GREGG NEW TON/REU TERS; INSE T: COUR TESY OF BEATRIZ CARDOSO
oth my parents became protagonists
of Brazil’s history, though that was
never their intention. They represent a
generation that opposed dictatorship
and then, when conditions changed,
played a key role in our country’s tran-
sition to an open society.
My mother, Ruth, was a teacher and an anthropologist. She loved to do field research on people’s everyday lives. In doing this, she combined theoretical
know-how and rigor with a pragmatic respect for the
complexity of reality.
From this perspective, my mother believed that every person not only has needs but
also skills and capacities. She saw
development as a bottom-up process of empowering people. Investing in human and social capital was,
for her, the cornerstone of sustainable development.
My mother became first lady
with a strong commitment to and
background in understanding and
promoting social change. She did
not aspire to this position. But
she used it to promote a paradigm
shift in social policies. She broke
the pattern of treating poor people
as passive beneficiaries of top-down policies. She formed the first-ever partnerships
between the state, civil society and the private sector
to expand and improve social policy. She reframed
the traditional role of first lady and the symbolic
representation of the role of women in Brazil.
Ruth always acted in accordance with her belief in
freedom. She lived by her ideals—both as a private individual and a public intellectual—arguing for her
ideas but never seeking to impose them. My own professional trajectory as an educator and advocate for
improving access to education is steeped in what I
have learned from my life experience.
Legacies of My Mother
By Beatriz Cardoso
Ruth Cardoso, then-first lady of Brazil, with
Kuikuro tribe members
from the Upper Xingu
valley of Mato Grosso state,
November 19, 2001 (above).
Beatriz Cardoso (right)
with her mother, Ruth (left).
Brazil has changed a lot, and for the better, since
the restoration of democracy. But we are still confronted with huge challenges, such as drastically reducing violence and inequality in our society, and
ensuring quality education for all. I like to believe
that Brazil’s commitment to those challenges and
its understanding of how to achieve them reflect my
Beatriz Cardoso is executive director of
Centro de Educação e Documentação para
Ação Comunitária (CEDAC) in Brazil.
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012