My great-grandmother was the daughter of a native Brazilian woman with a farm worker. She told my grandmother that when the news of the abolition of slavery in Brazil arrived, black folks threw their work tools in the air, and started singing and dancing. My great-grandmother, who was a little girl back then, got scared and went to hide under the bed.
This is one of my favorite family stories and today, when Brazil celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day it has a even bigger meaning to me. The date recalls struggle of the native Brazilians. Struggle for existence, struggle for representation, struggle for the maintenance of acquired rights. The list is long, and, as you can see, the struggles are many and always very arduous, but perhaps the most difficult of all is to break the structural prejudice resulting from the idea that the indigenous peoples were lazy and they should be grateful for being “saved” by the European invaders.
Much more ingrained in our minds than we would like to admit, in Brazil this prejudice can be noticed, for example, in the open pride shown by people who claim to be descendants of European families. While the most partial, remote kinship relationship with a European is celebrated and even used as a justification for unflattering attitudes (“I speak very loudly because I am the eighth generation of Italians born in Brazil”), there is a complete lack of interest in the search for traces of the heritage of indigenous peoples, present in the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian population.
Well, on this April 19th I would like to draw attention to my indigenous ancestors. I have very little information about them, but I am committed to not letting their memories die. I am a link in a long chain of miscegenation and today I would like to proudly say that there is a whole lot of indigenous blood in my veins. As Brazilian singer and composer Djavan says in the song Cara de Índio: “Despite my clothes, I am also indigenous”.
Come on, great-grandmother, you can get out from under the bed now!
April 19: Dia dos Povos Indígenas. Day of Indigenous Peoples.
Be seeing you!