By Abigail Delgado
Maria Lima was waiting for me at the restaurant where we agreed to meet, and she opened up into a big smile as soon as she saw me. She is a woman in her 40s, with eyes that reveal the weight of one hundred years. I offered her a coffee and as a good Brazilian would, she said yes, and as we had coffee, cheese bread and cookies, Maria started telling me her story. Her voice was loud, but I didn’t care and neither did she; she wants the world to hear what she has to say. She wants the world to know what she came to the United States for. She does not care if people know that her life was not perfect and she wants them to know who Maria Lima is and why she fights for her convictions and for her American dream.
Maria was born in the state of Bahia, Brazil. She was one of 12 siblings, and her parents did not have the resources to look after them. When Maria turned five, she was given up for adoption. However, the move did not yield the brighter future her parents envisioned. She had to start working when she was six and after many long days and pain, by the age of 16, she was able to go back to live with her biological mother. She finished high school, hoping that the brighter future someday would come.
“I put into my mind [the idea] that the best thing I could do was to study and dream of someday becoming a judge; for some reason, I wanted to find a way to give justice to those who suffer,” Maria said.
Eventually, Maria was married and had two children, Barbara and Farid. Her marriage was over after a few years, and she wanted to find a way to give her kids a stable life. To do this, she enrolled herself in college to become an attorney. Four years of enormous sacrifices passed. Finally, she ran out of money for tuition. “I was not able to keep up with my payments,” Maria said. “I was a year away from obtaining my degree and a friend of mine, who was living in the States, suggested that I come to work for a little while to make the money I needed to finish my school.”
In 2007, with a broken heart, Maria left her children in Brazil and arrived in Danbury to stay at her friend’s house. “I felt horrible, I felt guilty for leaving them and I asked myself many times if I was doing the right thing. I felt like the worst person, but I knew that I was coming here for them,” said Maria, as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Maria started working as a house cleaner for different people, but she will never forget her first experience. “The woman told me she was going to pay me $20 for each house I cleaned and since I did not have any knowledge of the hourly rate system, I accepted. By the end of the week, this woman told me that she was going to pay me only $10, claiming that I was not good enough,” Maria said. “I told her I was not ignorant, and I did not came to the States to be exploited by her.” After months of hard work, from Sunday to Sunday, Maria realized she was not going to be able to save enough money to pay for her expenses in the United States and for her children in Brazil, and set some aside for tuition. Frustration and sadness about being far from her children started to settle in. “I was crying every night, and I started to feel sick, with blinding headaches,” explained Maria, who couldn’t’ stand this situation anymore and decided to ask her ex-husband to help her bring her kids to the United States.
To Maria’s relief, Barbara and Farid arrived in the United States in 2008 and Maria’s goals and dreams changed. She was now dreaming for a better future for them in this country. She was now dreaming of her childrens’ college tuition. “I forgot about myself and lived for them,” Maria said. “I started to accept all the exploitation of my employers, since I needed the money to support my family.”
Maria found love again and was married, and her children finished high school and started college. No longer having small children, Maria found the time to pursue her own dreams again. She did not want to give up on her desire to give justice to those who suffer.
She was not clear how to achieve this goal here in the United States until she participated in a conference hosted by the Brazilian Immigrant Center and became involved with the organization as a volunteer. There she learned about Senate Bill No. 446, a law proposed to support the rights of domestic workers. For Maria, this was the light that she had being seeking for many years. “As soon as I started in the Center, I was going to Hartford to give my testimony in front of senators and state representatives, about my experiences as a domestic worker, how I was being exploited and that I wanted justice,” remembered Maria, who later was hired to work at the Brazilian Immigrant Center as a domestic workers rights activist.
Today, Maria can say that she has achieved many of her dreams. She has her family with her, her children are professionals conquering their own dreams and she lives in a country that aside from the hardships, made it all possible. She advocates for the rights of those who are exploited, but she still believes in her little-girl dream. “My dreams were put on hold for my kids, but now I am determined to improve my English and go back to college to become the lawyer and judge that I always wanted to be, even if I have to study for the rest of my life.”