Zooming In is a podcast that tells stories of 2020, but it’s not a COVID podcast. It’s about how life keeps going, even through a global pandemic.
No matter where he ends up, Eduardo Araújo will always remember where he’s come from. Looking back now, he knows that the opportunities he’s had, and the person he’s become, are all because his parents had a plan.
This podcast collection was made possible with funding from Lotterywest.
Copyright © 2022 Eduardo Araújo.
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storytellers. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
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Sisonke: Welcome to Zooming In a podcast about the lives and feelings of regular people who are like you and me, people seeking connection and love, people who are just muddling along, trying to be human. I’m your host for this episode, Danae Gibson.
Eduardo: I’m Eduardo. I am Brazilian. I migrated to Australia about just over six years ago. I grew up surrounded by family. When I think of my childhood, I just think lots of people. Always with family, lots of cousins, lots of aunties and uncles. That was the dynamic there. And also, very different family, I suppose, as well, that would stand out a little bit. Just because southern Brazil is notoriously so white, like Italian, German kind of thing, and obviously our family was not. So that’s sort of the environment I grew up in.
Sisonke: When people think of Brazil, many will think about its rich cultural traditions, its striking natural beauty, and of course, football – the beautiful game. But beyond Carnival, the Amazon, and Pele, Brazil is a hugely diverse. It’s a country with a complex sociopolitical history and a deep class divide. Eduardo’s background is African Brazil. This is kind of unusual for someone from Southern Brazil, where the majority of the population is white. It’s also pretty unusual to find somebody of Eduardo’s background in Australia. The profile of the Brazilian migrant in Australia tends to be highly educated, upper-middle-class, and of European ancestry. Put simply, a lot of the time, the Brazilians who can leave the country are the ones with money, an education, and really crucially, access to a European passport. While this is the story for many, it isn’t Eduardo’s.
Eduardo: When I was born, we weren’t really even working class. We were surviving class basically. I was born into a very humble, poor family and yeah, we made it into working class, or we were able to have access to opportunities and all that.
Sisonke: Eduardo has been afforded a lot of opportunities that other people from his cultural and economic background would never dream of. He knuckled down and studied his butt off in primary school, gaining a scholarship to a private school – something that his parents would never have been able to afford. Having done well at school, Eduardo was able to gain entry into a highly competitive public university. In Brazil, public universities are considered top of the higher-education hierarchy, and they mostly serve the wealthy. So, getting into university was a really big deal. But none of this happened by chance. Every step was part of a plan, a plan that Eduardo’s mum and dad had mapped out for his life. As a poor African-Brazilian family, they knew they had to work hard for every opportunity. So, they planned every step, nurturing Eduardo’s academic talents so that he could make the most of a system that so often excluded kids like him.
Eduardo: I remember one of the first things was just the shock of, classic teenagers – we’re gonna hang out at the shopping centre – the amount of cash that their parents would give to them, just for that like afternoon out and how much I had for myself. It was, it was just, “Okay, you have a food shop all there in your hands right now, and you’re just going to splurge on whatever.”
Sisonke: For Eduardo, this meant learning for a really young age how to navigate spaces that were really different to the ones he grew up in, with people whose lives were drastically different from his. He often felt like a fish out of water.
Eduardo: People in private school would have a maids at their house every day, cleaning, cooking their food, cooking their lunch. Whereas for me, yeah, my family would have family members. It could be the people doing that, that service. Teenage years, you want to fit in, yeah, even embarrassed about your family, about your parents. And then there’s another layer here. Right. Of like, race, class…they can’t know I’m like that poor. There’s that difference there. So, challenging, challenging to say the least. And also the contrast with that, and navigating that in the private school and then going back home and developing all these new interests that my family thought were weird or odd. I was so much involved in that new environment, and this was formative years as well, right. So, the stuff that I was trying to get interested in, the stuff that I was reading about, what I wanted to do, because I was open to a whole world of possibilities, that at that point weren’t necessarily accessible to me. But I knew that there was all this other stuff that people thought about and that people wanted to do, and it was very, very different. And I was absorbing a lot of that private school environment, and it was just very different from back home. Like the stuff that I would talk about, the stuff that I was interested in, the stuff that I wanted to go to. For my parents, it was a bit of like, who are you becoming? Like, who is this person? Cause I was sort of caught inbetween and at that age, not very equipped to navigate it all.
