In response to A Vida Boa.
By Ray of American Heart, Brazilian Soul
The answer is yes. Those that serve the households can get a piece of the good life. Just not necessarily when they are working for you.
According to my observations, it usually takes one generation to lift a family out of poverty in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
In the beginning of the last century, the low-cost labor came from European countries as well as Lebanon and Japan. My paternal grandparents were part of this wave of European immigration. Fresh off the boat, they went to serve the Europeans who had arrived years earlier, such as my mother’s family.
My paternal grandmother took a job as a maid when she first arrived in Sao Paulo. My paternal grandfather first worked in construction and then became a taxi driver. Eventually, after much hard work, they had enough to enjoy a good life. They build a four-bedroom house with their own hands, purchased cars, TVs… they soon became part of the middle class. Each of their four children when to University and became professionals – three engineers and one teacher – one even became a millionaire. Serving the wealthy, my grandparents pulled their family out of poverty and into the middle and upper classes.
By the 1970’s, most European immigrants had managed to shift their financial and social status, and a new wave of workers had come to Sao Paulo from the Northern sections of Brazil. My mother, who was part of a wealthy family, told stories of how these folks from the Northeast were so poor that some would work a day in your house for a hot meal. (Incidentally, this kind of price competition pushed any of the remaining European household servants out of their jobs. However, most could, at that point, retire or be supported by their college-educated children.)
At the end of the 70’s and in the early 80’s industry grew in Brazil. No longer could you get someone to work for so little, as factories began to employ many of the Northern “brown” migrants. This drove up the rate for maids and other household servants.
Culturally things began to change as well. The newer generations of the wealthy, as well as the new wealthy, didn’t have the “waiting on hand and foot” mentality that had originated, unfortunately, with the use of slaves in earlier centuries. Families began to value private-time more than round-the-clock service. Maids also picked up on the fact that they could earn a lot more money working one or two days a week for multiple households. These influences decreased the number of live-in maids and gave birth to the “faxineira” concept.
The economic and culture changes at the end of the 20th century meant that another generation of service workers could send their children to University, English classes and even graduate school. And while the Brazilian public school system is not great, it certainly contributes to the advancement of the poor. Many of the household servants of today themselves have been able to afford the conventional comforts of “a vida boa” such as televisions, refrigerators, computers, and microwaves.
My mother’s last maid migrated from the Northeast in the late 70’s and lived in a slum (favela). Today, she lives in a regular house and her three children have all gone to University. One is a teacher, one a chemistry major working at a chemical plant in Sao Paulo and one business major who did an MBA, is fluent in English and works for the American company UPS. The business major was just recently invited to live in the US to be trained for a higher position.
Maids have become, and will continue to become, more and more expensive if there isn’t a new wave of poor immigrants or migrants into Sao Paulo in the next 10 to 20 years, perhaps from Bolivia, Paraguay and/or Peru. Or, if Brazil continues to heat up, and then explodes, a wave of desperate, unemployed people may resurface as low-cost servants.
But the younger generations are also investing more in household technology, such as dishwashers and clothes dryers, making themselves less dependant on servants to have a good life. They are also either making renovations to apartments that include converting maid’s quarters into storage space, or buying into new buildings that don’t have the traditional servants’ living space.
So regardless of which direction the intersection of supply and demand moves, historical cycles have ensured, and will most likely continue to provide, opportunities for “a vida boa” at all levels of society.