A wedding that shows the social gap to be bridged in Brazil
I don’t like to get too personal in this blog, but I think this is a story worth sharing. It is about a wedding I went to a week ago, attended by friends I made in high school. We all come from a working class background and state school didn’t do much to help us face the competition in the labor market. It did prepare us for some life lessons, but clearly less than we needed. All those present there somehow managed to get by, while others were doomed to supporting their families from the start. I will leave everyone nameless.
A friend of mine was the bride, the groom was a Spanish national that she met a few years ago. She comes from one of the few middle class families we had in our group from 1997 to 1999. Although she did better than all of us, people in São Paulo’s wealthy city center would actually consider her poor, since her income was always average and her family’s house is not located anywhere fancy. Her wedding was at a nice location in Buzios, in northern Rio de Janeiro state, basically because she found her way as a travel agent.
She was one of the best students, but didn’t even have the chance to go to a state university. She paid loads to study engineering in a private institution, but gave it all up due to her love for traveling and languages. Unlike most of us, she could actually give up on what she learned in college to do something else: the rest of us had only one chance, no looking back. One of them wanted to be a journalist; he became a physical education teacher. Another wanted to be a doctor; she became an occupational therapist.
For me there was no hassle in taking a plane to Rio, jumping in a bus to Búzios and spending the night in a hotel there. Journalism doesn’t pay great, but it is enough. Adding it all up, the trip cost about US$ 350. For some of my friends it was much tougher, even though they stayed in cheaper hotels and traveled all the way by car: “I had to plan for a while to come here for this,” one of them said. “It was all worth it, but I will have to be more modest in my plans for New Year’s Eve,” another one mentioned.
Class mattered in other areas, too. One of my friends, a physiotherapist that also paid loads to go to a private university, explained how he realized he was gay. “I dated many girls, but I was unsure. It only hit me when I was in my mid-twenties and I went to Jardins for the first time,” he said, in a reference to São Paulo’s most exclusive region. A region where working class people feel they don’t belong. “I was shivering when saw guys holding hands and kissing there. I never thought that was real, it never happened where I live.”
As in every reunion years later, we talked about people who didn’t make the cut or chose to forget their roots. “She wanted to be a lawyer, but now she is plump and depressed working as a saleswoman in chain store”, one of them said about one of the other top students in the class. “She actually made it to state university, but in a course no one really wanted. Now she is a disappointed housewife,” another one told. “He is probably doing terrible. How do I know that? For the sheer fact we haven’t heard,” I say.
Of course everyone had a lot of fun as we saw that we weren’t doing that terrible. But the main reason for us to have such positivity is we were never expecting much so after such a lame educational background. It was our teachers who skipped class, violence was present in our school and drug traffickers weren’t very far. Unlike most São Paulo state schools, we had a language center in ours and that gave us something a little more refined to aim for. Still not enough for any of us to even try going to state university.
As a journalist I get to spend a lot of time with the wealthiest and the poorest. Finding myself in between in such a complex country, believe me, is not a relaxing experience. I have the feeling I don’t belong in either group. But in such an unfair country, my story matters much less than those of people who still face tough class issues to become whoever they want. Although Brazil improved a lot in the last two decades, the gap to bridge is still gigantic. And it lies in some very simple things, too.
P.S.> This is the 100th post in this blog. Thank you so much for reading. It means a lot.