The Power Of Extraordinary Women - Aureci Tabosa (my mother)
Interview #1: Maria Aureci Tabosa
Interview Date: 7/22/2016
Location: Photographed in Andover, MN - Resides in Recife, Pernambuco (Brazil)
Born in: Caruaru, Pernambuco (Brazil)
Occupation: Retired Lawyer
Nominated by: Myself
About: Mainha is a term of endearment from Northeast Brazil used to refer to one's own beloved mother - you can only call Mainha your own mom. This interview is with my Mainha.
The oldest of 5 living siblings, with both her parents since departed, my mom was raised Catholic. A woman of faith, she dedicated her life to her family by ensuring she became independent first.
Born poor, Mainha turned to books and worked as a teacher in a rural community in the outskirts of Caruaru, during many of her teenage years. She is emphatic about how much she loved teaching, but realized that, at that income level, she would not be able to assist and provide financially for her parents (my grandma was a seamstress who worked on simple projects and, my grandpa, while very honest and dedicated, was a mechanic with no ambitions). The committed desire to help support them drove my mom to pursue a career as a lawyer, even though she dreamt of being a dancer.
Without the means, my mom had to borrow money from a loan shark in order to attend college. She told me stories of being known for teaching her classmates and wearing the same pair of shoes for 4 years. Despite the enormous adversity, she graduated from Law school with honors, and had her photo published in the local newspaper as the "Pride of Caruaru". I believe she still has the newspaper clipping in an old tin, deep in a drawer.
After graduating Law school, Mainha was promptly hired by the Town Hall of Recife, her first and only employer (she retired at the age of 62). Her first position earned her 20x the salary she earned as a teacher.
*Some photos are part of my mom's personal archive. The photos taken as part of this project are identified as such.
My mother receiving her class ring from her father (Gercino Tabosa)
Receiving a graduation pin Signing the graduation book
She had my brother Hugo at the age of 34, and me at the age of 37. She was considered a late mom back then. That decision, too, happened because she wanted to be independent first, and a mom later. This allowed her to be with my brother and I as we grew up, and allowed her to make her own financial decisions and use her money as she pleased, feeling like she never had to ask my father (or anyone else) for permission.
There are many more stories I can share about my mother, and this is just a brief look at who she is. I'll add that she has been the person who supported, scolded, educated and inspired me the most, undoubtedly.
And so, this project was birthed by my desire to introduce and, in a weird and proud way, to parade her to the world, because I want everyone to know how extraordinary she is, and, above all, I want her to know that as well.
She was recently visiting from Brazil and spent the Summer with me, when I was able to finally kickstart this project.
Even though she knew about it, and had agreed to participate in it, I decided to surprise her with the interview. I never told her when I was going to interview her. And because we were together every day and because we speak so openly to each other, I felt the need to blindside her. I just didn't want her to prepare to talk to me. I wanted her to be as candid as possible.
With that, our conversation was very emotional, very intimate. My mother spoke from her heart and touched me and changed me, yet again. You can read her own words (translated by me) below.
To you, dear reader, I extend my deepest gratitude. Thank you for letting me introduce you to the extraordinary Aureci Tabosa.
The first photo for the project, taken immediately after the interview
After reviewing the first photo, she decided she didn't look pretty enough, so with makeup and jewelry on, she requested to be photographed outside
Maria Aureci Tabosa for The Power of Extraordinary Women
How would you define the word "extraordinary"?
Extraordinary? Something we see and never forget. Something that only does well for our hearts, our souls.
How would you describe yourself?
If I ask you, who is Aureci?
I would tell you that Aureci is a 71-year-old lady, vain, proud of what she was. I have absurd courage and even more absurd fears. I feel like I am a woman of my word, honest, sincere and welcoming.
How do you think your friends would describe you?
(Laughs) Oh, they would certainly suck up to me! (More laughs) They would say I am a wonderful woman, that I have my faults and many strengths, because we all have our faults, but that whenever they needed me, whomever it was, they counted on me.
