The Brazilian Madalena Gordiano was eight years old when she knocked on a door to beg for food. Someone invited in that black girl who had a twin and seven more brothers. The lady of the house, a teacher, white, promised to adopt her. His mother accepted. But she was never adopted or returned to school. Cooking, washing, scrubbing bathrooms, dusting, putting order in the house of the Maria das Graças Milagres Rigueira family became their day to day for the next four decades. A victim of racist exploitation, she was a 21st century slave in the home of a wealthy family in an apartment building in a city in Minas Gerais. He never had pay, pay or vacations, according to prosecutors investigating the case. When Gordiano was rescued on November 27, she was a 46-year-old woman, with very short hair and great difficulties expressing herself.
“I went to ask for bread because I was hungry, but she told me that she would not give it to me if I did not stay and live with her,” the victim told Fantastic, the investigation program that revealed the case at the gates of Christmas, the most famous on Brazilian television. UOL, an informative website, was uncovering other wicked details of history.
The hell of this maid is an extreme example of the legacy that more than three centuries of slavery have left in Brazil. The main destination of the slave trade, it was the last American country to liberate the labor force transferred from Africa 130 years ago. The last Brazilian broodwives are from a generation ago, but housekeeping is still a traditional occupation for black women.
That respectable family in appearance and fame of traditional not only took advantage of Gordiano’s work. He turned it into a source of income. The Milagres Rigueira forced her to marry an elderly relative when she was still in her twenties. He was 78 years old and had a pension. One of the best in Brazil, military. A fighter in World War II, he received more than 8,000 reais a month (1,300 euros) that the woman he never lived with inherited upon his death. Officially, that money was hers, but she only received crumbs. The bosses kept it.
According to UOL, the money from the unpaid maid paid for the medical career of a daughter of the family. Because, in another fact that seems directly derived from the relationships of the masters with their slaves, Gordiano was transferred to another son of the family, Veterinary Professor Dalton Milagres Rigueira. During slavery it was common to donate slaves to children as a wedding gift or include them in the will with the rest of the property. They were often the most valuable part of the heritage.
The historian Claudielle Pavão considers that this “is an extreme case of structural racism that exposes in a very didactic way what Brazilian whiteness is, forged in a slave system”. The researcher adds that “many people will say that taking in a girl to do housework in exchange for food and bed is much better than leaving her on the street. It is a social pact that is so normalized that people do not find it offensive ”.
The journalistic investigation has revealed that Gordiano’s twin sister, Filomena, also lived as a domestic employee with another branch of the same family, but received a salary. He left his employers a decade ago.
After abolition, the Brazilian state attracted European labor with land grants and other advantages for the declared purpose of whitewashing society. Meanwhile, the recently freed slaves were left to their own devices without any public help, emphasizes the historian Pavão. The entrenched inequality that persists in Brazil in 2021 stems from those brutal centuries.
Blacks and mestizos are poorer than their white compatriots: they make up 56% of the population, but 75% of the murdered, 64% of the unemployed, 60% of the prisoners, 15% of the judges and the 1% of the awarded actors, according to data from the Lupa agency. Their families earn half as much money as their white families. And they live less.
The case of the enslaved domestic worker caused a stir in Brazil, about a month before the death of a black client by the beating of two white guards at the doors of a supermarket.
The enslaved maid was located by the authorities in the home that the Veterinary professor shared with his wife in Patos de Minas, a city of 100,000 inhabitants of Minas Gerais.
Gordiano slept in a small room without a window. He had no cell phone or television. His only possession, three shirts. His only relief, hearing mass in a Catholic Church, where apparently no one suspected the hell he lived in. She could be rescued by a complaint from a neighbor in her building, with whom she was forbidden to speak. They learned of his hardships because he slipped pieces of paper under the doors. In shaky handwriting he asked for money to buy soap and other toiletries. Authorities suspected Gordiano’s widow’s pension years ago, but the matter was shelved for lack of evidence. Lost chance to save her.
Professor Dalton Milagres Rigueira, accused with his mother, Maria das Graças, of a crime of keeping the victim in conditions analogous to slavery, explained when questioned that the employee belonged to the family. He added that “he did not encourage (her) to study because he did not think that would benefit her,” according to Fantastic. The university where you work has suspended you from employment. The family lawyer considers “premature and irresponsible the disclosure of the case by the prosecutors” without having condemned and urges to make “a cautious reflection at this time of Christian fraternization.” More than 55,000 Brazilians who worked in conditions similar to slavery have been rescued in the past 25 years, including 14 servants last year.
Domestic workers, mostly black, are a central figure in Brazilian society. The legal recognition of their labor rights was a great achievement for millions of laundresses, ironers, nannies, cooks, gardeners and private drivers, but it provoked the outrage of some employers. Everyday classism is visible and from time to time it is verbalized. “Everybody goes to Disneyland, the maid goes to Disneyland … a big party. Better that they go to the northeast, which is full of beautiful beaches, “said the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, a few months ago, glad that the dollar rose.
One of the first letters known in Brazil in which a slave denounces mistreatment is the one written by Esperança Garcia in careful handwriting in September 1770 to the governor of Piauí. Illegally literate by the Jesuits, she is one of the recently rescued historical personalities. Garcia was protesting the physical abuse as well as begging to be allowed to reunite with her husband and baptize their daughter. It is believed that he succeeded.
Gordiano’s captivity has ended thanks to an anonymous neighbor, which has allowed him to enjoy Christmas in a women’s shelter while waiting to be able to meet, with the permission of the pandemic, with some of the brothers with whom he was begging for bread. four decades.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.