Note from BW of Brazil: The following story is both inspiring but also rooted in the harsh realities of Brazilian attitudes toward domestic workers and nannies. Back in April, this blog brought to you the background of an historic domestic’s law that passed in Brazil and subsequently followed up with various other posts to give you an idea of why this law was necessary. This story gets even more complicated as it crosses over into US immigrant rights issues and policies making it an international story. There are various titles available in Portuguese on the topic of domestic exploitation, and in English, Professor Francine Winddance Twine (1997) touches upon the issue of domestic exploitation and the question of race and class in her book, Racism in a Racial Democracy: The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil. For now, check out one woman’s story…
My Story – Natalicía Tracy (né Maria Natalicía Rocha Tracy)
From nightmare to American Dream
Exploited by Brazilian bosses upon arriving in the US, a nanny becomes a university professor, director of immigration center and today fights for better conditions for domestic workers in the country
ABSTRACT: 20 years ago, the Brazilian Natalicia Tracy landed in the US accompanied by a couple of doctors, also Brazilian, who hired her to babysit for a period of two years while they would perform research in a Boston hospital. She planned to take advantage of the opportunity to go to school to learn English and then look for a new job when she returned. But she was prevented from studying, speaking with family and subjected to degrading conditions. Today, she is an activist, director of the Centro do Imigrante Brasileiro (Brazilian Immigrant Center) in Massachusetts and Connecticut and one of the leaders in expanding the rights of domestic workers in the country.
(…) The Testimony
by Joana Wedge of New York
I entered the United States 20 years ago with documentation to date: I had a visa of a nanny contract to care for the child of a couple of Brazilian doctors who came to live here to conduct research at a hospital in Boston. When we were still in Brazil, they promised me that I could study, learn about American culture and learn English, which was what I wanted most, because I had only studied up to the eighth grade. I traveled full of expectations, but that’s not what happened when I arrived.
In addition to caring for a three year old child, I was responsible for all the housework: cooking, washing and ironing. This happened from Monday to Monday with no day off. They didn’t let me go to school and then they had a second child, which increased my work and ended my dream of studying English. At first, they gave me a room, but then how did receive many visitors, they made me sleep on a mattress on the floor of the balcony.
The area was protected only by a very thin glass, and when winter came, I had to cover the floor with newspapers and I used the portable heater. I was sick and had an allergic reaction because of a product for cleaning carpets. They did not take me to the doctor, but allowed me to use the remaining inhalation product of the child. (For) food, they only gave me only leftovers. Otherwise, I had to buy it. But I could only choose a $1.00 sandwich at McDonald’s because my salary was only US$25 weekly. They took my passport saying they were going to renew my work visa but they never renewed it. I was illegal in the United States.
When I asked to go to school the mother said I was ungrateful and that anyone in my situation would kiss the floor where she walked for giving me the opportunity to be in a first world country. The worst of it was that they prevented me from communicating with my family in Brazil. They said the phone was very expensive and did not allow me to put my name on their home mailbox. At that time, the mailman didn’t leave correspondences if the name was not on the list.
Two years passed and when it came time for them to return to Brazil, I asked to stay in the country. When I walked on the street, unable to speak English with anyone, I even thought it would be better if a car ran over me. So, I learned a few words with a small dictionary I brought in my luggage. In the newspaper I found an ad for a nanny job for an American family. They gave me a room, new clothes, paid for my transportation to go to school and I didn’t accept my offer to work for free. My salary was $100 per week.
I went to college, I married an American, I am completing my master’s and my doctorate in sociology at Boston University. I met the Brazilian community and got involved with the immigration center. Today, I am a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and executive director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In partnership with other organizations, we strive to broaden the rights of domestic workers in the States, a sensitive issue for the Brazilian community. (See video interview below)
Many work per hour in domestic cleaning per, but their rights are poorly recognized in those contracts. I got engaged in it because of my own existence. The people who come from very simple families are very accustomed to respecting authority. I knew that I was invisible to them, but I didn’t question it. Today, after studying, I realized that what my Brazilian bosses did to me at that time was human trafficking.
More on Natalicía
On December 12, 2012, Carolina Bortolleto attended a “Women Serving Women” Domestic Workers’ Rights workshop in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the first event organized by the Brazilian Immigrant Center (BIC) in Connecticut.
The main focus of the BIC was workers’ rights, including research, workshops, and a Worker-Employer Dispute Mediation Panel (where workers are trained to help other exploited workers advocate for lost wages). The BIC also has an immigration clinic and English classes.
The most powerful part of the workshop was when Natalicía Tracy, BIC executive director since 2010, shared her story of how she moved “from exploitation to empowerment.” Natalicía came to the United States in the 1990s as an au pair nanny, and was paid $25 a week for 80-90 hours of work. Isolated from society and her support network and unaware of her rights, she felt trapped. Slowly, she taught herself English, got another job as a home nurse aid and moved out.
She felt morally obligated to work for change – not wanting others to be exploited as she was. She put herself through school, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in sociology at the University of Massachusetts. She is now a PhD Candidate in sociology at Boston University, studying “Immigration Policy and Mixed-Status Families.”
See the full story of this report here
BNN News Interviews Natalicia Tracy, Brazilian Immigrant Center