Note from BW of Brazil: So last Saturday, I received this video in one of my social networks. As I was busy and receive so many messages and videos, I quickly glanced at it for a few seconds and got back to what I was doing. By the next day, the video had become the talk of the internet and kept popping up in my networks. I soon realized that it was the same video that I didn’t have the chance to watch the previous day. People were posting the video everywhere saying how this moment was the highlight of a popular, annual book festival, so I thought, “Well, let me check this out and see what all of the fuss is about.”
My eyes soon fixed on an elderly, grey-haired black woman speaking through a microphone surrounded by a throng of people. As the woman composed herself and pushed forward with her memories and comments, I froze in my seat with my eyes refusing to turn away from the image, 77-year old Diva Guimarães touched a part of my heart and soul that echoes through my being as a descendant of Africans who were snatched away from their homelands, enslaved, beaten, raped and killed by the millions.
As a descendant of a people that still don’t get respect as being part of the human family, being shot down by police, suffering from poverty, exploitation, physical and then psychological bondage that indoctrinates us into believing that we are inferior beings. Diva’s words remind us all of the struggles we continue to endure as a people, regardless of where those slave ship dropped us off in the Americas. This frail black woman’s words ripped away Brazil’s desire to put a mere bandage on the burning sore of racism that has plagued the country for nearly five centuries and says “WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED!” Watch the video for yourself…(transcript of video in English at bottom of article). As her words sink in, just imagine the psychological trauma that millions of black Brazilians have endured at the hands of Brazil’s sophisticated form of racism over the years.
Flip 2017 – Território Flip/Flipinha: Diva Guimarães
Teacher Diva Guimarães, a black and poor woman, provided one of the most exciting moments in the history of Flip (Literary Festival of Paraty), at the table in which actor Lázaro Ramos participated; reaction was a great commotion that ended with a resounding “Fora, Temer” (get out Temer), in reference to the current President Michel Temer whose approval ratings are in the single digits; another detail is that Diva spoke little about politics.
Teacher Diva Guimarães, black and poor, provided one of the most exciting moments in the history of Flip, the Festa Literária de Paraty (Literary Festival of Paraty), last Friday (28). At one of the tables, where the actor and writer Lázaro Ramos participated, Diva asked for the microphone and told her story. The attendees, including, keynote speakers came to tears. The reaction caused a great commotion that ended with a resounding “Fora Temer”, meaning “get out Temer”, in reference to unpopular current President, Michel Temer, who is facing huge corruption accusations and whose approval ratings are in the single digits. Another detail is that Diva said very little about politics.
“I was very moved that you noticed that we are in a mostly white audience. I’m from the south of Paraná (state), you can imagine (see note one)…I only survived because I had a mother who went through all the humiliation so that her children could study. I went to a boarding school when I was five. The nuns would pass through, the missions through the cities picking up the children as if it were like that… In exchange for you going to this school to study, you were actually going to work. I’ve worked hard since I was five. I’m a granddaughter of slaves. Apparently, we had a liberation that does not exist until today. “
The teacher spoke about situations of prejudice that she faced during her life because she was poor and black. She, who was taught as a child about inequality, said that she had matured at age six by hearing from one of the nuns a story that marked her for life.
The anecdote served to justify unjustifiable, racism.
“The nuns told me that Jesus – it took me a long time to accept this Jesus – God, he created a river and had them all bathe in the blessed water of that blessed river. So, the people who are white are because they were hard-working and intelligent. We, as blacks, are lazy. And it’s not true. This country only lives today because my ancestors gave it all the conditions. Then we, as lazy blacks, arrived at the end of the baths and the river had only mud. And that is why only the palms of our hands and feet are light. We only managed to touch this.”
And she went on:
“She told this story to show whites how lazy we were. And it’s not true. Because, otherwise we would not have survived.”
At the end of the speech, Diva remembers her mother and the importance of studying. For her, having access to education was defining so that she could construct her own trajectory.
“I’m a survivor because of education. And because of my mother. She would ask me: ‘Look at mother real good. If you want to be like the mother, don’t go to school.’ And I said, I won’t be like you. So she told me to go to school. I would go to class running.”
At the end of the dialogue, the actor Lázaro Ramos, wiping away tears, could not restrain his emotion: “My heart has grown small,” said the actor. To the applause of the audience, Lázaro defended the public education and appreciation of all teachers in Brazil.
