Erica Malunguinho da Silva
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Erica Malunguinho da Silva (born November 20, 1981) is a Brazilian politician who was elected into the state congress on October 7, 2018 after receiving around 54,400 votes. She made history by being the first transgender person to be elected to state congress in Brazil in over 180 years of the political house's existence.
Da Silva was born in 1981 in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil, and was raised by her mother and extended family. She grew up surrounded by black and indigenous culture. Shortly after high school, da Silva moved to São Paulo and began to embrace her transgender identity through her official transition. After graduating from University of São Paulo, she spent time working as an artist, activist, and educator.
In 2016, da Silva created the urban quilombo Aparelha Luzia. Aparelha Luzia is a black cultural space that brings black people together in solidarity against the oppression they face, and works to increase their sense of community. It also is a space for art, discussion, and performances surrounding the idea of blackness and black culture.
Da Silva's election platform had five major features. These were Political Renewal, Enlargement of the Debate, the idea of the Quilombo, Fundamental Rights, and Political Challenges.
Early life and identity
Erica Malunguinho da Silva was born November 20, 1981. She was assigned a male at birth under the name Eric, and grew up in Recife, Pernambuco. The trans, black, Afro-Brazilian woman was raised by her mother and lived with her extended family. Her mother, the only educated one in the family, worked as a nurse to support da Silva, her siblings, and the other members of the house. Da Silva grew up immersed in black and indigenous culture. "We all knew we were Black, but when you are Black in Brazil, you also suffer racism within the family," she said. "We were always comparing who had the widest nose, or the nappiest hair."
After high school, da Silva felt as if she "had to live another life". She moved to São Paulo when she was 19 years old with the idea of reinventing herself. There she began to better acknowledge her silenced gender identity, and began to understand herself as a trans woman. "I was always trans. I was living a gay life and a trans life at the same time." With her mother's support, da Silva chose her new name. Already her surname "Malunguinho" refers to the cult of Jurema Sagrada, an entity of the forests of Pernambuco in Catucá. This is a region where her ancestors once passed through. The term "Malungo" is used by African descendants of the Bantu family to mean "comrade" or "companion". This is the way in which the enslaved would refer to another person who, like them, had crossed the ocean and started a new life.
Over the next few years, da Silva attended the University of São Paulo. She pursued a master's degree in aesthetics and art history. She spent time working as a plastic artist and has produced photography, performances, writings, and drawings. In addition to setting up her studio in São Paulo, da Silva has also spent the last 15 years working as an activist and educator. She has worked on training teachers from the public and private spheres on themes related to art, culture, and politics.
In 2016, da Silva transformed her art studio in the neighborhood of Campos Eliseos into the cultural and political center Aparelha Luzia. It is an urban quilombo, and has quickly become known as one of the most influential and important black cultural spaces in Brazil. A quilombo is a Brazilian "maroon" society that symbolizes the first act of resistance to slavery. Quilombos today are usually rural black communities that uphold their African heritage and culture and their struggles against racism. Aparelha Luzia is seen as one of the most prominent centers of black resistance, bringing together black people to find shelter against the racism they face on a daily basis. In addition, it is also considered a place to present artistic and intellectual productions with a goal of spreading the cultural and political production of blackness. Aparelha Luzia also hosts parties, courses, formations, debates, birthdays, and it is a place for black people to connect and focus on black issues. Aparelha Luzia is housed in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and almost every day of the week it features live music, art, and get-togethers. Da Silva has created it so there is no entrance fee, due to her dedication to the idea that the space should be open to as many people as possible. Although Aparelha Luiza is managed through a collective, it is da Silva's dream that has brought over 200,000 people to the quilombo over the last two years. Da Silva has advocated for black people of all gender and sexual identities to feel included, accepted, and sheltered.
At 36 years old, da Silva has become the first transgender woman to be elected to state congress in Brazil. One of her major motivators to run for congress was the assassination of Marielle Franco, an LGBTQ Afro-Brazilian politician. "I cried a lot when I heard about Marielle’s murder. Her political project was just wiped out. It was a message to us that we should not be there fighting over our bodies and resisting genocide and racism. I had so much hate in me. At the same time, I knew I needed to take this hate and do something positive with it." Da Silva ran as a member of the party PSOL (Partido Socialismo y Libertad), which in translates into English as the Socialism and Liberty Party. This party is one of Brazil's most leftist parties. Her coalition is Without Fear of Changing São Paulo. Da Silva wants to fight racism through social tourism in the quilombos and indigenous territories as a strategy to combat discrimination and advocate for protection and visibility of minorities, as well as promote a sustainable economy. She has also promised to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community, and she has claimed she would focus on the fundamental rights of trans people and their inclusion in the workforce. Additionally, da Silva plans on supporting proposals that benefit homeless people and review housing programs. She wants to promote a compassionate reception in hospitals and police stations for survivors of sexual assault, and advocate for the guarantee of civil and tolerant care for women seeking abortions.