Sisonke: Eduardo felt a distance starting to grow between him and his family. It wasn’t a sense of conflict, but it was the kind of rift that forms when people’s worlds start to move away from each other. He was starting to become more aware of class – specifically he was becoming aware of the economic class he did not belong to. He wasn’t like most of the other kids at school – the ones from rich families.
Eduardo: One thing that both my private school life and my life back home, my parents, that they could agree on, was that you’re becoming a lawyer. There’s a plan here. And I was good at following the plan from the get go. When I got to law school, it was after being in private school for quite a long time. So, I was fully indoctrinated in being entitled and feeling like I deserved a lot of things. So, when I got to law school, there was none of this, well criminal law was just not an area of interest for me. I was thinking that I was going to do business, international, all this, yeah, glamorous law lifestyle, which is a lie. But I remember just having this particular well, first criminal law class, where lecturer was going on about the life of a lawyer. I was mildly interested, whatever, had no interest in that at all. Up until a point where he started describing what a criminal lawyer would be like. So very tough, doesn’t take no from anyone. And to be a criminal defence attorney, you have to be tough. You can’t be gay. So that just really shook me as a, “How dare you? I will become a criminal defence attorney. I can do this. I’ve done so much already, I’m sure I can do this as well.” So very petty, very, very petty. This was the first contact, with criminal law. After that, I just kept being drawn to it more and more because it’s actually quite fascinating. It’s really interesting. And I developed a really good relationship with the unit, with that discipline, and it turns out that my first internship was in criminal law. So yeah, it was time to get an internship, I applied, and was able to get this, and it was in penitentiary.
Sisonke: Eduardo’s first internship in the penitentiary surprised him. It was strict, as you would expect a prison to be, but he also found it to be a pretty open space. A space where he could really help people.
Eduardo: So it was very, it’s a very strict space. It’s a space where everyone knows the rules and what to do. People are very conditioned to look down. Don’t make eye contact direct. It’s intense. It’s confronting. But also, in a penitentiary you’d find classrooms, you would find, doctor’s rooms for health services, dentistry, that kind of stuff. Lots of books you’d see books everywhere. So, it’s an interesting space, I suppose. It goes in contrast to what people expect, of like people packed to the rim in, and I’m not saying that that doesn’t exist in Brazil. It does. But yeah, in my state at that time, and it could be different now, there was some structure to it. The main thing was building trust between you and the person who who’s getting the service. So, for example, if you’re in a room having a meeting with a person who’s serving sentence, there would be at the door, then the person serving sentence, then the desk, and then you, so between the door and between you and the door, the person would be there. So, they have complete control of the room. And that’s a trust thing. And no panic button, okay. So it was about building trust and making sure that you were there to help them and all that. So yeah, just different from what people would expect.
Sisonke: This new, less conventional approach to incarceration wasn’t the only thing that took Eduardo by surprise. The people he was working with did too – the prisoners.
Eduardo: Incarcerated population in Brazil is mostly black Brazilians. So, this is Afro-Brazilian communities, right? I remember walking in and just realising that once again, this very clear divide, well ethnicity divide there, because most of the people that were locked up, looked like me, or had the same life story that I had, or came from the same postal code that I had been, that I came from. So, there was a lot of identification there and that comes back to when I realized my parents’ plan and why they were aware about that distance between myself and them happening because that’s what they envisioned. There was the risk that they were willing to pay. You go to a private school, you become a lawyer so you don’t fall into the spot that’s been here waiting for you in terms of yeah, penitentiary, you know. The best picture for this is the street markets, right. So, like very working class, like think greasy food, think the best food, think like kids running around, like, yeah. You know what I’m talking about? So, Friday night is like, you go there, you get a cheap meal, there’s so many options. It’s like, yeah, I miss that a lot. It’s such a beautiful space. But you wouldn’t find anyone from a private school there. So, for example, this would be, I would be working in penitentiary already, well in the custodial setting for the transitioning to community, and you wouldn’t find anyone from my law school there, but I would find people from my public school there. And then after I started interning at the penitentiary, well, you would find people from there, so people that have transitioned to community, they would be, they would be in the same recreation space as I was, where I go and get my food and spend time with my family. They’d be there as well. So that’s very grounding, I suppose. It’s very well, this is the reality, this is where we belong and where we hang out. So yeah. Lots of those things, you see, you start to see yourselves in the same spaces, but then when you’re at work, you were in very different positions, I suppose.
