Note from BW of Brazil: Our elders, besides being the foundations of our families and important branches in our genealogical trees are living, breathing sources of a wealth of information. Which is but one of the reasons we love today’s post. Andressa Lima conducted the interview below with her grandmother about her days as a black woman in a town that consisted primarily of German immigrants. As we have seen in a previous post, Brazil’s long time depiction of itself as a place where racial segregation didn’t exist (1) in any form once again falls like a stack of cards. Although some of the memories in the story are indeed painful, we are thankful Andressa was able to record her grandmother’s memories. For like the people that keep them, they are treasures!
Dora, 91, tells what is was like being a black woman in Novo Hamburgo in the 1930s
“When there was the first movie theater of Novo Hamburgo*, blacks sat in a separate place and couldn’t leave from there.”
By Andressa Lima
As I talked about my grandfather, now I’ll tell a little about his wife, my dear grandmother. I share an interview I did with her on her birthday, recalling some interesting stories and what goes on in the minds of a person who went through so much.
I know that being born only 35 years after the signing of the Lei Áurea (Golden Law) (2) must not have been easy, and in spite of living with Mrs. Darcy da Silva, (affectionately called Dona Dora) I have no idea what she went through, because listening is one thing, feeing it up close is different.
On the 25th day of August 1923, the most hardworking person I’ve ever known came into the world and with her came the difficulties. Only that this didn’t take away the joy and will to live, as she reveals below:
Dona Dora: “I was born in the neighborhood of África (now called Guarani), where I lived until the death of my father. I was only 10 years. He was a painter and bricklayer and helped build the Escola São João (schools), a small chapel where I studied. As he was very Catholic, he did free renovations on the school in his spare time. After that, I went to family homes work as a domestic.”
When she turned 14, she went to work in Porto Alegre (capital city of Rio Grande do Sul) along with a cousin, where she earned the equivalent of R$80.00 (US$26.30) per month. This was advantageous because, at the time, she would need to take four or five transport transfers to get to her job. Also, if she stayed in Novo Hamburgo she would earn only R$20.00 (US$6.58). But she eventually returned after a year because of her mother’s death.
At 15 years of age, she lived in the homes in which he worked until getting marry at 28, and moving. After marriage and the birth of children, she didn’t stop working. “Being a domestic is not good. At the time, I wasn’t a domestic, I was raised. I only had Sunday afternoon free,” she said.
Well, the subject of “work” didn’t last long. My grandmother wanted to talk about the dances in which she participated and that she would go to other cities like Velha, São Leopoldo and São Sebastião do Caí for fun. She spoke of the Escola de Samba Cruzeiro do Sul (samba school) and its thematic commissions (3). She keeps fond memories and numerous photos with great affection.
I asked in a easy manner about racism she suffered in her youth, but the stories were tough.
And how were you treated here in Novo Hamburgo?
Dona Dora: “They were ‘disregarding of us’. In stores, we were served last or not were served; we needed to go well dressed, with new clothes (whether) for water or a needle. Oh, and when there was the first movie theater in Novo Hamburgo blacks sat in separate place and couldn’t leave from it. But there was a black young man named Armando Malaquia who sat in the sector that was forbidden. But he only sat (there) because the whole row was empty. Since then, we sat there and no one stopped us anymore. I remember, too, that there were not many beauty salons in Novo Hamburgo. And they only served us at the noon hour behind closed doors, because they said that customers couldn’t see us there. There were also had different days that blacks, rich whites and poor whites could pray in masses. There were many divisions.”
With eyes full of tears because of the feeling of how the neglect hurt, she continued. And I asked one more question to finish:
Andressa: In these 91 years, has any fact marked your life very much?
Dona Dora: “When I returned to Novo Hamburgo, after my mother’s death, my brother was living in our house, but with my uncles. My younger sister fell out with my aunt and left and went to live with a cousin. And when I came back I went with her also. It was hard, but I preferred this than to keep fighting with my sister,” she concluded emotionally and with longing for her younger siblings, Juracy and Valdomiro. Certainly, it was the most difficult interview I’ve ever done, even more so being with the person I love the most in the world.
I could have repeated the word work many times and I know that you, the reader, noticed this. However, it is the word that my grandmother knows well and could even be considered her middle name. But for my part, we can add another: pride. Pride of an entire family that is standing thanks to a person that sweated a lot to get here and now makes her descendants dream high and reach wherever they want to go.
To summarize nine decades in one day renders painful and pleasant memories, but it was a special day. On this day, we celebrate her birthday at her home, where she has lived since the age of 28. The little party had balloons, cake and many gifts. And you know what she asked for in blowing out the candles? Well, that was told outside of this story. You know, right? Confidentiality between reporter and interviewee.
Below Grandma’s Hands, the sound of musician Bill Withers, who inspired this publication.
Bill Withers – Grandma’s Hands
Andressa Lima, 22. Supporter of the arts, fond of good beers and an orphan of Nina Simone. Adopted by journalism, daily, she makes of her color her struggle, using words as a shield. Some of them, written here.
Source: Movi +
* – Novo Hamburgo (Portuguese for New Hamburg) is a municipality in the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, located in the Metropolitan area of Porto Alegre, the State Capital. As of 2010, its population was 237,044. Consolidated by German immigrants, the city was named after Hamburg, Germany, and, to this day, Novo Hamburgo’s population is still predominantly of German descent. Source
1. Afro-Brazilian activists such as the late Abdias do Nascimento and Carlos Medeiros have also documented the existence of segregation in cities such as São Paulo and Porto Alegre. A previous article highlights how blacks were barred from social clubs in São Paulo which led to the creation of their own club. A similar social standard existed in Rio de Janeiro.
2. Lei Áurea, meaning Golden Law, was signed in 1888 by Princess Isabela bringing an end to more than 350 years of slavery in Brazil.
3. A thematic commission is a body that promotes discussion and the deepening of specific topics related to objectives.
It is hardly surprising this happened in 1930. My parents met in the seventies. My mother is a German-Brazilian from Novo Hamburgo and my father is a black man from Rio. When they were engaged, my mother reserved a hotel for she and “her fiancee”. All was fine until they got there and the staff saw who my father was (they were expecting a German guy, of course). They quickly said that there was a mistake and that “unfortunately they were out of rooms”. My mother was furious and my father, well, not really that surprised.
Forgot to mention. My father is not even really “black” by Brazilian standards, as his father was white and his mother was a mixed race black person. He was “white” compared to Obama, but, still black like hell in South Brazil…