When I met Gabriela,* she was in pursuit of a husband. Still single at thirty one, all of her close friends had already married and had at least one kid. To make matters worse, she faced constant pressure from her mother and three brothers to get married.
In 1999 when my hours at Ceará Importers* had been cut in half, I had to make up the shortfall. Through referral from a friend, I spent an hour one evening weekly at Gabriela’s house for an English class. An accountant at an American financial company, she saw fluency in English as a means of moving up in the company.
Gabriela lived at her parents’ house with her mother, an aunt, and younger, single brother. Her two older brothers, both married with children, had homes of their own. Her father’s older and widowed sister had moved in with them, following his death twelve years ago.
Whenever Gabriela was late for our sessions, I enjoyed chatting with her mother and aunt. Both expressed pride in Gabriela’s achievements, her independent spirit, and love of adventure. But, like many older Brazilian women of their generation, they believed that a woman’s place was at home raising a family.
“Time’s running out if she wants children,” her mother told me.
“She expects too much of men,” her aunt said.
During our classes, it became clear that Gabriela had other motives for perfecting her conversational skills in English. She had her sights on an American husband.
“Brazilian men are safados (shameless),” she told me. “They don’t respect their women; they think we’re here only to serve them.”
As a divorcee and sole-provider for two sons, then fourteen and sixteen, I didn’t appreciate Gabriela’s dilemma of being single at thirty-one years old. Earning well as an accountant, she was already investing in a unit of an apartment complex under construction. When would I be able to afford to buy an apartment? I also envied Gabriela’s freedom to spend weekends with her friends at the beach and her long-weekend holidays out-of-state.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my sons. They are my treasure. But being a wife and working mother come with lots of responsibilities and sacrifices. I was not one of those women who could juggle well these disparate roles.
When I started working at Italbras Leather,* I could no longer have English-speaking sessions with Gabriela. We lost touch. Before I left Brazil, I learned that her pursuit for an American husband had paid off. She had migrated to the United States with her American husband. Radiating with joy, her mother showed off photos of Gabriela with her husband and kids, a boy and baby-girl. Gabriela had embraced motherhood and given up her career to raise her kids.
“When the children are grown, she’ll return to work,” her mother told me.
Husband. Children. Career. As women, we must decide if we can have them all.
* Fictitious name