Brasil has undergone radical changes over the last fifty years, as has the generation that witnessed it all. When Beatriz was born in Serrinha, Bahia in 1962, João Goulart was president of the country. Throughout her lifetime, she and her country have gone through experiences that no one thought possible: a dictatorship, a return to democracy, complete urbanization and incredible advances in technology. Beatriz’s story parallels the evolution of Brazil.
In 1960 most of the country was rural, especially in the northeast where Beatrice is from. Her upbringing was particularly rustic, “I was born in the most rural part of the rural countryside. I didn’t live on a farm near town; it was the real countryside.” The routine of the farm was hard work; she was one of thirteen children (eight daughters and five sons) and while they never went hungry, everyone had to work to ensure the family’s livelihood. On Fridays, the women not only worked in the fields, but also cleaned the house and filled water and firewood reserves—in order to be able to rest on Saturday and go to mass on Sunday.
In her family, the women participated in all the activities on the farm and were responsible for household chores. The men had no obligation to participate in domestic tasks. Beatriz perceived this difference, especially on Saturday. “There was a soccer field (close to home) full of men. There wasn’t a single woman (who played) and we wanted to go to the field because it was close to home. My father wouldn’t let us. He would say that ‘it isn’t a woman’s place, go help your mother.'”
The oppression related to being a woman is partly what impelled her to leave her family and home. Her father prohibited her from dating. To circumvent his rule, she dated her future husband (who lived in São Paulo) through handwritten letters, for two and a half years. “Carta vem, carta vai,” is how she describes it thirty years later. In a time before instant communication, it was the way that she fell in love and got engaged. Her father refused to give her permission to get married and told her to find a husband in Bahia, promising he would no longer stand in the way, but she had made her choice and refused to allow her life to continue to be dictated by him. She left everything and everyone she knew and came to São Paulo. Days after arriving in the city, at twenty years old, she married. She had only seen her husband three times during their courtship.
Today it is almost impossible to imagine this happening. Growing up in the countryside, with a religious and strict father, was not easy. However, Beatriz has many fond memories of her childhood—from playing under the light of a full moon, to being with family, to the love she felt from her parents. Her life, each event and the conditions, reflect the complexity that many Brazilians of the same generation share. While she worked hard and had little freedom, she never suffered verbal aggression, disrespect, or the consequences of individualism. Beatriz values both the positive and negative parts, “I am fruit of all that I come from. My father beat us because he didn’t know better. I am the result of the little things that transformed who I was. I’m a very humble person, when I say I will do something (you can be) sure I’m truly doing it.”
Every since she was young, one of her principal battles was for education. They had a teacher and a school for students who worked in the fields, but the teacher was barely literate and had no professional training to teach students. Beatriz finished high school in São Paulo, when she was already married with two daughters. When her marriage ended, she worked during the day as a housekeeper and embroidered at night. Since 2002 she has worked in a NGO that works with homeless adults. Despite all the barriers—her age, the low quality of her primary education, the need to work to support herself—she never stopped dreaming about going to college. “I always wanted to study. It’s good to know things.”
Her biggest challenge now is to finish college. There is a year and half remaining until she graduates. After one of the first tests she took in college, the teacher asked to speak to Beatriz. She pointed out Beatriz’s errors in Portuguese. Her response was, “I will correct these errors but they come from my roots.” She works twice as hard to overcome her limitations. “I write a lot at home, I have (one meter) of writing notebook paper because while I read I am writing, in order to improve.” Her professors have acknowledged her improvement.
Beatriz left her everything she knew in pursuit of love and freedom. Since arriving in São Paulo, she participated for over twenty years in a housing movement and was able to purchase a decent home in the center of the city, she has raised two honest and happy daughters and has overcome the limitations of a poor quality education to realize her dream of a higher education. She knows that she is a “hardworking, fierce, persistent woman who believes that very thing is possible.”