Session 3 - Personal story: Bio

I was born into a multi-ethinic, multicultural and religiously synchretic working class neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro in the 1970s. My own family’s diversity added to the rich milieu of my environment; my father’s family descended from Portuguese immigrants from the Azores; my mother’s from indigenous, Black and biracial migrants from the northeastern region of Brazil. 
Despite the diverse surroundings, my upbringing in the 1980s and 1990s was tinted by the patriarchal structure that ruled my family, my school and that supported Brazil’s military dictatorship. Censorship and authoritarianism forbade dissent. Gender identities conformed to cisgender expectations. Deviant attitudes led to ridiculing and ostracizing. Nobody discussed race. We were led to believe that Brazil was a racial democracy. One was to believe in meritocracy.  
My public school was a reflection of the neighborhood’s diversity. But rather than learn the socio-historical causes of inequality that lead to the occupation of hillside areas all around us, my classmates and I learned Civil and Moral Education and that writer Machado de Assis was white because he “behaved white.” They taught us that Brazil’s colonial history was “harmonious.” We celebrated carnival, singing sambas that exulted utopian nationalism. We never learned that samba had originally been an Afro-Brazilian form of cultural resistance. Like many of my classmates, I attended Catholic masses on Sunday mornings and visited Umbanda terreiros on Saturday evenings. We did not question the historical roots of religious syncretism or the fact that Afro-Brazilian religions like Umbanda had until recently been persecuted by the state.	
    It was not until I started college in a Brazilian Federal University in the 1990s that I realized that only a very small number of kids from my background made it into college. Classes I took on Brazilian history made me question everything I thought I knew about issues concerning race, identity and exclusion. When I came to the United States to attend the City University of New York, I became more aware of these complexities through interpersonal relationships and classes that addressed slavery, racism and human rights. I had to be re-educated, and that shattered my long-held belief in meritocracy. 
     At The City College of New York, I reached out and got involved in the Black Studies Program. Together we offer Afro-Brazilian and Lusophone African courses on literatures and cultures. As faculty adviser, I have also mentored students from minority and underrepresented groups to go into graduate studies. My personal, academic and intellectual interests all stem from a desire to rectify my early ignorance. I am motivated to promote diversity, equity and inclusion not only in higher education but also in my day-to-day actions and attitudes.