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Old 08-19-2002, 08:11 PM   #1
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The story of a woman I admire

Even knowing that it´s a reality too far away from the majority of people from these forums I decided to post this article here, so that more people will be able to read the story of this admirable woman. Maybe one day things will work out right for more people like her in my country. That´s my deep wish.

The article is from New York Times, August 17, Saturday Profile.

From Maid to Rio Governor, and Still Fighting

RIO DE JANEIRO — Just before Benedita da Silva was sworn in as the new governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro a few months ago, a political rival accused her of being excessively fond of the luxuries of office. As Brazil's first black woman governor, he argued, she had an obligation to remain true to her origins in the slums here and shun all pomp and privilege.

"I have no problem whatsoever in walking on red carpets," she immediately retorted, "because I've certainly washed enough of them in my life."

As chief executive of a state of 14 million people, Ms. da Silva insists on exercising her right to live in the governor's mansion. But she makes a point of reminding Brazil's almost exclusively white political establishment that her long and arduous journey to power began in maid's quarters and that she speaks for millions of black Brazilians who remain poor and disenfranchised.

"We may be a majority, but blacks are invisible in this country, and I want to make them visible," Ms. da Silva said recently. "But at the same time, I want my mistakes and my achievements to be attributed to the person I am, and not to the color of my skin or my gender. That's what I am fighting for."

Officially, less than half of Brazil's 175 million people are classified as black. But in a nation that likes to consider itself a racial democracy, 70 percent of those living below the poverty line are black, as are 80 percent of those who are illiterate, and some studies indicate that on average, whites live longer than blacks and earn twice as much.

As a political leader, Ms. da Silva owes much of her popularity and her credibility among voters here to the powerful symbolism of her rise to power from poverty, which kindles hope that others can do the same.

But on a personal level, that background remains extremely painful to her.

"To experience misery, discrimination, prejudice and social exclusion in one's own skin, the truth is that's a memory I don't like to dwell on very much," she said.

Born in one of Rio's innumerable favelas, or squatter slums, Ms. da Silva, now 60, was one of 13 children, only 8 of whom survived to adulthood. Her mother, a priestess in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, was a washerwoman for the family of Juscelino Kubitschek, who was Brazil's president from 1956 through 1960.

Her first toys, she recalls, were hand-me-downs from the future president's daughter Márcia, with whom Ms. da Silva would later serve in Congress.

Eventually, Ms. da Silva would also work for years as a maid and cleaning lady. But even as a child, she shined shoes, sewed and sold fruits and candy because her father, who washed cars and worked in construction, could not make enough money to support his family.

The family was so poor that Ms. da Silva had only one set of clothes to wear to school, and the temptations and dangers of the street were many. A sister drifted into prostitution, one of her brothers became a pickpocket, and Ms. da Silva herself was molested during her childhood by a boarder her parents had taken in to earn a little extra money.

"One reason I don't like to remember what I went through is that it takes me to one of the things that has most marked my life, which is sexual violence," she said. "I was raped at the age of 7, and it took decades and decades of my life for me to recompose myself."

At 16, she married a heavy-drinking house painter 10 years her elder, and her life became even more difficult. Two of her four children died as infants, one of whom was buried in a pauper's grave. After being widowed at the age of 38 she married again, only to have her second husband die six years later.

All the while, though, Ms. da Silva, or Bené, as she is widely known here, was working in community groups in the favela, where she had lived since she was an infant, and was continuing to study, eventually earning a degree as a social worker. When the left-wing Workers' Party was founded two decades ago and came looking for candidates with grass-roots credentials, she was an obvious choice.

"I will never forget that first election, when I ran for the City Council in 1982," she said. "I was trembling with fear from all the misery and atrocities that I had been through, but I knew that I had to crack the code, that if I didn't figure out the code, I would be eternally subjugated. And there is nothing worse than that, than feeling you are imprisoned."

Initially, she was the only Workers' Party representative on the Council here, but other firsts followed quickly: the first black woman to serve as a congressional deputy, the first black woman to be a senator. Elected lieutenant governor here in 1998 on a multiparty slate, she became governor in April when her predecessor, Anthony Garotinho, stepped down nine months early to run for president.

But Mr. Garotinho, anticipating an early departure, had already spent nearly the entire budget for the year, she complains, making it almost impossible for her to strengthen the social programs that are her trademark. There has also been a surge in violent crime and attacks on police officers, as the drug lords who now control the favelas openly challenge her authority.

