Yacy and Yara Sá: Meet the twin descendants of fugitive slave communities from the state of Maranhão who are conquering the fashion world

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Note from BW of BrazilI actually told you guys about this wonderful duo that is the focus of today’s post a few days ago. In that piece, there was a question as to whether we are seeing a new acceptance of black beauty in Brazilian advertising and print media. In the past few weeks, I noted more black faces on magazine covers than the normal one or two, but the real ‘stop the press’ moment was when I saw these gorgeous women on the latest issue of Marie Claire Brasil magazine. I had to know who these twin ebony goddesses were. Having picked up the magazine and quickly flicked through it, I came to discover that the twins, Yacy and Yara Sá, are from the northeastern state of Maranhão and through their mother, have a connection to a quilombola community. Quilombolas are people living on the regions of land established by fugitive slaves that escaped from Brazil’s plantations and established their own independent communities.

Today, throughout Brazil, many of these quilombos remain. But even having ties to these lands for, in some cases, more than 300 years, getting official titles to these lands remains an elusive issue for thousands of quilombola families across the country. In the battle to maintain their lands, quilombolas have long been under assault and seen numerous assassinations of their leaders over the years. As fate would have it, a quilombo in Yacy and Yara’s home state of Maranhão is in the middle of a possible dispute right now as we speak.

In an article published here last week, we learned that an agreement made between Donald Trump’s United States and the Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro would give the Americans access to a large stretch of quilombo land in the city of Alcântara, which could see thousands of residents forcibly removed from their homes to make room for the launch of rockets of the US-Brazil space program. It is yet another example of governments trampling over the rights of everyday people. I won’t go further into this as today’s story is about the twins.

Seeing the faces of these two women is enormous in a country like Brazil where European faces have been the standard in the beauty industry since its inception. When Afro-Brazilians do manage to cover a magazine, they often carry in their looks the widespread miscegenation that Brazil has long been known for. Yacy and Yara Sá are black. DARK-SKINNED, looking as if there has been no other racial group between them and Africa in their gene pool. They are beautiful. They are northeasterners and have connections to quilombos where one finds tens of thousands of black people who look as if they also have no non-African genetic disruption between them and the Motherland. Makes me wish a major magazine would do an entire issue dedicated to just quilombolas. Just a thought. But for now, with no further delay, let’s meet the twins…  

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Yacy and Yara Sá: Meet the twins from Maranhão who are conquering the fashion world

They were born and raised in São Luís, Maranhão, and followed an academic life until the age of 30, when they decided to pursue a career in fashion

Appearances can be deceiving in the case of twins Yacy and Yara Sá. Although physically identical, they have very distinct personalities. Yacy is an uninhibited, a nutritionist by training and is thrilled to talk about her mother; Yara is more shy, does well in exact sciences and has a degree in Accounting from the Federal University of Maranhão, the same as her sister. “We grew up with the responsibility of being the family generation to graduate from college,” explains Yara.

Daughters of a penitentiary agent – and seamstress in her spare time – Maria Santana, both were born in São Luís, the state capital. About 200 kilometers away is Viana, Maria’s hometown, which houses quilombola communities in its extension. “Our maternal grandfather was a carter and our grandmother had her vegetable garden at home, and I used to help by selling the vegetables she planted. My mother had a very poor childhood. Part of the area where we were born and raised is reminiscent of quilombos, so we have such strong physical characteristics, such as our color and features,” says Yacy.

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It was when she moved to the capital, already as an adult and mother of her first child, that Maria met the girls’ father, an industrial electrician. They married and had three daughters: the middle sister, now 35, and the twins, 33. “Our father didn’t settle in São Luís: he traveled, when a company admitted him, to Pará, to Recife, and thus he traveled Brazil. For a while he would send us news and visit us on vacation, but then he wouldn’t see us for more than a year and didn’t help financially. Our mom was mom and dad too, and she worked hard to raise us and give us everything we had,” recalls Yacy.