Sisonke: Much like his experience in private school, working in the jail reminded Eduardo where he really came from. It’s just that this time, he could see himself in those around him, rather than feeling like the odd one out. So many of these men were just like him. It wasn’t long after he graduated that for the first time in a long time, he deviated from the plan, his parents’ big plan. Love has a funny way of messing even with the best paid plans.
Eduardo met this guy, he was an Australian guy who was studying abroad in Brazil. They were young, but they were pretty serious about each other pretty quickly. They even registered for a civil partnership. And then when the time came for the Australian guy to go back home, Eduardo made the decision that he was going to go with him. It was tough for him to be away from family, but the excitement of building up a life in a new country with his then partner, made it worth it. He wasn’t able to work as a lawyer in Australia, even though he had trained as one in Brazil, the degree didn’t convert. So, he started working in the pharmacy industry, going back to Brazil every couple of years to see his family. He was happy.
In early 2020, things started to change. Eduardo’s relationship came to an end. He found himself for the first time since arriving in Australia, kind of alone. And then of course, COVID happened, and Brazil was hit really hard For Eduardo, living in a place like WA – a place relatively untouched by COVID by global standards – didn’t necessarily bring peace of mind. Not when his entire family were back in Brazil, one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic. It felt like life went on around him as usual, but the people he loved most were at extreme risk. It was unsettling and anxiety-inducing, and once again, Eduardo felt like a fish out of water.
Eduardo: The result of the pandemic in Brazil, putting Brazil back on the hunger. So yeah, either it’s food security or not having food available at all. What changed in terms of people are able to eat really. So now you see scenes that you haven’t seen in probably over a decade, so people are lining up to just get bones and people changing their eating habits. Changing their eating habits, forced to change what they put on their plates. Right. So that’s a big thing. That’s the sort of the general thing that I was saying, the biggest exacerbation. So yeah. People are hungry again, which hadn’t happened in a long time.
Sisonke: The thing about the pandemic is that it also exacerbated differences between the rich and the poor. Eduardo noticed how this was playing out back home in Brazil. He felt conflicted, sitting in his comfortable flat in Perth, it felt like this was the theme of his life – always trying to manage the tension between where he had come from, and where his education had taken him.
Eduardo: The affect that in Brazil, the lockdown or being isolated or saying at home was something that you’d have to be able to afford. If there’s no income support, you just can’t. You’re going to get on the bus if your work is informal, if it’s an informal commerce, let’s say, if you’re out there, you have to be out there. Otherwise, you’re not going to eat, or otherwise you’re going to line up to get scraps. Right. So, even in terms of the messaging… the official messaging was always awful over there because lots of denial and just downplaying what COVID was, but even in the space of, “You should stay home. You should abide by lockdowns” kind of thing, there was sensitivities around, “Stay at home… if you can.” And then, “if you can” means “if you can afford it”, which is something that you wouldn’t see as much here, right. So here it was, “Stay at home. Stay at home”. That’s it, that’s the end of the sentence. So, there was some sensitivity around that because you know that, in Brazil, the class divide is so evident, and you can’t just be in your bubble as much as you can here in Australia. So that was the idea that not everyone can, not everyone will, and people have to work because they have to put food on their plates.
Sisonke: The other thing that Eduardo noticed during the pandemic was how it was uniquely challenging for migrants.
