This article draws primarily on interviews with two union leaders from the sugarcane region of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco to demonstrate the role of race in their experiences over the past forty years as well as how they navigated and interpreted questions of authority, respect, and conflict in a landscape marked by frequently rigid conceptions of hierarchy. The article analyzes particular stories these men told and describes the background to their storytelling. It places the interviews with the two leaders in the context of a larger chorus of cane workers' voices from the region, testimonies that are crucially valuable sources for understanding what remains a largely oral culture. They provide answers to questions on topics that would otherwise remain outside the reach of historians, from the complexities of class relations and the dynamics of conflict to such subtle issues as slavery's legacies. The article approaches these issues in three sections: the first charts the two leaders' lives in the context of the cane zone's history; the second addresses race and respect; and the third discusses violence, voice, and authority.

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