a conversation with Minister Onyx Lorenzoni (RS) captured by an open microphone before a breakfast with journalists, Bolsonaro used the term to refer to governors of the Northeast.
"Of those governors of Paraíba, the worst is Maranhão [Flávio Dino, from PC do B]. There has to be nothing with this guy," he said.
The next day, the president denied that he had used the expression pejoratively and stated that he referred to the governors of Maranhão and Paraíba (João Azevedo, of the PSB). This Tuesday (23), in Vitória da Conquista (BA), he said: "We are all from Paraíba, we are all from Bahia."
According to Lucchesi, "the term 'paraíba' is loaded with prejudice in Rio de Janeiro," where Bolsonaro, who is from São Paulo, took root. "In this case, it is clearly a derogatory term that reflects a prejudiced stance, unfortunately on the part of the president, who should represent all Brazilians."
The increasing influx of northeastern migrants in the second half of the 20th century, when a massive rural exodus took place, and Brazil's population became mostly urban, generated the tension that Lucchesi speaks of. "Tension breeds prejudice, and it translates into terminology."
According to IBGE data, in 2015 more than 2 million Bahians were living in the state of São Paulo (5% of the population) and 330,000 Paraibas in Rio de Janeiro (2% of the population).
Translated by Kiratiana Freelon