I N T R O D U C T I O N
In 1944, at the height of the Estado Novo dictatorship and Brazil’s participa-
tion in the war against fascism in Europe, a young girl of indigenous descent
named Jacyra became the center of a public debate on the nature of racism in
Brazil. Her adoptive parents had tried to enroll her in the school of the Sisters
of Notre Dame. When the nuns running the school refused her admission
because she was not white, her angry parents and their supporters took their
indignation to the media. According to a letter to one of the main Rio de
Janeiro dailies, the Diario Carioca, when the parents met with one of the (sup-
posedly) German nuns who ran the school about matriculating their daugh-
ter, they asked whether she might face discrimination at the school. The nun
asked to see the girl, and in the words of the letter writer, ‘‘said she could not
accept the little Indian . . . because at the school there were only white
students.’’∞
The author of the letter, medical school professor Mauricio de Medeiros,
attributed the act of racism to the fact that the nuns were of German descent—
‘‘countrywomen of Hitler.’’ He argued that ‘‘in our country there has never
been prejudice of this type. . . . Descendants of Indians have reached positions
of distinction and respect in our country, including . . . [army Field Marshal
Candido] Rondon.’’ He added that when, among the mixture of races that
characterizes Brazil, the indigenous traits are more visible, ‘‘it is with a certain
pride that we call the person caboclo.’’≤
A few days later, a Catholic supporter of the Sisters of Notre Dame, H. So-
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