This week’s column is closest to the 25th of July, the International Day of Black Latin American and Caribbean Women. The date was the result of an articulation of black women from several countries in the Americas and was instituted in Brazil by Law No. 12,987/2014 as the National Day of Tereza de Benguela.
Tereza was the leader, or rather in the words of Unidos do Viradouro, “the great black queen of the Pantanal”. He commanded the Quilombo do Piolho, located where Mato Grosso is, during the 18th century.
The date marks the month for black women with various celebrations, marches and awareness events. For this reason, the month is known as Julho das Pretas and includes a special program in several places in the country.
In this column, you could follow tributes to black women. I do this constantly in my work, because if there is meritocracy in this country, it is just recognition for these women.
In Julho das Pretas, we celebrate together and together the life of Margareth Menezes, Mãe Márcia Marçal and Zezé Motta. And, following the schedule, in this text we will pay homage to the great Aída dos Santos.
For this, I consult the work of researcher Claudia Maria de Farias, who interviewed her for the text “Overcoming Barriers and Prejudice: Trajectories, Narratives and Memories of Sporting Women”, the book “Brazilian Olympic Athletes”, by Katia Rubio and the documentary “ Aída dos Santos, Uma Mulher de Claw”, directed by André Pupo and Ricardo Quintella, as well as special reports on the Brazilian athlete who marked her name in Olympic history.
Like the vast majority of black women, Aída experienced a childhood of profound material absences. During high school, at age 19, he came into contact with the high jump. At the insistence of a friend, she jumped 1.4 meters for the first time and without any instructions. The state record was 1.45 meters at the time.
Convincing her family and her boyfriend to let her dedicate herself to the sport was an impossible task, especially because of her father. With the strategy of her ancestors and a lot of faith, she managed to carry her dream forward and trained at night at Célio de Barros, even working as a washerwoman and studying.
At night, without lighting, he depended on the child who played in the gymnasium sand as his assistant. At the age of nine, the child Francisco Manoel de Carvalho, Chiquinho, would become a friend who would support her throughout her life.
In this context, and with domestic difficulties, he competed in the last qualifying round for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, already under military rule. I had to jump 1.65 meters. She jumped first, but was forced to jump several times. But there was no way out: to everyone’s unwillingness, I was qualified to go.
Thereafter, their challenges only increased. Aída had nothing from the Brazilian Olympic Department at the time. There was no technician, uniform, shoes. As the only woman in the Brazilian delegation in those games, she improvised her clothes for the opening ceremony. Her fellow delegations called her a “tourist”, as it was not possible for her to do anything relevant given the entire boycott.
Her loneliness was not so much because of the Cuban athlete Lazaro Betancourt, who guided her and helped her get materials. She went to the semi-finals in 100-meter running shoes instead of the ones she needed.
In the semifinals, he placed himself alongside athletes from other countries, each with two or three people on the coaching staff. I needed to jump 1.7 meters. He jumped, but twisted his foot and limped back. There was no one from Brazil there, but Miguelina Cobián, a Cuban athlete, got the delegation doctor who provided the necessary support for her to go on to the final.
In the final she got fourth place, being the best performance of a Brazilian woman at the Olympics for 32 years, only surpassed in 1996, in Atlanta. His historic achievement took the newspapers. A summary of Brazil: on the way back to the airport there were fire engines to welcome her to the party. Aída got off the plane, gave Francisco a hug and didn’t care about the parade. The help she needed was before.
It was so exceptional that it was called up by the military to compete in the Winnipeg Pan American Games in 1967 in the pentathlon, a sport banned by the regime because it was too “masculine”. He also competed in the 1968 Mexico City Games in this modality.
With the dignity of someone who did despite everyone else, Aída denounced her story to the ministers of the dictatorship, to athletes in Brazil and to the media in general. At a time when silence was the rule, she was not called up for the 1972 Munich Games.
It was time to end his career. He had three daughters. One of them, Valeska Menezes, Valeskinha, followed in his footsteps and went to Beijing to play in the Games in 2008, where he returned with a gold medal for women’s volleyball. Together, they run the Aída dos Santos Institute, aimed at combining sports and education for low-income teenagers in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro.
I could tell more, much more, but space doesn’t allow me. Maybe one day we will not read a biographical book of yours. It is high time for your story to be told everywhere.
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