In a previous article featuring the only black woman to ever win the Miss Brasil contest (Deise Nunes, 1986), the name Apelonice (Lima) came up because she was also a black beauty contestant from the same southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. In 1977, Apelonice was supposed to have won her state’s beauty contest but she was denied this victory simply because she was black in a state with an overwhelmingly white population (86.5%). Below is how blogger Kiko Ghonzales reported the story along with the actual newspaper clipping (translated) detailing the story. The year was 1977. Manchete magazine, one of the most popular publishing successes of the time, distributed throughout the country on June 11 a provocative subject: “Rio Grande do Sul – Can a black woman be Miss (Rio Grande do Sul)?”
Below the translated article as it appeared in its entirety:
Rio Grande do Sul – Can a black woman be elected Miss (Rio Grande do Sul)?
Manchete article from June 11, 1977: Apelonice Lima and winner Rosângela Emeralda dos Anjos – Click to enlarge
Apelonice lost the title to Rosângela: everything about her was perfect except her color. Apelonice Lima, 21, a college student, was elected last week, Miss Passo Fundo, a city in Rio Grande do Sul located three hundred kilometers from (the capital city of) Porto Alegre. The young woman, of sculptural proportions (5’9″ tall, 35 inch bust, 35 inch hips, 24 inch waist and 21.5 inch thigh) did not, however, have her name approved by the president of the panel, journalist César Romero, for unusual one reason: her black color. “How would our city be seen in the Miss Rio Grande do Sul contest having as a candidate a person of color?”, asked Romero. In an attempt to have the town well represented, the panel, made up of local society figures, cast three votes, with the last prevailing, in which Rosângela Emeralda dos Anjos was elected – a young white woman who came in second place.
As soon as the final result was announced, the public booed the choice. The repercussions were not was limited, however, to the site of the contest. Reopening the legislative work, some councilors urged the installation of a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry to investigate the case in every detail, referring to the applicability of the (1951) Afonso Arinos Law (against racial discrimination) to César Romero. Apelonice Lima refused to comment on the penalties that would apply to the president of the panel, merely saying: “I was very upset about all this. It was as if they had given me a slap in my face. Until now I had never experienced any problem related to my color.” (End of newspaper article)
At the time, she said, after the result, it was proven that, in fact, the number of votes calculated Apelonice as the winner. “Nobody ever admitted it, but racism was the cause. Some people could not accept that a black woman represented the city”, she laments. After some time the error was recognized and the sash was offered to her but she refused. “This actually brought me a sad reality, I didn’t know it at the time”, she says. “But it opened my eyes to life. From then, I became a model, left Passo Fundo and I had great memories. Despite the pain at the time, I turned this experience into something positive”, concludes Apelonice.
After a modeling career, she majored in physical education and went on to work as a theater and dance professor of. “Again I suffered a disappointment, again nobody openly admitted racism, it was veiled again”, she explains. In this case, Apelonice was removed from her job, but shortly thereafter reinstated. “There was no reason beyond prejudice and I received help from many people”, she explains.
“The criminalization of racism by law is a great step forward, but it’s not everything. The bias is there, even though it’s hidden, which is unfortunate. But education is the way to change this reality”, concludes Apelonice.
Apelonice Salete Lima Fuchin, today a wife, mother and one of the most beloved figures of Passo Fundo society, is a person committed to the causes that aim to promote social and cultural development of African descendants. In the 3rd International Congress of Languages, held in Erechim, Rio Grande do Sul, she was there, teaching a course on art and dance in African culture, with a tranquil conscience of those who give their portion of contributions to building a better world.