In memory, these are the words of the late Edialeda Salgado do Nascimento (1941-2010), the first black woman to assume a position of Secretary of State of Brazil.
“To be a black woman in this country that says that racism doesn’t exist is complicated. But it is not more complicated than you accepting yourself and loving yourself as you are. Looking at yourself in the mirror and saying: How beautiful I am, how intelligent I am and how capable I am. Each one has to feel that they are. Then, everyone is intelligent, beautiful and capable.
It has to be you that chooses, knows and thinks of yourself as a woman and black. I fight for our class of women, for our race of black people and I fight for the Brazilian people. My name is Edialeda Salgado do Nascimento. I am a doctor and a militant of the Movimento Negro.”
Below is a bit of Edialeda’s story as told to Eparrei, a black woman’s magazine
The year was 1967. An influential friend went to a renowned university to request a scholarship for Edialeda Salgado do Nascimento from the director. Instead, knowing that he was dealing with a black woman with four children, he offered a job as a cook in his house.
Instead of becoming discouraged, Edialeda faced the fact as a challenge.
“I was not his cook, I spoke five languages, I speak Portuguese, I speak and write Spanish, Italian, French and English well, a little of German, meaning, I didn’t go where it was they thought was my place.”
In March of 1983, at the invite of Lionel Brizola (1), she assumed the position of State Secretary of Social Promotion. Even occupying this important position, it was not the end of racial discrimination. In the day in was announced that she would assume this post, the doorman barred her saying that he could not let her pass because there only Secretaries of State could enter. When he discovered that Edialeda was the new Secretary of Social promotion, embarrassed, he allowed her to enter.
“For them, a black woman could never be Secretary, even more so in the 80s.”
Edialeda is the type of woman that likes to tell her stories in her agitated and quick manner of speaking. Since childhood, she kept good memories, but like the majority of black children she felt the first impact of racism in school. When she completed assignments for her colleagues she was considered a morena (2), but this was a term that didn’t please her thus she affirmed her identity as black.
She started to work as an office assistant in a customs dispatch firm. After this, she worked for Ferrovia CLT where she helped to form a union. Even married with four children she didn’t give up her dream of becoming a doctor. This was all the more difficult because she lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro and the University was located in the city of Valença, which was 100 miles from Rio. Edialeda didn’t give up.
“When I arrived in the university, it was crazy because my job was here in Rio de Janeiro. So on Thursdays I didn’t go to class, I caught the bus at 5 in the morning in Valença to get to Rio at 8am because I needed to maintain a work contract. I kept working, caught the bus, arrived in Valença and slept to morning to go to the university.”
She graduated in 1973 and majored in Medicine and Obstetrics. She saw a chance to realize her dream of studying in Europe when she saw an ad in the Journal do Brasil in search of doctors to study in Italy. One of the demands was fluency in Italian. She enrolled in a course and at the time worked in the Miguel Coulto Hospital and alternated between classes and her job duties. The next year she earned a scholarship and in October of 1974 she went with her children to Italy. She enrolled her kids in a school and visited various countries in Europe and completed the courses in Italy. She returned to Brazil, ended her marriage and went to live in Copacabana. It was then at the end of the 1970s that politics entered her life. One day, a friend gave her a pamphlet to read and correct the errors in Portuguese.
“The paper made a reflection of the place of blacks in politics. It said something like this: Where is the negro in politics, the black general, the black admiral, brigadier? Where is the negro giving orders in this country? Where is the black senator? We don’t have them.” It was when I realized what a racist society we lived in and I saw it was that gave orders in this country and that we blacks were always obedient soldiers, but we never gave commands in the army. From that day forward I resolved that I would be black 25 hours a day.”
Perceiving the lack of representation that the black community possessed, she started to write and publish articles and receiving encouragement of friends to declare her candidacy for a public post. Then in 1982, she became a candidate for state deputy. She ran her campaign without much money and created an electoral party ticket with Abdias do Nascimento (3) and Maria Lei. They posted flyers in the streets in the morning. Nascimento’s car was used as the transport to take the campaign to the neighborhoods of the city.
“We went to talk to the people and they admired me when they found out I was a doctor. Most of them saw themselves in me. This campaign was a pleasure because black people saw us in the street and my face as a black woman spoke to them.” She was elected deputy with Nascimento being an alternate. The importance of imagescontinued to be a priority. She became emotional when she remembered something that happened with one of her children. After a congress that was held by Nascimento, Edialeda bought a poster of Simon Bolivar. At that time, her youngest son studied at an upper middle class school and had never accepted himself as black.
“My son looked and admired the poster and asked: ‘Mom, is this man black?’ I responded: ‘Yes, he is black.’ André Luís became black at that moment, he had a mirror there in which he could see himself, he saw himself in blacks there, he saw blacks in Bolivar, and today my son is a black man. So it is extremely important that we have mirrors and when I see Globo TV make Chiquinha Gonzaga (4) a white woman, this for me is death because it kills our history and our identity.
After the end of the term as deputy, Edialeda started to participate in various meetings of black women in countries like Equador and Cuba and being invited to speak about the situation of the black woman in Brazil. She gave lectures in various countries in Africa and in the United States.
“For me it’s a mission. I was at home and the telephone rang: can you speak on television in Africa? I responded ‘yes’, what is the theme and language? I had to show the face of Brazil. Because when you see a white woman representing Cleopatra and saying that she was our queen, it’s revolting.
