A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Guest Blogger: Francianne dos Santos Velho
Programme: MA Latin American Studies
My name is Francianne dos Santos Velho, I am 27 years old and I was born and raised in Curitiba, Brazil. Since January 2016 I have been living in Wormerveer, a small town in the north of the Netherlands, and in the academic year 2016-2017 I followed the Master program in Latin American Studies at Leiden University. My story in the Netherlands begun in 2013 and it involves work, study and love. I had worked before as an English and Portuguese teacher in elementary school and high school in Brazil. When I finished my degree in 2012 I wanted to do an exchange program in Europe but I didn’t have enough money. So I came to the Netherlands to be an au pair: a cheap and demanding program in which Latin American girls take care of children from a local family while living with them.
This experience was a real life changer for me. It made me into an international person who is passionate about different people, cultures and human interactions. But I also put myself in someone else’s shoes. I became a domestic servant and for the first time in my life I felt for real what it’s like to be a subaltern and how the world is cruel for those who don’t belong to a certain gender, race and class – up until that moment I was just a white and spoiled Brazilian middle class girl who was used to having a domestic servant in her house herself. Besides that, luckily (or not) at the end of 2013 I fell in love with a Dutch guy. After two years of going back and forth between Brazil and the Netherlands we got engaged and I decided to live here for a while.
Because of my intercultural experiences I became more and more eager to understand the relationship between Europe and Latin America and also how cultural production reflects the realities of Brazil and Latin American. That’s why the track Cultural Analysis of the Latin American Studies Master’s program was perfect for me. In the interactive classes, conception about identity, memory, representation, gender and more were discussed from many different perspectives and many types of cultural production were analyzed.
When I had to decide my thesis theme I immediately thought about linking my personal experiences with the academic world. So, I chose to study the representation of the domestic servants in Brazilian film. My intention was to understand the complex position they occupy in the Brazilian society, a position that we can trace back to a history of slavery and exploitation, and show how silent and hidden power practices act to control their bodies, movements and discourses.
I started to do research on the representation of this character throughout the history of Brazilian cinema and later I focused on some specific productions. I went to Brazil, I collected material in archives and I did interviews with professors, professionals and scholars from different areas. This experience was very productive to understand the world of the domestic servant. When I got back to the Netherlands, I wrote my thesis “The im(mobility) of the Brazilian maid in the movies Maids (2001) and The second Mother (2015)”. This June I got the opportunity to present my study at the Abre Congress 2017 – Association of Brazilianists in Europe and I got great feedback. This congress was the perfect ending of an intense and very interesting academic year in which I not only obtained my Master’s degree, but I also changed the way I see and reflect on my own country.