Note from BW of Brazil: In Brazilian society, black women are usually thought to fill positions that are stereotypically reserved to them such as maids, cooks, babysitters or the near naked dancers that are broadcast worldwide yearly during the Carnaval season. There’s even a contest in which black women compete to represent the arrival of the season! These stereotypes are so connected to black women that it’s common that when those who ascend beyond these reserved categories do so, they’re mistaken for those who still fill these roles. With these images planted firmly in the imagination of many Brazilians, it’s always good to see some black women manage to escape these roles and fill positions that aren’t generally associated with them. In reality, they are out there, but it would be nice to see more of them!
From bottom to top
Discover stories of young people who are breaking taboos and shining in construction, architecture and design
Text and photos by Roniel Felipe
Research showing the black woman as a member of the base of the Brazilian social pyramid is not new. Not in the least. In a country where they continue in the fight for equal conditions in relation to men, black women live in a more disturbing situation. Among homicide rates that grow year by year, afrodescendentes remain the main victims of violence. When it comes to education, which can lead to better employment opportunities and, consequently, better wages, black women continue at the bottom. However, a new generation is gradually is transforming this reality and obtaining important positions in construction, architecture and design.
The civil engineer Andressa Grazielle dos Santos Teixeira, 30, is one of the professionals who earned her place in the sun in a market that is a state of rapid expansion with the proximity of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. “Taking on a job was torture for me. I always had to hear jokes and pretend to be deaf. I was super nervous with the lack of respect. Today the situation is different because I’m part of the work. Personnel who would mess with me look at me differently,” she says.
From a family of humble origin, Andressa reveals that as a child, she dreamed of becoming an engineer. However, before reaching the department of structural designs of a 10 thousand square meter job in the municipality of Resende, in Rio de Janeiro, the São Paulo native battled a lot. “If I was not approved at a public university, I would not have the degree. I studied in a public high school, but I always pushed myself a lot.”
With well-laid out plans, Andressa went through an intense routine: she woke up early to work as a telemarketing operator and then headed to her classes. As her salary was spent on the vestibular (college entrance exam) prep courses and helping out in home expenses, at night, she made cakes and sweets to sell and thus complemented her income. After much insistence, she conquested her much desired goal. “I was approved at Unicamp, but the course in Civil Engineering was in Limeira, in the interior (of the state). I didn’t think twice. I dropped the life I was leading and ran after my dream,” says Andressa whp today possesses an MBA degree in Gestão de Projetos (Project Management).
The Technician in Work Safety, Marcela Honório, is another black woman who experienced the reality of construction. A resident of Campinas, São Paulo, she says that the choice of the profession came unexpectedly. “I did some research about the craft that in 2007. I ended up identifying with it and enrolled for the selection process of a technical school in the state and was selected,” she recalls, stressing that at the time she received more criticism that incentives for her decision. After a period of adapting herself to the world of construction, Marcela, now 31, learned how to deal with harassment and her relation with men. “I have very good communication with other workers. I always try to command respect and be polite. They already nicknamed me Globeleza in some works, but I take in stride.”
When asked about the biggest difficulties for a woman in the day to day of a work, Andressa and Marcela have similar opinions. “I face the same obstacles as women in other professions. I always have to prove my ability and show that my femininity will not interfere with the work,” said Andressa, that even with safety equipment and overalls, doesn’t abandon her discreet makeup and earrings. “The biggest challenge is being constantly tested. Since men are the majority in the area of construction, they test my ability,” concludes Marcela who, in four years of the profession never met or worked with black engineers.
Designing a more deserving future
After obtaining a college degree, Lorena Silva Pereira, like all new graduates, went in search of employment and a better life. Born and raised in Ipameri, a city located about 200 km (124 miles) from Goiânia, the shy young woman went to try her luck in Brasília, the nation’s capital. After struggling to complete a course in Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Estadual de Goiás (UEG or State University of Goiás), Lorena ran into sexism in her first job interview. “The interviewer asked if I was married. I changed the subject. Soon afterwards, he told me that beautiful women don’t stay single when they work alone on jobs. I was so discouraged and disgusted with the situation,” she recalls.
After seven years of that fateful interview, still shy woman from Goiás became a successful architect. “I graduated two years ago and, to my surprise, I was approved for a master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the Federal University of Goiás (UFG). When I was at the end of the course, I came to São Paulo to do some work and when I looked up, I was completely involved in works in the largest city in Brazil.” With a dynamic curriculum and participation in important projects such as the renovation of a Luxury store on Rua Oscar Freire (street), a prime area of São Paulo, today, at 32 years of age, Lorena travels throughout Brazil as a facility supervisor, providing services to one of the largest clothing and footwear department stores in the country. “It’s a dynamic job and provides a wonderful opportunity to know other states. Currently I supervise works in the cities of Manaus (state of Amazonas), Macapá (state of Amapá) and Marabá (state of Pará),” says the architect who, in addition to admiring the work of Oscar Niemeyer, Lúcio Costa and Paulo Mendes da Rocha, she is a fan of J. Max Bond Junior’s art. Bond was a famous black American architect who died in 2009.
“This new generation of black women are little by little transforming the reality and obtaining important positions in civil construction, architecture and design.”
The São Paulo native Kaisa Isabel Santos, 32, is another black female architect who has conquered her place in the market. A graduate from Universidade Braz Cubas in 2005, Kaisa acts as an architect and urbanist in the area of legislation, urban landscape and resettlement issues. To those interested in the area, she warns: “To be an architect and urbanist luggage is necessary and a taste for updating. Without it, you run the danger of getting stagnated in some position for years or being a slave to paltry wages and dubious contracts.” Working in a branch in which the overwhelming majority is composed of whites and students from private schools, she draws attention to a reality that she’s accustomed to. “At the university there wasn’t another black student in the classroom in most of the course. When I say I’m an architect, some people congratulate me and I get compliments from black women who dropped out. I always tell them it’s never too late to start again.”
Estrangement. This is the feeling that some clients show when they discover that the contracted interior designer is a black woman. Accustomed to this kind of reaction, very common in clients with greater purchasing power, Minas Gerais native Letícia Carolina Gurgel de Almeida, 27, learned to circumvent the situation with knowledge of how to play the game and professionalism. “There are people who believe that refined tastes only belong to class A (upper class). Projecting when there is no budget cap is very easy. The secret is to make a beautiful and functional design with low cost. This is where the lower or middle class designer shows all their creativity and can imprint identity in the final result,” she teaches. Passionate about art design, but lacking skills with the pencil and sympathizer of buildings, Leticia found herself in area of environmental design. “I love what I do. Moreover, it is very gratifying to see the client’s eyes shining realizing that their home is nicer, more beautiful and practical. The work reflects in the well-being of the people.”
A graduate from University of Minas Gerais (UEMG or Universidade do Estado de Minas Gerais) in 2008, Letícia finds herself virtually alone when it comes to the number of blacks in this market. “Of the 40 students who entered the course eight should be black, according to the edict of quotas. I’m not a cotista (affirmative action student) and in my class there were only two blacks. I believe that throughout the exercise of my profession I still have fingers leftover on my hand when I stop to count how many black designers I know,” she laments. But the experiences of these women show and prove that there is no forbidden place when you have talent and opportunity.
Source: Raça Brasil