I did a work in UniRio about who really constituted Brazil. I cited Queen N’Zinga, Luiza Mahin (5), Aleijadinho (6) and other personalities. “We have heroes and heroines that we don’t even know were black. Who said that Carlos Gomes (7) was black? Who speaks of D. Manuel Garcia? Then our mission, because you are a black magazine, is to show our face as black women to our young people so that they have pride in themselves and non-blacks give us a little more respect.”
She created health programs for the black population and presided over the National Movimento Negro of the PDT (Partido Democrático Trabalhista or Democratic Labor Party). She founded the Center of Afro-Brazilian Memory in 2001 that has an objective redeeming the history of the ancestors. A book of her first collection of poems called Quero Vida where she spoke of the importance of demonstrating love between persons was also to be published. The cover was made by her friend and filmmaker Iléa Ferraz. For not agreeing to see a white Nativity scene and thinking that Christmas had become commercial, she started to paint black Nativity scenes and sending them to friends with a card reminding them that the true meaning of the day was the birth of Jesus.
“I started to give Nativity scenes to people so that they remember that Christmas is not only Santa Claus, that’s it’s not only eating and drinking nor giving empty presents. So that the person remembers that Christmas is for giving and receiving not only presents but love, understanding, humanity and tolerance.”
She ended the interview very excited for having left a message to young black girls in the country.
“Never take ‘no’ as a response, find out what is the meaning behind that ‘no’ and they will get what they want, never get disheartened! I studied Medicine without being able to pay for college, I went to live in Europe without being able to in Europe and today and I live in Flamengo and speak five languages. Always dream big, because you don’t get anything by dreaming small. Fight for your dreams, (all you will) achieve them. Good luck!”
The gynecologist Edialeda Salgado Nascimento, National Secretary of the Movimento Negro (Black Movement) of PDT (Partido Democrático Trabalhista or Democratic Labor Party), founded the party along with Lionel Brizola after having been part of the Civil Cabinet of President João Goulart, before the 1964 coup. In the 1st Brizola government in Rio in 1982, she was Secretary of State for Social Promotion, besides chairing the Foundation Leo XIII.
She founded and chaired the Institute of Memory and Afro-Brazilian Documentation Center of Rio de Janeiro; she acted as adviser to several ministries at different times, such as the State Board of Education of Rio de Janeiro and the Councils of Justice, Public Safety, Human Rights, Racial Equality, Narcotics and the State Council on Women’s Rights, of which she was vice president.
In 2002, when the Brizola ran for Senator of Rio de Janeiro, she occupied the position of alternate. In the 2006 elections she ran for Senator for PDT party.
Fluent in French, Italian, Spanish and English, Edialeda Nascimento represented the PDT at several meetings and congresses of the Socialist International, and has been a lecturer and organizer of the First Congress of Black Women of the Americas, held in 1984 in Ecuador. Edialeda also participated as speaker of dozens of conferences held in Latin America, the United States and Europe on the issue of blacks and women.
Edialeda received the title of Woman Physician of the Year, awarded by the National Council of Women in 1990. She also organized the Quilombo 92, international symposium of the black community, the Global Forum, parallel to the Rio ‘92. During this event she presented a treaty against racism, which was discussed and approved by the participants. Edialeda was a delegate at the Pan American Movement of the 4th World Congress on Women, held by the UN, in China, in 1995.
She received the Order of Merit of Palmares, granted by the government of the State of Alagoas, in 2005. She also received the Pedro Ernesto Medal, awarded by the municipality of Rio de Janeiro in 2006.
Edialeda joined the Neo-Latin and American Academy of Arts and published three literary works: “Mulheres e Tecnologia” at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in 1993, “Brizola, lições e atualidade”, by ISBN, released in Salvador, in 2004; and “Brazil, cultura plural”, by the Fundação Leonel Brizola, released in Belo Horizonte in 2005.
1. Brazilian politician who had been mayor of the city of Porto Alegre (state of Rio Grande do Sul), Governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul and two-time governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. Source: Wikipedia
2. Morena is popular color/racial term in Brazil that can be interpreted in number of ways, in this case, most likely meaning “brown-skinned woman”. For more on the term morena and other Brazilian color/race terms see here.
3. Abdias do Nascimento (1914-2011) was a prominent Afro-Brazilian scholar, artist, painter, poet, playwright and politician. He is considered Brazil’s greatest modern day Afro-Brazilian civil rights leader.
4. Chiquinha Gonzaga (1847-1935) was one of Brazil’s greatest musicians and composers and the first woman to lead a Brazilian orchestra.
5. Luíza Mahin: 19th century former slave and mother of abolitionist Luís Gama. A participant in the last, and many say, greatest slave revolt in Brazilian history, the Revolta dos Malês in Salvador, Bahia in 1835.
6. Aleijadinho (Antônio Francisco Lisboa, 1730 or 1738-1814) was a Colonial Brazil-born sculptor and architect, noted for his works on and in various churches of Brazil. Stricken with a debilitating disease, probably leprosy, he became known as “o Aleijadinho” or “the Little Cripple.” Aleijadinho was disfigured and crippled by leprosy, and created his masterpiece with his chisel and hammer, tied to his fingerless hands. Source: Wikipedia
7. Antônio Carlos Gomes (1836-1896) is considered the most important composers of Brazilian opera.