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Veteranas (2001): Poet of the Mothers' Clubs


A gifted poet and singer, Odete Marques became an important grassroots leader in São Paulo's southern urban periphery during Brazil's military dictatorship (1964-1985). Born in 1940 in rural Minas Gerais State, Marques migrated to São Paulo with her husband in 1958 where they settled in its southern periphery. Marques was an early leader of the mothers' clubs (clubes de mães), groups of women organized through the Catholic Church. In 1973, Odete Marques helped write an open letter from the mothers' clubs to Brazil's military dictator, Emílio Médici, protesting high food prices and cost of living. That letter, addressed from the "mothers of the periphery," triggered a regime crackdown on popular organizing but also gave rise to the largest popular movement of the dictatorship era, the Cost of Living Movement (Movimento do Custo de Vida). In this movement and others up to the present, Marques advocated for the rights of working people and women. Her poem, Veteranas (2001) or Veterans, narrates the rise of the mothers' clubs amid the dictatorship and her bittersweet memories of those years. Like much poetry in another language, meaning can be difficult to translate: even the title when rendered into English loses Marques's purposeful use of the feminine "a" to refer to her female comrades. Still, the poem translated below offers a unique glimpse into one leading activist's memories of women's organizing in the periphery during the dictatorship. The line "we left our houses in search of addresses" evokes the precarious title to their land that many rural migrants held in the periphery. Indeed, the millions of migrants to the periphery in those years found it completely devoid of basic urban infrastructure and essential state services, a fact which Marques documents in detailed fashion. But after recounting the unfinished work of her comrades, Marques chooses to end her account of these years by evoking the poem's title, "We are the veterans (veteranas) that confronted the dictatorship." To hear Odete Marques read her poem, click the audio clip below the following English translation. Collection: "Songs of Revolution" Special Exhibit. Audio: Odete Maria Antônia Marques, interview with Daniel McDonald, February 23, 2018, São Paulo, Brazil. English Translation by Daniel McDonald It was in the 1970s that it all began. We left our homes in search of addresses. We needed to research for the struggle to begin. Everything here was awful, no electricity, no water, no sewers no daycares, no schools, no health clinics. The need was vast, children in the street [exposed] to the sun, the rain, the moon. We began to rise, youths, women, and men in the hope of changing our country for the better. We suffered repression and from much doubt. For our group, the sacrifice was great. The terror of our comrades, fearing our imprisonment. There was even separation, but within our hearts the hope was great [for] we had much faith. With each victory, joy exploded in our assemblies, in our celebrations, in our prayers. God the father we thanked for our courage and stubbornness and for our unity. And now, so much time has passed and the struggle continues. She who the struggle embraced cannot falter. We embraced the party and we made it grow. Our children already have children and yet nothing is set in stone. We are the veterans that fought the dictatorship. And here in our country, we fight with love, trying to make happy the working people.


Odete Marques, "Veteranas (2001): Poet of the Mothers' Clubs" (2000). Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.