Da Silva ran for congress on a platform with five major features. The first feature was Political Renewal. Although da Silva enjoyed grassroots work, she has made it known that politics was in her future. She believed that there was no better time than the present to create a new political narrative that went against the same groups being represented in politics. She understood that she had a responsibility in relation to the arts, education, LGBTQ, and black movements to focus on the intersectionalities within the framework of institutional policy.
The second feature was Enlargement of the Debate. Da Silva knew that politics is interrelated to people's everyday lives. As a result, she promoted the connection of civil society to politics. She believed that people tend to forget that politics is created by, and has impacts on real people, some of which have been marginalized throughout history through political institutions. The political process has dehumanized itself to the point that people do not realize that the person representing them is a real person—not just a machine. She thought that we need to consider the fact that politics are closer to us than we tend to think.
The third feature was centered on the idea of the Quilombo. Da Silva is the founder of the urban quilombo Aparelha Luzia. The idea of a quilombo as a social institution and an organized self-managed society was one of the major foundations of her candidacy. She believed that quilombos should be thought of as political spaces in order to build understanding and deconstruct the popular narratives of those who have been marginalized. Quilombos can bring people together to collaborate and write their own story.
The fourth feature is Fundamental Rights. Da Silva believed that today's political representatives lack the bravery and motivation needed in order to understand the inequalities and practices of marginalization based on race, gender, and class. As a result, we need politicians who are willing to fight for those who are excluded in today's society. Da Silva has been willing to focus on this systematic oppression, and made it a pillar in her campaign. She would promote the idea of pushing the limits in government in the fields of mobility, economy, health, education, culture, media, and religious freedom in order to advocate for the people who have historically, and continue to be, left out of the political discussion.
The fifth and final feature is Political Challenges. As a black, transgender woman, da Silva realized that putting yourself into politics is not as simple as it seems. Nonetheless, she knew it was something that needs to be done. She faced a bench that is representative of the majority population, (white, heterosexual, cisgender men) along with those who have historically wielded power, and she hoped to propose a new outlook on society and a new way of doing politics.
Controversies and challenges
Da Silva states that she faces many challenges due to her identity. Brazil is one of the most deadly countries for transgender people, with 179 reported murders in the year 2017. This is the highest number in a decade. Additionally, black women are acutely underrepresented in Brazil's government. After this most recent election in 2018, Brazil's Senate had no increase in representation in the Upper House, with black women still holding 12 out of 81 seats. The Lower House, however, saw a five percent increase in black women representatives, from previously holding 51 seats, to an increase with 77 seats out of 513.
Another challenge da Silva will states she will face comes from Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a divisive far-right politician who has just been elected as the 38th president of Brazil. He won 55 percent of the vote after a runoff against Fernando Haddad of the Leftist Workers' Party (PT). Throughout his campaign he has played on the public's fears about security and a recent increase in violent crime. (In 2017, homicide rates rose to a record high of 63,880, a 2.9 percent increase from 2016.) As a former army captain, Bolsonaro has claimed that he will combat the security crisis by militarizing the police, increasing pressure on criminals by allowing police officers greater weapons privileges, and decreasing restrictions on public gun possession. Bolsonaro has faced criticism throughout the election due to his past controversial and discriminatory statements about race, gender, and sexual orientation.
Bolsonaro has remarked that black people living in the traditional communities of quilombos were not even good for procreating anymore. During his campaign he pledged to get rid of protected indigenous lands. He has regarded having a female child as a "weakness", and said that women should not be employed equally, and should earn less than men because they "get more labour rights than men". Additionally, he has said stated that a fellow lawmaker was not worth raping because she was "too ugly" and not his "type". In a 2011 interview, Bolsonaro was quoted for saying that if he were to have a gay son, he would prefer for him to die in an accident than be homosexual, since Bolsonaro would never be able to love him. He has also been taken to court for hate speech in the past.
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