Born in Serra Morena, in the interior of Paraná state, Diva also emphasized the importance of education in her life:
“I was the first person in my family to have access to school. That made me wake up early on to my condition. My mother washed clothes for other people in exchange for school supplies.
The actor Lázaro Ramos, invited her to receive first hand his recently released book at the autograph session. At the end of the table, Diva was surrounded by people asking for hugs, pictures and even autographs. One of those thrilled with the woman’s testimony was César William, a black firefighter who has been supporting the event for 9 years.
“I’ve never seen anything like that at Flip. You said everything I ever wanted to talk about. I earned the day. I feel that today the issue of racism is more latent, slavery broke the barriers and everyone is living more precariously,” said Caesar, who made a point of getting his son to meet the woman-sensation of Flip 2017.
Trained in Physical Education, Diva was an athlete when she was young, but stated that the color of her skin prevented her from pursuing a career. The teacher lives in Curitiba and said she did not have children by choice: she did not want them to go through the suffering she went through. Diva first came to Flip this year.
“As we say in the south, I’m “in the beak of the vulture”, I’m old, so I decided to come because I could not miss this festival,” said “Dona Diva” (lady Diva), as she was called by the public. “I’m in love with readings, by Jorge Amado and the black writer Cruz e Sousa.”
The teacher said she was inspired by the opening speech of Lázaro Ramos, and by the table of the Rwandan writer Scholastique Mukasonga. Seeing herself represented in Flip this year, she gathered the courage and requested to tell her story:
“I had to talk. In the name of the black people and the hypocrisy that exists in the Brazilian that affirms there is no racism in the country.”
The teacher moved Lázaro Ramos and the whole audience by reporting her painful trajectory to overcome prejudices for being a slave-granddaughter
At In the 15th year of the festival that has featured numerous prominent authors over the years, the brilliance was that of a 77-year-old lady with a slow-talking and timid demeanor. When she picked up the microphone and, with her choking voice began to tell her story, she was speaking for a people. Dona Guimarães’ speech that has been repressed “for years” found resonance from those who were in the Flip tent featuring Ramos to the margins of the river, but so strong that it extrapolated the limits of the historical city, gained empathy throughout Brazil amplified through social networks.
The testimony of the teacher born in the interior of Paraná, but based in Curitiba, brought all the attention and turned the spotlight on her, who more than any guest writer or writer was recognized and stopped in the streets of the Historic Center to take selfies. “I’m feeling really scared. It was not something thought of, as I’m shy, if I had thought, I would not have gotten the microphone,” she said.
Wherever she goes, she is announced as a celebrity and it was no different on the afternoon during the launch of the Intelectuais Negras Visíveis (Visible Black Women Intellectuals) catalog, organized by Professor Giovana Xavier, which brought together black women of all ages in Casa Amado and Saramago.
On Friday, after the speeches of actor Lázaro Ramos and the Portuguese journalist Joana Gorjao Henriques at the ‘A Pele que habito’ (the skin in which I live) table, Diva from the audience spoke for 13 minutes, a speech recorded in its entirety by the Flip organization and went viral on the web. At press release, the video had more than 222 thousand shares, which represents about 7.5 million views.
On the same day she met Lázaro and, another morning, at the Pousada do Ouro, she was with author Conceição Evaristo, a writer from Minas Gerais, who was part of the ‘As Amadas’ (the beloved ones) closing table with another writer Ana Maria Gonçalves Diva declared herself a fan of Conceição and Ana.
The meeting happened when Conceição granted an interview to the State of Minas Gerais and was recorded live. The two of them hugged each other at length and Conceição called her sister.
At the meeting, Conceição presented Diva with three books: Becos da Memória (2006), Insubmissas lágrimas de mulheres (Nandyala, 2011) e Histórias de leves enganos e parecenças (Editora Malê, 2016).
Conceição said that writing was the space of “revenge” against racism, where she exorcized the discriminations. Diva said that she found courage in sports as a sprinter and a basketball player. “I was aggressive in sport, not in the contest, but being fearless and determined.” She transformed all her rage into the sport. “I am very sad when the (federal) government announced that it wants to remove physical education from schools,” she said in reference to the reforms to high schools.
Diva lives alone in Curitiba, where she worked as a teacher for 40 years. Currently retired, she likes to go to the movies and “when she can afford it” she likes to go to the movies. “I read a lot. Everything, from heaven to hell,” she said. In her testimony, she drew attention to the glamor attributed to Curitiba, “seen as a European city”. She recalled that, however, life for those who are black and living on the outskirts of the city is quite different. Diva reported the situations of discrimination where she lives: “I ignore it most of the time. I go where I want. When you arrive in a store, someone always comes and asks: You want me to point you to something. They walk behind me, but I decided to give them a hard time. I walk, I walk through the shop and then I leave.”
