The healing process of three generations
Updated: Feb 11
How my family's history influenced my "becoming" (Part 1)
Since I was a child, I have always been curious about my family history and how we became who we are today. And to understand that, I did what all kids do – ask until they drove their parents crazy. Although, my mother and specifically my grandmother do not have much information or memories about our lineage. There are still many things to be discovered, I must admit that my soul was restless and I kind of questioned my purpose.
Most of the times I write about black women and it could not be any different now. So, here we go!
Here is a short history of three generations of mothers to illustrate the powerful nature of black womanhood, and how all these forms of resistance are responsible for who I am today.
In my great and grandmother’s time, they did not have much confidence and a strong self-identity which transcended into the next generation. My mother’s generation was courageous and proved that things could also be better for us.
To my knowledge, everything about my family’s history started from Minas Gerais situated in Brazil. From my great-grandmother – Augusta Joana da Mata or Mota or Veloso – till today her surname continues to be an unresolved puzzle. For the fact that she was sold by her own father to work as a slave – as soon as her mother died – he had no financial means of raising five daughters together so this was his solution. My great-grandmother worked at three different farms and was named after each of them.
Later on, at age 23, she escaped from the last one where she was beaten mercilessly. And followed a circus which was passing by the city. She travelled till she got to a small city called ‘Santa Barbara do Leste’. There she had children with an older man, who was a widower and had five kids from his previous marriage.
There my great-grandmother was pregnant eight times, miscarried five times and birthed three children. By the age of 36, my great grandmother became a widower, single mother to fend for and educate four kids - two girls and twin boys. Back in those days, being a black single mother took a lot of energy from her and required strength to keep going. She was discriminated against and to survive, she offered her service as a maid or a labourer in the farms field.
Because of the experiences which she encountered throughout her life, she sadly believed that black people only came to this world to become servants. And consequent to these encounters, she ensured to protect her children from having the same worldview, through hindering any possibility of them interacting with white people. So, they do not internalise, the horrific jokes which she accepted growing up.
When her oldest child – my grandmother Geralda – got pregnant at the age of 15, my great mother was terrified, mainly for the fact the father of the child, was part of a white family. Acceptance from my grandfather’s family was difficult and sometimes my grandmother was a subject of their mockery. Inclusive of this occasional taunting, they organised a fair to raise money in order for my grandfather to abscond from his responsibility, but after their first daughter was born, the conflicts ceased.
My grandmother was raised with the same ideologies as her mother, so she believed that black and white people could not be in the same space, unless the former was serving the latter.
This belief had a direct impact on Leonilda - my mother. When she was young, she was ashamed of being black and having Afro hair. She believed people perceived her to be somebody, who did not deserve the good things of life, simply because of how society belittled – and still belittles - black people.
The painful process of acceptance and self-appreciation began when she turned 16, after meeting one of her best friends. A white guy who came from a rich family, but also had his griefs because of his sexual orientatiom. He showed her, how valuable she was and made sure she believed that she was better than she assumed. After becoming aware of her position, discovering herself and purpose, my mom started to outwardly express her power.
She left home when she was 18 and went to another city before moving to Sao Paulo. According to her, in the new city she did not encounter any kind of racism – or she was oblivious to it.
When she was pregnant with me, she wholeheartedly believed that I would not go through the same situation she, somewhat like her mother, experienced in the past. This dream was materialised in my early childhood when a seemingly important black woman started to appear on television. This provided my mother peace, as she did not see any reason to prepare me for what was coming, because she believed with everything inside her that the world was changing with Opera on our TV screen combined with various protective policies in place to enforce respect and acceptance of black people.
She felt proud of herself for raising a black child. Whilst she was pregnant, she dreamt about a better life for me and one which I would not need to work as hard as she did. It was not about being ashamed of her profession, rather about making a difference and breaking the chain of poverty in our lineage.
My mom always was and is still, an unstoppable dreamer. She believes all her children, can be better than where they are currently. She clothes us in the cloak of courage, to step into each moment cleaving onto hope so dearly and warmly like a new mother embracing her child.
Looking back at these amazing women in my life, reemphasises what resilience means to me, and it gives me hope and courage to fight. I am a solid root... to be continued.