Eduardo: In terms of COVID, especially between Brazil and Australia, there is a lot that happens in the background that you can’t just share because of course it’s tough for everyone, and it’s been tough here as well, and yeah, what’s happening now, over east is horrible. It’s just come to realize how these last 18 months looked very different from Western Australians to Brazilians and yeah, eastern states as well. That’s one of the things that I was talking to my brother. I can read all the news about Brazil. I had family that was very sick. But I’m not there. I haven’t lived through that. The stress that I had when my dad was in ICU, all that, that was stressful, and I was worrying about it all the time, but I didn’t live through it, and they know that and there’s a disconnect there in itself. But yeah, all that worry, all that experience throughout being in contact with your family, it’s not really as something that is easy to share or that people that haven’t got family overseas can relate as much, cause it’s just so very different. Actually, when my dad was in ICU, it was this really tough moment, WA was fine. There was nothing happening here, but I had to call my head office and say, “Hey, I need a mental health day. This is not gonna, like, things are really intense back in Brazil, cannot cope and I need some time off.” It was completely COVID related, but yeah, life around me was just normal.
Sisonke: When Eduardo talks, it’s clear how much love and admiration he has for his parents and his family. He recognises how hard it must have been for them to let their son go, firstly to school and a university environment where he might be the only poor and brown kid, and then to another country, far away from them and from everything they know. He’s been through a lot, and he has a profound sense of perspective because of where he came from.
Eduardo: They always knew that being in a completely different environment with people that didn’t relate to me in my formative years would create a disconnect between me and them, they knew that that could happen. They knew that that was happening. But that was what it would take for me to go through a different path because they were already aware that people that came from where we came from and looked like what we looked like, had a high chance of ending up in prison. So that was, that was their plan. They were always aware that there was this plan in the background and that their choices were limited and that we wouldn’t have access to education, jobs and other stuff. So that was the risk that they were willing to take in terms of that divide.
Where I am now means very different things here in Australia and in Brazil. Some of my family thinks I’m like filthy rich, when in reality I’m like, no, I’m just middle-class in Australia. But it’s interesting because, and this is the conversation I was having with my dad on the phone the other day really, and it was that thing of, how in this lifetime we went from giving you a bath in the outdoor sink or like kids eat first, parents eat second, to me now having meetings in Sydney skyscrapers? And then you just have to pretend that this is cool and normal. It’s just such a big shift because you’re in that boardroom, you just pretend that this is, “I do this all the time.” Whereas in your head, you’re like, “I want to FaceTime my family from here and go like, ‘Look at this view!’” You know?
Sisonke: In these moments, Eduardo is still this kid from a poor neighbourhood looking at the world going, “Wow!” and wanting to share it all with his family.
Eduardo: I’m aware of these experiences that happened in the, in the last few years and that, that doesn’t change who I am. And then when I go back to, when I talk about this divide, but I go back home, it’s not like I’m made to feel like an outcast or I’m not part of the clan anymore. I’m very welcomed. And I think just being aware and knowing that, and just having that reassurance when I go back there and being like, “Yes, I’m part of this. Okay. We’re cool.” It’s definitely not something that will divide us indefinitely.
Sisonke: This is the thing about class. Even when you’re lucky enough to get a good education and a well-paying job. When you manage to buy a house and accumulate some wealth, your background never really leaves you. You can move to another country and learn another language, but coming from a working class background or knowing what it’s like to simply try and survive, well that stays with you forever. Eduardo never forgets. He never forgets where he’s come from, or what his parents sacrificed for him to be the person he is today. Most of all, he never forgets the people back home in Brazil, those that are always there to take his call and check out that skyscraper view from all the way on the other side of the world.
This podcast was produced by the Centre for Stories with funding from Lotterywest Centre for Stories is an organisation based on Whadjuk Noongar Western Australia. It believes in storytelling as a way to build more inclusive communities. Head to centreforstories.com to listen to more stories or to make a tax-deductible donation. Special thanks to our storyteller for this episode, Eduardo. And to our production team, executive producer Kara Jensen McKinnon, audio engineer Mason Vellios, scripting interviewing and production by Sisonke Msimang and Claudia Mancini.