But before receiving the spotlight, Diva reports that she had been discriminated against in Paraty. The teacher strolled around town when she was approached by a woman who complained about a dog’s shit on the sidewalk and chided Diva as if it were her dog. “Psiu, psiu. They’re calling me, so I looked. Is this dog yours? You let this dog shit here. Go clean it up.’ I looked at her and said, ‘Why does this dog have to be mine?’ She was half-grunting that I was the only one who came by right now. This dog is not mine. A lady came up and said worry about this. How come don’t worry? It was really that and I know why she said it. But I will not go down to her level. It happened here in Paraty when they are honoring who? Lima Barreto.”
Diva became the symbol of this issue of Flip that brought the racial issue to the central debate. In afternoon, curators of the Festival de Arte Negra (Black Art Festival) that will be held in Belo Horizonte in November expressed interest in inviting her to go to that city, the capital of Minas Gerais.
About the event
The 15th edition of Flip takes place between July 26 and 30, in the historical city of the southern coast of Rio de Janeiro. Paraty will be the scene of reflections and debates on the current narratives produced in Brazil and in the world.
Curated by journalist Josélia Aguia, the country’s most important literary event opens this year an unprecedented space for the diversity of voices in black literature.
And not only that.
For the first time in its history, Flip has a number of female authors that surpasses that of male authors. There will be 22 tables with 46 authors, of which 22 are men and 24 are women.
The writer honored this year will be Lima Barreto (1881-1922), a marginal author whose trajectory was marked by the overwhelming criticism of everyday racism racist and social segregation in Brazil.
Transcript of Diva Guimarães speech
“Good morning everyone!
I was very happy when you mentioned that we are in an audience with a white majority. Why do I say this? (cry) (applause)
And I was very happy when you talked about the education part. I am from a region of southern Paraná (state), that is, I came from the interior of Paraná, from the woods, to study in Curitiba (capital of Paraná), (yesterday the talk about mothers touched me deeply), and I survived, and I survive today, as a Brazilian, because I had a mother who went through various humiliations for us to study. (applause)
Sorry if I am extending (this), because it is the great opportunity of my life to be in the presence of the two and I can speak.
I went to a boarding school, at age five, because the nuns passed through on the missions. They passed through the small towns, saying it was for education, but it was to make us work. I’ve worked hard since I was five. I’m a granddaughter of slaves. Apparently, we have a liberation, which does not exist today.
I will tell a story. I delayed accepting Jesus, for I was against everything and against whoever accepted Jesus.
The nuns told a story. God commanded everyone to go to a river, to bathe in the blessed water of the “blessed” river. People who were smart took baths in this river and turned white.
We are black, because we are lazy, and it is not true, because this country lives today because my ancestors gave you all conditions (applause), as we arrived last, when we arrived to take a shower there was only the mud remaining to wash only the feet and hands. And that’s why we have these white parts. So the white palms and feet (soles) of blacks are the result of our laziness. And it’s not true!
I’m a survivor because of education. Because of my mother’s fight. I was rebellious. I had the will to kill. I didn’t want to go to school, because my mother had to wash clothes for school supplies, and I had to deliver clothes to people’s homes. My mother said, ‘If you want to be like your mother don’t go to school.’
I said the same to her, I will never be. She said, ‘There’s only one way. You have to study.’ And I’d run off to school. I’m not a victim. I thank my mother very much. I am grateful for very few exceptions.
When this girl at my side spoke of racism, I said that they are talking about Brazil of these days. For me to be able to work in Curitiba, which everyone thinks is a European city, of intellectuals, that really isn’t. There are good things, but the cotistas (affirmative actions students) suffer from prejudice. Indigenous people lost their R$400.00 scholarship grant because the governor cut the scholarship.
I was a teacher at the time of the dictatorship, I was considered subversive and a defender of my students. I passed on to my students that despite being poor, they should not give up. And I told my story, to show that it was possible that they were capable. One day they will need you and they will respect you, so study.
I’m a winner. With all prejudice and all of this, I won. I study today. Sometimes they ask me why I want to study. I answer, because I want to know what is happening to me and to my country.”
- Paraná is one of three states that make up the southern region of Brazil along with Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. The region has the largest percentage of citizens that classify themselves as white, at about 80%.