Luana Tolentino: The day I decided not to be missy’s maid

Benedita da Silva em homenagem as empregadas domésticas
Benedita da Silva in honor of the domestics

Text by Luana Tolentino of April 30, 2014, especially for the Viomundo:

“””In honor of Domestic Worker’s Day, celebrated on April 27th, federal deputy Benedita da Silva (PT-RJ) attended the session held, this Tuesday 29, at the Chamber dressed as a housemaid, a function that already exercised.

In my opinion, there is no other profession in Brazil that retains so many traces of the slavery period. Even with the approval of the Constitutional amendment that expanded the category’s labor rights last year, many women are still exploited and violated in homes throughout Brazil.

And, motivated by the act of Benedita, I also decided to pay homage to them and, even if timidly, to strengthen the fight for rights for the benefit of employees, nannies, cleaners and day laborers in that country.

The account that follows is part of a painful period in my life. Just like Benedita and so many other black girls and women, between the ages of 13 and 18 I cleaned windows, washed bathrooms, waxed floors. As part of this story, I was repeatedly humiliated and debased.

I was privileged to make choices. Following other paths, but never forgetting my companions who remain in this profession.



Belo Horizonte, July 1999.

It was half past six in the morning. I woke up to my father’s call.

The day before, he had cleaned the kitchen. As a result, he felt pain throughout his body. I was distressed. I didn’t know how I would go to school at night. I hadn’t washed my uniform shirt for over a week. For over two months there was no water in the house. Afflicted, I sought a solution with my mother:

– How am I going to go to school today? my uniform is very dirty.

Used to the difficult life of someone born in the countryside, she responded with the resignation that is peculiar to her:

– My daughter, go anyway. It’s just that you don’t get close to your colleagues.

I reflected a little on my mother’s words. What she proposed was impossible. How not to stay close to my colleagues?! What if the teacher asked to look at the notebooks?! It could be even worse…I would inform the school board that I was attending classes without taking a shower. Tormented by all these possibilities, I insisted:

– But, mom…. What if you were in my place? I would go dirty to school?!

She didn’t like my defiant tone very much. To end the conversation, he returned the question:

– What do you want me to do?

I knew my mother couldn’t do anything, but at the same time, I just wanted a clean blouse so I could study in peace. I got my things and went to work. Throughout the day, he would find a way to wash his uniform and not miss class. I would find a way out.

When I arrived at Tereza’s house, my employer – there is no word in Portuguese that makes me so disgusted – I found glasses, cutlery and plates scattered on the pantry table. Patricia, her daughter, decided to play with her mother’s set of dishes. Pure whim. There was no need. The girl had a closet full of toys.

I washed everything. I felt a little angry. The joke delayed all my work. Patricia, at age 10, already knew I was the maid. Her. So it was my duty to clean and store everything she left around the house.

Kitchen tidy, I went to the bakery. Patricia insisted on saying that I was too soft, insolent. I needed to get back quickly. I bought eight loaves, as I did every day. Also, no need. Nobody ate them. At the end of the week, a huge amount of old bread accumulated in the kitchen drawer.

Upon returning, I stopped for coffee. I felt hungry. It was already past 9 am and I still hadn’t eaten anything. Patricia watched me in silence, as if she were watching every step I took. He had a habit of scattering coins around the house, like someone setting a mousetrap and waiting for the mouse to eat the piece of poisoned cheese. I learned not to fight back the provocations and their insults. I didn’t want a mess. I needed the work and the money. In my house, in addition to water, there was a lack of electricity and food. And while I was cutting the bread I had just brought from the bakery, with my finger raised, she shouted:

– Luana, leave this bread there, now! Your bread is in the drawer.

Startled, I dropped the knife to the ground. The only tear that sprang to my eyes had the same fate. Under my feet, an abyss that seemed to have no end. I felt my body fall.

I remained silent. I didn’t react. I couldn’t process what she had told me. Like me, Patricia knew that the loaves kept in the drawer were old, moldy, musty. I knew they would be dumped in the trash soon. I couldn’t believe the girl’s cruelty.

Then the apparent inertia gave way to anger. In tears. My feelings were intensely mixed. It was no longer possible to keep them as I used to do. It was my turn to shout:

– Shut up, girl! Shut up! Today I don’t want to hear your voice! With all my strength, I threw the bread in Patricia’s direction. I missed the mark. She looked blind. Of hate.

Hearing the screaming, Tereza interrupted the beauty treatment and ran downstairs, trying to understand what was going on in the kitchen. Again, the index finger was pointed at my face:

– Luana, from my room, I heard you say you don’t want to hear Patricia’s voice! What does that mean?

At this point, I could no longer hold back the tears. In the midst of crying, she begged to be understood. He wanted reparation for the injustice he had just suffered:

–She said I should eat the moldy bread, Tereza! She said! I replied, desperate.

In front of the scene, Tereza remained silent for a few moments. Patricia remained cornered, without showing any reaction. Seeing his daughter in this way, he looked deep into my eyes. Without the slightest compassion, it was brief and to the point:

– Luana, you have no right to talk to Patricia like that! She is a child! You should be ashamed of what you’ve done! Such a scandal over a piece of bread!

I tried to argue. I needed to find some word that would convince my mistress of the harm the girl had done to me. Tereza needed to understand that the pain wasn’t caused by the bread, but by all the evil practices her daughter had done. My mind felt confused. This time, I sketched just two words, almost begging:

– But, Tereza…

In vain. Tereza took Patricia by the hands. They followed the two upstairs. I stayed in the kitchen. Only. Humiliated. I forgot about hunger. From bread and coffee. I forgot my unwashed uniform shirt.

I felt a deep sadness. My soul ached. In my chest, a hint of hate. Feeling unknown to me until then. To Patricia, I always devoted a great love. And with that love, I put her to sleep several times. I helped her when she couldn’t balance by learning to ride a bike. Five years earlier, it was with me that Patricia learned to read and write. I didn’t understand how she could be so wicked.

The day was just beginning. It was necessary to wipe away the tears that insisted on sliding down my face, downcast in the face of such cruelty. The house was huge. Big house. Three bathrooms, three living rooms, four balconies, backyard, garage, kitchen. Teresa and Patricia. The missy and the spoiled missy. I decided not to be the maidservant.

In the midst of all this, there were vivid and possible dreams, and the desire for another life. Dignified, without so many humiliations and silences.

PS: This story is real, only the names of the girl and the mother are fictitious, to preserve their identity.”””

Luana Tolentino
Luana Tolentino

Luana Tolentino was a nanny, cleaning lady and maid between 13 and 18 years old. Today she is a teacher and historian. She is an activist in the Black Movement and a feminist.


Written by Feitosa-Santana

Leave a comment