• Guido with his mother, sisters, cousins, niece and nephew in Brazil in 2019. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
I flew here with a one-way ticket vowing never to return. I tried to learn everything about the culture. Trying to ‘assimilate’ I became a St Kilda supporter within a week of my arrival.
By
Guido Melo

20 Jan 2021 - 8:27 AM  UPDATED 21 Jan 2021 - 8:33 AM

Growing up in Brazil, I remember my father, a thick-glass-wearing-highly-educated-meteorogist-Afro-Brazilian-man, constantly telling me to move out of our house. He used to say: “Move as far as you can from us and make a life for yourself elsewhere.” I remember my clenched teeth and how my veins grew hot. I thought: “How outrageous! I am only a teenager! Where would I go anyhow?” But my father was used to moving. He was in the military, working as an air-traffic controller for the Brazilian Air Force. That meant we were somewhat part of the lower middle class. Although, everywhere we moved, to the apartment in Barra Beach in Salvador, the several homes in suburbia Rio de Janeiro or in Belo Horizonte, we were the only Black family around.

Nobody ever told us we could not live here or there, but there was always a fight. A misunderstanding. A reason to leave. There was always that one blond-haired kid that would come to me and say: “My mum doesn’t want me to play with you anymore.” That would be it. I knew what it meant. Ultimately, we would move elsewhere, always being forcibly pushed to the same social margins as before. Racism against Black people in Brazil is perversive and acts in several ways. I became aware of this kind of racism through my father when I noticed he always carried a small suitcase around with him. It took me years to come to terms with the fact it was because he never felt safe enough in one place. History had taught people who looked like us time again and again that ownership was a frail concept.

Racism against Black people in Brazil is perversive and acts in several ways. I became aware of this kind of racism through my father when I noticed he always carried a small suitcase around with him.

In 1989 when I was a teenager, Brazil had just elected Fernando Collor de Mello (my father voted for Lula), our first democratic president in decades. De Mello was a rich playboy embedded in corruption accusations and with neo liberal ambitions, who in due course, in 1992, would end up impeached. This is why at the age of 13, my father encouraged me to read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. My father was a raging leftist and wanted me to understand the power of the capital, the influence of economy in our lives and the prerogatives of the proletariat in society. I recall, after reading in the classic book that, ‘The working men have no country’, that I decided that there was nothing bounding me to Brazil. I did not know I would end up in Australia back then. Through my father’s teachings and recommendations, I can see now that he was preparing me to be detached. As Marx puts ‘the proletarians [of the world] have nothing to lose but their chains.’

In a way Australia chose me. Within a year of meeting my then partner in Rio on an autumn morning in the famous Copacabana Beach, I was arriving at Tullamarine Airport for good. The only things I knew about Australia then were all sport related: Australian Open, Formula 1 Grand Prix and Cathy Freeman. It took many years for me to understand the violence this nation inflicted and still inflicts on First Nations people and how racist Australian society can be.

In a way Australia chose me. Within a year of meeting my then partner in Rio on an autumn morning in the famous Copacabana Beach, I was arriving at Tullamarine Airport for good. 

The day of my departure from Galeão Airport, my siblings were elated, my father looked at me with an air of vindication, as if his inception all those years had finally worked. I was going far away. Thirteen thousand, two hundred and two kilometres away to be precise. My mother’s dark brown eyes looked incredibly sad but she kept trying to smile. I think deep down she knew there was no other path for me. We both felt that any other country was better than the violent and oppressively racist Brazil.

The brutal murder of João Alberto Silveira Freitas who, in November 2020, was punched and kicked to death outside a Carrefour supermarket in Brazil at full view of onlookers and sparked similar outrage to the death of George Floyd in America, attests to the fact that Black lives in Brazil, just like the rest of the world, still don’t matter.

A few years after my arrival, my brother and my sister joined me and today also live in Victoria. Now there are eight of my family members living here, five of those born in this unceded lands called Australia. As my father foretold, destiny was changed the very moment I took that flight on route to Melbourne. I flew here with a one-way ticket vowing never to return. I tried to learn everything about the culture. Trying to ‘assimilate’ I became a St Kilda supporter within a week of my arrival.

A few years after my arrival, my brother and my sister joined me and today also live in Victoria. Now there are eight of my family members living here, five of those born in this unceded lands called Australia.

Last year, I was published as part of Black Inc.’s Growing up African in Australia edited by Afro-Caribbean Australian author, Maxine Beneba Clarke. By the positive reception to my chapter, where I describe my experiences as a young Black child in Salvador and Rio de Janeiro until my arrival in Melbourne in the early 2000’s, I realised that my story in Australia matters. I realised that the history of African Brazilians is little known outside of Brazil. Many, even amongst ‘Global Africans’ are unaware of our existence despite Latin America be the home of over two hundred and fifty million African descendants.

Recently, I have been questioning if I can consider myself an Australian. All I wanted my entire life was to live a dignifying existence. Living in Melbourne gave me just that. Today dignity for me is being able to sit down in a cafe and order a latte without being mistreated. Other times, dignity is simply being allowed to sit down on public transport without being feared by others. I do however, experience racism constantly in this colony. Still, after so many years this place is intrinsically part of what and who I am. As my father (who passed away in 2017) forecasted, moving to Australia did change my destiny. I wish I could tell him that I am the living proof that workers have no country, but I guess he knew that.

This article has been published in partnership with Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.

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