What is the first thing people notice about your personality?
Empathy. (Why?) Because that’s what I have always heard. When I worked for the city and there was a need to talk to the public, there were lawyers who were better prepared than me, they were younger people and very well prepared, but the city would choose me, because they said I was empathetic. That it was easier for me to reach people.
Others see you as extraordinary. Do you think you are extraordinary?
No, I am normal. (Laughs) I am normal.
Why do you think others believe you are extraordinary?
(Long pause) Maybe because I have always been welcoming. I always try to participate in other people’s lives and always lend a helping hand. I look after the people I like. And also after people I don’t even know, who are in need. I think I take after my mother.
Grandma was like that as well?
Yes, she was. Mother went on to raise houses for the homeless. She would organize cookouts and invite the construction workers to these gatherings, and they would drink and eat and raise the home. And, at nightfall, the home would be raised and ready, with beds made, mosquito nets hanging and furnished with pieces she received by asking around. She would ask politicians, she would ask big entrepreneurs, she would ask family members, she would ask all the neighbors on her street.
Do you remember any homeless people that she helped?
Yeah, I remember one, but I don’t know his name. He lived behind my father’s house, on the margin of the Ipojuca River. And many times she did things like this. She would bring leftovers from the market that would no longer be sold, that would go bad, and also from the meat market, and she would separate that into countless bags and she and my father would take those to share with the poor. (How old were you?) I was about 30, my mother was about 55, but she had always acted this way. And I, in a smaller scale, do as such also. I feel better giving than receiving. I feel like I was blessed all my life, as if God placed his hand over me. I never went without anything.
My first bathing suit, I asked an uncle and aunt, because my father couldn't buy it. I was 11-12, living in Ilheus, when I saw the ocean for the first time, and I was enchanted, but I couldn’t go to the beach because I didn’t have a bathing suit. So I asked my uncle, and he sent it. (What color was it?) I don’t recall the color well, but I guess it was red. (Was it a bikini?) In those days, we didn’t wear bikinis, so it was a one piece because it was more decent. So I wore my bathing suit and went to the beach. And my dresses were beautiful!
If you didn’t have a bathing suit, how did you have beautiful dresses?
(Chuckles) They were inherited from my aunts, undone and redone to fit me. That’s why I love dresses so much. I shop, shop and shop! (Laughs) I wore many reconstructed dresses. They were sent from Caruaru to Ilheus, and mother would deconstruct them, and I would take them to a tailor and they would make the new dresses. I was beautiful, had a beautiful body and gorgeous hair and wherever I went, people would notice. The boys used to go crazy!
What is something that gives you strength to face life’s challenges?
The faith in God. I deliver myself to his hands, I deliver any problem, and that calms me. He will resolve it.
Is there something else that helps you?
Yes, anger. Anger also gives me strength. I am a hurricane. And when I am angry, I fear no one, I face police officers, city mayors, secretaries, whomever! If it is wrong, if you piss me off, you’ll hear.
Once, at the mayor’s office, there was a meeting with the secretary of judicial matters who determined that from that day on, more than 100 lawyers would work double shifts (of 8h total) but receive the same remuneration as before (of 4h shifts). This was a decision that was set in stone, and everyone was upset. Even though there was nothing we could do about it, I had the courage to get up on the stand and ask to speak. I asked that there be an official meeting note about my disagreement with the change in hours. After this act of courage, I was known as the representative of the lawyers of the city of Recife, and, with a group of colleagues, we went on to found an association to fight for lawyers’ rights.
Also, when I was a child, probably around 9, my father would not allow me to wear earrings, and so my ears were not pierced. One day I asked my aunt to come with me to the drugstore to get my ears pierced, and she did. I got these tiny little studs, and felt so happy I could now wear earrings! That night, when my father got home from work, he, who was strict and would not put up with defiance, found me by the front door, holding the paddle. I told him, “Here, you can punish me. I have had my ears pierced.” He was so shocked that I did not get a spanking. (Laughs)
What is one of the best pieces of advice you have ever received? How did that change you?
