SJU Professor Holds Photo Exhibit On Brazilian Women
Daniela Shope, professor of sociology at St. John’s University, is presenting a black and white photo essay documenting the work ethics of Brazilian women as domestic workers on Saturday, May 8 at the Art House Studio. The exhibit attempts to dispel the exoticism that many immigrant Brazilian women face.
The event is sponsored by Cidadao Global, a non-governmental organization aimed at promoting awareness for Brazilian domestic workers in the United States.
Shope’s goal for the exhibit is to “bring dignity to the domestic workers and to build a positive image of Brazilian women abroad.”
Marlene Rocha and Dalva Silva are two of the women whose life and work are depicted by Shope’s photographs. Both women moved to New York City to work and enhance their standard of living.
Rocha, a 58-year-old housecleaner and mother, immigrated to New York from Brazil 27 years ago.
“I grew up dreaming about the United States,” she said. “A lot of my friends in Brazil used to come here, and I grew up wanting the same.”
Rocha traces her desire to move to the U.S. back to childhood dreams.
“When I was growing up in Brazil, I used to look at postcards from family and friends that visited the U.S. and I always would think: I will go there,” she said. “It’s been inside me since I was a little girl; I’ve always had this on my mind.”
Self-employed, Rocha has worked on 82nd Street in Manhattan for one family since she moved here. She works four to five hours Monday through Friday as a house cleaner. Keeping the same job for so many years was a decision based on her satisfaction with her work environment.
“The family is very nice,” she said. “I have no complaints at all. I really like what I do; I am free. I do my job and then I go home, I have no boss, manager, or supervisor, it’s just me and that’s the way I like it.”
Verna Bloom is the mother in the family Rocha works for. Actress Bloom has had roles in “Animal House” and the popular TV series “The West Wing”. Rocha was familiar with Bloom before she started working for her.
“I used to watch Mrs. Bloom at the movies in Brazil,” she said. “And now I work for her, what you know!”
Her relationship with the family that employs her has been long and friendly.
“We are friends. Sometimes they come over to my apartment or I have dinner with them,” she said.
Rocha spoke of her immigration with ease, noting that the most difficult part of assimilating into city life was working on her English at Hunter College.
“I tried to go to school, but you have to just sit there and I’m too lazy for that,” she said. “I went to Hunter College here in the city to try to work on my broken English.”
Going back to Brazil is reserved strictly for vacations and a family visit; otherwise, New York has become her preferred home.
“I go back and forth to Brazil often for vacation,” she said. “Sometimes I miss it, but I’m here, I live here, this is my home. It’s the best place in the world. I love New York; the big city, walking the streets, the stores, the people, I love it all. I travel a lot, but everywhere I go, I want to come back home to New York.”
Rocha’s decision to move to the United States was one she has never regretted.
“I really love what I do,” she said. “I highly recommend coming to New York. You have to take chances sometimes to make a better life for yourself.”
Silva is 47 years old and mother of three. She moved to the United States in 1993, and has lived and worked here for 17 years.
Primarily a house cleaner, Silva first worked in a nightclub on the weekends and also held jobs such as working as a dog walker, a cat sitter, and a nanny for local families. She immigrated to the U.S. with her ex-husband, but stayed because of the financial independence she gained while living in New York City.
“You have more freedom when you are financially independent,” she said. “I have that because I clean houses, I don’t work for a company, I work for myself.”
Working in the United States as a house cleaner has more benefits than working in Brazil, according to Silva.
“Here, you can work with dignity and honesty,” she said. “I have been able to provide better for my family and help my children get better educations. We have more opportunity than in Brazil. Here you can be whatever you want to be.”
In addition to making a living as a domestic worker, Silva has been involved with Cidadao Global as an advocacy representative for the past seven months.
“Helping Cidadao Global is one of the best decisions I’ve made,” she said. “People in the States treat you better and you can have a better life. We want to raise awareness about Brazilian women that do this; they’re more than just immigrants.”
Cidadao Global estimates that the population of Brazilian workers in the Greater New York area is between 100,000 and 300,000. The project aims to establish a domestic workers’ cooperative as a means to create economic opportunity through a social venture” according to its mission statement.
Silva and Rocha both came to New York City to enhance their standard of living. Both women said the city allowed them to live and work comfortably that they would not have achieved in Brazil.
“Life here is easy if you work,” Silva said.
Shope’s photographic essay depicts the life and work of Rocha and Silva, along with several other Brazilian women working domestic jobs in New York City.
The event will be held Saturday, May 8 at 6 p.m. at the Art House Studio, 23-25 Broadway, near the Broadway station of the N elevated train line. Refreshments will be served.
Sara Cahill Marron is news editor of The Torch at St. John’s University.