In the most recent polls leading up to October's election for a full four-year term, Ms. da Silva is running a strong third in a field of eight. Two of her strongest rivals are also women, one of them Mr. Garotinho's wife, but both are white, and Ms. da Silva argues that she continues to face an uphill climb because of the color of her skin.

"Just because I am the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro doesn't mean that racial prejudice has been done away with," she said. "The favelas are still there, their residents still encounter the same problems of racism and class prejudice, and only a black person who isn't awake doesn't see what is going on around him."

Unusually for a left-wing politician in Brazil, the world's most populous Roman Catholic nation, Ms. da Silva is also a member of an evangelical Protestant religious group, which she joined in her mid-20's. She admits that her colleagues in the Workers' Party find that odd, but she argues that "Christ was the greatest revolutionary" and that the Gospel and the fellowship of believers has helped make her whole and has brought her peace.

"I've been through my ugly duckling phase, of not liking my kinky hair and big feet," she said. "But the church taught me that I need not be ashamed of that."

For the past decade, Ms. da Silva has been married to Antônio Pitanga, a popular television soap opera star whom she met when both were campaigning for office. Three years ago, the couple left the Chapéu Mangueira favela, where Ms. da Silva had spent virtually her entire life and reluctantly moved into a middle-class neighborhood close to the studio where Mr. Pitanga often works.

Ms. da Silva continues to worry about those left behind in the favelas. Everywhere she goes, she is reminded that hers is an exceptional case.

"I go into a five-star hotel and they address me in English," she said. "That's because a well-dressed black woman simply isn't within the standard model for black Brazilians, and they assume she has to be a foreigner. So I have to tell them, `No. I am a Brazilian.' "

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Old 08-19-2002, 08:37 PM   #2
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Nice Follower.
Good post

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Old 08-20-2002, 11:40 AM   #3
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Yeah! I didn't let my eyes off of this. Wow, she is incredible. It's very rare to find ppl who have achieved so much in thier life with all that discrimination and racism in place. She should definitely get some kind of award. I hope she plans to someday run for president.
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Old 08-20-2002, 02:48 PM   #4
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She´s a fighter and a winner yet she hasn´t forgotten about her people, something you could possibly expect after so much suffering. That´s what I admire the most about her. I have voted for Worker´s Party since its foundation in 1980. I have followed her career since the beginning and it´s indeed an amazing achievement. I truly hope lots of people more may follow her footsteps. My intention on posting the article was to get people knowing about her story, despite the bad image portraited of my country. It´s people like her that can really transform and improve the lives of million in this nation blessed by God.
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Old 08-21-2002, 12:03 AM   #5
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great post follower, thanks. I knew nothing about her but her story is amazing.
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Old 08-23-2002, 02:57 PM   #6
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an inspirational story? thanks follower, I have saved it and shall read it asap.

from my mate max
Enter Faith ...Deeper and deeper in every way.
One: namste
One soul
One heart
One man
One truth
One tribe
One life
One god

LOTM Against all odds we go
Follow our hearts and our souls
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Old 08-27-2002, 08:10 PM   #7
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17th August....neat

It has taken this long fro me to get back here, but I did so wish to read your/her story.

Herstory!! A long, hard, unjust struggle and still it continues.
I feel such sorrow at the fact a woman who is 60 years old and has toiled and suffered should still have to toil and struggle for such a just the YEar 2002. So much beauty and potential , so much greed and corruption This truly is a world gone mad. She is up against drug lords?? My o my....

But anyway her personal story is very encouraging. I wish she had expanded on her concept of having
"to crack the code, that if I didn't figure out the code, I would be eternally subjugated.."
ETERNAL SUBJUGATION!!! that is heavy heavy reality., her story is so , so so so so so so common. Maybe because i have always been involved with people who work in social welfare, but I know so many stories like girls being harmed right now. Today.
So Bene's struggle and achievements are a lesson to us all.Thanks for telling us about her follower.
Are the elections in October? that seems like a good omen. I hope so.

I have lost an elder very dear to me recently, Pop Laurie, the most respected elder of the local Bundjalung tribe. he was very old , it was his time. Everyone called him POP I tried to think what the most important lesson he left for me was and I think I have deciphered some of his code...
Funny thing, the person who taught me most about "breaking the code" is Archie Roach, a Bundjalung man who has risen above his early misery(mostly because he found Ruby Hunter, his wife and co -songwriter imho) I just found out this morning , he has released a new album..."Sensual Being" I can't wait to hear it.
A day for learning...Thank u

Music and life and love to you follower
and Benedita de Silva and Brasil

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