The nuns at the school I attended when I was a teenager, taught me “let it dry first”. It means to let things cool off before you react to a situation. With time, I learned that this is one of the best pieces of advice I could have received.
Another lesson is something my mother taught me. She used to say that “those whom everything touch, dirty their hands”. That means that if you let everything affect you, and you participate in every quarrel and fight every single battle, you will stain your hands. I had to learn to choose wisely, what to fight for, and what to let go.
What is something you notice that holds people back, but really shouldn’t?
I think it’s normal to let fear hold you back. Fear makes us more cautious, and it pushes us to make a decision that is thought out. It’s a brake pedal. But I think something that should not hold people back is the fear of being criticized, the fear of others’ opinions. When we are young, we are terrified of being criticized, but, with age, we learn to step into who we are, and own it, we accept ourselves, both the good and the bad.
Turning 60 and entering her Golden Years
What is something fantastic and/or extreme that happened in your life that affected you deeply?
When I was about 19 or 20 and I lived in Ilheus, I watched the movie Zorba The Greek. I always had an inkling for dancing, always wanted to be a dancer, but in those days, ladies could not think about that. The lady who wanted to be a ballerina, a dancer, was not worth anything. And it was impossible for me to pursue this dream, but I was flexible, had rhythm, and an inkling for dancing. (I once even danced at the cinema, in a fundraiser by the church. I danced “somewhere under the rainbow” without ever having a ballet class in my life!) But going back to the movie Zorba the Greek, I fell in love with the music and with Greece. Later on, I was at a party, in a packed club, when the song came on. I went to the middle of the dance floor and danced just like I had seen in the movie. Everyone stopped and made a circle around me to watch and applaud. (How did you feel?) I felt amazing! (Laughs)
What is something you could actually teach me (or someone else) right this second?
That despite everything, we have to move forward. We have to fight to win. Also, that even though we are all different elements in this world, we are ultimately all the same.
What’s a dream you haven’t realized yet?
To travel to Jerusalem. Every day it gets harder because there’s a lot of conflict there and also because of my age. The trip is tiring. If I had someone to come with me, as company, I would love to go. I would love to see Jerusalem, Egypt.
What’s a dream you have realized?
To see my children doing well in life. To see them married, happy, pursuing their own dreams.
What is something that was difficult, but that you will never regret? Why?
To get divorced. Because it was hard, but it was the best thing that I did, it was like leaving a prison. Just this week I dreamed about kicking my husband out the door. I was so happy! I have never regretted it, not for a second.
One thing that I do regret is to have let my fear of driving stop me from doing it. I let panic control me, and I quit driving. That’s my only regret. I tried, but I could not overcome it. I don’t know why I couldn’t overcome it. When I was able to buy a car, I was close to 40 years old. But I would only drive to places close to home. I eventually stopped altogether.
One of the first photos of my mother after the divorce
When it’s all said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered as someone who touched a lot of lives and that only tried to help and do good. But also as someone that no one’s ever made a fool of, or stepped on my toes.
Why did you decide to participate in this project?
Because you’re my daughter! (Laughs)
How do you feel about participating in a project like this?
I feel like an actress, like someone important. I never thought in my life that I would participate in a project like this!
Is there anything else you would like to share?
That I am happy, I have two wonderful children and a blessed life.
When I asked where else she would like to be photographed, she just posed by the front door of my house - and this was our last photo for the project
The Power Of Extraordinary Women is a project by photographer Laine Torres where personal interviews and intimate photos tell the stories of women who have inspired others to be greater, just because they are extraordinary.
Keywords: documentary, laine torres photography, maria aureci tabosa, my mother, personal project, the power of extraordinary women
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