In their childhood, the routine of their mother who worked as a seamstress three days a week influenced them to like fashion. “For us, this was the time to be around her, to do things together. We grew up flipping through magazines, learning how to cut clothes, cast fabric, open seams… All to make her work a little less tiring.” Hence deciding to pursue a career, however, took many years and a long process of self-acceptance. “When we were teenagers, we saw the models in magazines and commercials and we didn’t identify ourselves with them. I had Naomi [Campbell], but she has that padrão europeu, cabelo alisado (European standard, straightened hair). We didn’t see the beauty in ourselves. That’s why we follow the safest path: studying hard, going to college, having a formal job,” explains Yara.

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In 2017, after hearing so much from the people who should be models and seeing a change in the industry, Yacy says they decided to invest in a career and look for an agency – after 30, which is a welcome exception in the market. “We began to realize that fashion and beauty were diversifying and we thought, ‘will they accept us now?’ In the last ten years, when more black women have become protagonists in this area, we began to notice each other, think we’re beautiful and even wear our natural hair,” adds Yara.

From then on, the process evolved like most new faces: they went to São Paulo, signed a contract with an agency, returned to São Luís to produce photographic material while awaiting work, and moved permanently to the city of São Paulo in the second half of 2018. At the end of the year, a gift for mom: they appeared on their first fashion editorial for a magazine, right here at Marie Claire. “Our mother went to the newsstands every week to ask if the magazine had arrived. She carried it in her bag up and down, showed it to everyone and said we were her daughters, full of pride,” says Yara. “We had no idea we could still make this dream come true, get where we gotten,” says Yacy.

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Question of age

“In the fashion industry, unfortunately, the beauty you sell is young beauty. There are people who say that the career is over for us, that we are going to be alone in this, that the moment of us ‘happening’ has passed and, therefore, we are not going to go very far. It has happened that ‘friends’ we made in this environment drifted apart when they discovered our age. It seems they have created an expectation that we are top international models and can say they are our friends, but they got frustrated. Those who take it well are other models, our friends,” says Yara. “Our appearance is incompatible with our age, we know. So much so that, at the agency, they were surprised by this issue, they don’t haven’t known how to deal with it up to today. But to dream there is no age. You can dream while you live, and live to try to achieve,” adds Yacy.

Maternal resistance

“Our mother always taught us that because we were black, we had to show our competence all the time. We had to study and acquire knowledge so as not to be humiliated by people, proving ourselves at all times. At work, she sewed her own clothes, always impeccable. Business friends called her ‘smooth’ because she was always beautiful. She says that at the time there was no uniform for prison officers or uniform for prisoners, and in Maranhão, most of the prison population is preto e pobre (black and poor). One day when she went to escort a detainee at a trial, the judge, white, looked and asked, ‘Who’s the prisoner?’ That marked her a lot, she was terrified of being mistaken just because she was black. That’s why she’s always guided us to dress well, talk well,” says Yacy.

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Black with shoes

“We studied in public schools and colleges, we had a poor childhood. We tried in every way to help at home, saving money, working from early on. Our maternal grandparents raised their children in a precarious situation. My mother says that sometimes they had nothing to eat, just rice and flour. Even so, our grandfather worked hard all year to be able to buy shoes for his children in the end, to see ‘all the little blacks with shoes’, as he said. That’s because, in the época da escravidão (time of slavery), what set the the negro livre (free black) apart from the negro escravo (black slave) was if he had shoes on or not, and that was very strong for her. So much so that in our childhood we saw mom buying a lot of shoes, we had a lot of them. She worried about that and said, ‘As minhas pretinhas (my little black girls) have shoes, they’re not barefoot blacks,’”says Yacy.

About representation

“We are feminists. We came to know more about the movement in the last five years, when we saw that black women were talking more about it. Djamila [Ribeiro] is a reference. Chimamanda [Ngozi Adichie]… She writes so well, speaks of pains common to us, black people. We understand the importance of seeking our ancestry, having respect for our origins, being aware of our color. And Michelle Obama too. Although not in Brazil, we were excited to see a black family in the presidency. Michelle has wisdom, elegance, beauty. We watched her and thought, ‘Wow, is it possible to have all this and ser negra (be black)?’ It’s amazing to see, through them, where we can go. In fashion we look at Adut Akech, Maria Borges, Jeneil Williams. They are our inspirations,” says Yara.

With information from O Imparcial

 

About Marques Travae 3201 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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