A Psychosocial Perspective of Guyana

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Guyana at the Millennium Crossroads: A Psychosocial Perspective by Malcolm W Heydorn

While researching for my novel set in Guyana during the period 1950-1970, I found the book, Guyana at the Millennium Crossroads: A Psychosocial Perspective by Malcolm W. Heydorn. More of a booklet in size and length, its layman language makes it an ideal social studies text book for Guyanese high school students.

Malcolm Heydorn’s book remains very relevant to Guyana today. As a Professor of Psychology and Gerontology in Ontario, Canada, the Guyana-born author shares his insights about the possible psychosocial bases for Guyana’s highly charged political and social circumstance. He calls attention to the urgency to change perspective for the overall social, economic, and political advancement of the nation (Preface, pp 6-7).

Applying analytical tools of a social scientist, Professor Heydorn examines the colonial past of Guyana’s five ethnic groups: Negro (used in a historical context), Indian, Portuguese, Chinese, and Amerindian (indigenous population). While he provides succinct snapshots of each ethnic group, I detect some bias when he notes that the Portuguese brought to the colony skills and invaluable experience in agriculture and other areas. The African slaves and Indian and Chinese indentured laborers receive no such recognition.

Over two hundred years of slavery plus four years of apprenticeship (1633-1838) and decades of indentureship (1838-1917) – with deliberate manipulation by the colonizers – led to ingrained ethnic stereotypes and prejudices. After defining the concepts of attitudes, stereotypes, and social prejudices, Professor Heydorn applies these concepts to the unfolding of Guyana’s brand of prejudice (Chapter 9). His uncensored presentation of the stereotypical disparaging attitudes towards each ethnic group may be offensive to some readers. As he demonstrates, these skewed perceptions of the other contrast greatly with the image individuals of a given ethnicity have of themselves.

Based on his psychosocial observation that Guyana’s ethnic populations have failed to reconcile their prejudicial postures over the last one and a half centuries (p. 78), Professor Heydorn presents his diagnosis. The Guyanese people suffers from “An absence of National Identity,” resulting in the country’s manifestation of social malaise and total disjointedness (pp 80-81). Dismantling this destructive system would be a formidable task requiring the involvement of all citizens. He proposes that leadership should come from the majority Indian population.

Treatment for healing the nation would require tenacity of purpose, the practice of civility, the capacity for tolerance, the rule of law, and the skillful application of the principles of attitude change (p. 87). The social scientist’s prognosis for failure to follow the prescribed treatment is grim. He warns that [u]nless Guyanese are prepared to emphasize the importance of these asset areas in their daily lives, Guyana is doomed to a replay of it’s turbulent past and present…, and would have only itself to blame. Worse still, it can become a nation divided in all respects, a fragmented territory (or territories), with no hope for a National Identity (p.94).

Can the ruling Indian party afford to ignore the possible prognosis for continued inaction in tackling the malady infecting the nation?

Violence in Brazil

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Manifestation against Violence in Fortaleza - Ceara - BrazilManifestation against Violence in Fortaleza – Ceará – Brazil
“Enough! We want to Live Fortaleza!”
Photo Credit: Tribuna do Ceará

 

In Mexico’s NGO Citizen Council for Public Security & Criminal Justice yearly list of the fifty most violent cities around the world, sixteen Brazilian cities feature among the Top 50 for 2013. Six of them, located in Northeast Brazil, rank among the top fifteen.

Fortaleza, capital of Ceará, ranked seventh worldwide – the city placed thirteenth in 2012 – and second in Brazil, after Maceió (Alagoas). With the expansion of drug trafficking, Fortaleza has become increasingly more violent over the years since I lived there. Nowadays, my best friend in Fortaleza suffers from panic attacks whenever she has to walk the streets. Another friend reports that home invaders have become more brazen.

Data released for Fortaleza by the Secretariat of Public Security & Social Defense of Ceará (SSPDS-CE) reveal that during the period from January 1 to March 19, 2014, there were 766 homicides. These included 433 deaths from gunshot wounds, 14 knifed to death, and 3 bludgeoned. The cause of death of the remaining 316 corpses is unknown. That’s an average of 9.8 persons murdered every day in Fortaleza.

When attending the games in Fortaleza during the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, soccer fans should be on the alert.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon in an upscale neighborhood in the city, my two sons and I set out on a fifteen-minute walk to the shopping mall on Avenida Dom Luís. When we crossed the intersection with Avenida Senador Virgílio Távora, we observed a street gang, two blocks away, approaching on the other side of Avenida Dom Luís.

Intersection of Av Dom Luis with Av Senador Virgilio Tavora - Fortaleza - BrazilIntersection of Avenida Dom Luís with Avenida Senador Virgílio Távora
Fortaleza – Brazil
Source: skyscrapercity.com

“The convenience store,” my older son said. He and his brother sprinted across the street ahead of oncoming traffic towards the gas station.

Impeded by the traffic, I waited on the median divider island. The gang was now half-a-block away. A voice shouted from behind me. Looking around, I saw a security guard standing outside an office building. He beckoned to me.

“Stand behind me,” the security guard said when I joined him. He fingered the gun at his hip.

I remained calm. My sons had reached safety. I prepared myself for the inevitable. As the gang came closer, I estimated that they were about fifty of them: male and female, ranging in ages from eight to eighteen.

Then a miracle happened.

Two police cars arrived on the scene. Loud confusion ensued. The policemen ordered the children and adolescents to prostrate on the sidewalk with their hands on their heads.

With the gang under police control, my sons joined me. “Lots of wallets and watches are in the drain,” they reported.

“Getting rid of evidence,” the guard said.

After thanking the guard for coming to my rescue, my sons and I returned home. There could be more trouble up ahead.

Fortaleza, like most of Brazil’s major cities, is a world of contrasts between the rich and destitute. Extreme inequality breeds crime and violence. The corpses tell the tale.

 

“Learn to Live” – Poem by Brazilian Poet Cora Coralina

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House of Cora Coralina - Goias Velho - State of Goias - BrazilHome-turned-Museum of Cora Coralina
Goiás Velho – State of Goiás – Brazil
Photo Credit: Cemeb Coral Coralina

HAPPY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH 2014

In my Poetry Corner April 2014, I feature the poem “Saber Viver” (Learn to Live) by one of Brazil’s great twentieth-century poets, known by her pen-name, Cora Coralina (1889-1985).

Baptized Ana Lins dos Guimarães Peixoto, the poet adopted the name at fifteen years old when she began writing her first poems. It was her way of hiding her identity. In those days, “proper young ladies” did not waste time writing. Cora comes from coração (heart) and Coralina from the red coralline algae: red heart.

Born in the small town of Goiás Velho, then the capital of the State of Goiás, Cora Coralina knew from an early age that she was a poet. But, given the times, she lived more of a domestic than intellectual life. At the age of twenty-one, she deferred her poetic aspirations to move to the State of São Paulo with her husband and to raise a family. Though facing a harsh and busy domestic life, she found time to write.

I’m that woman who climbed the mountain of life,
removing stones and planting flowers.

In her late sixties, twenty years after her husband’s death, she returned alone to her family’s home in Goiás Velho to begin a new life as a poet. She supported herself by selling her homemade sweets.

Recreate your life, always, always.
Remove the stones, plant rose bushes and make sweets.
Begin again.

When she published her first collection of poems, Cora Coralina was seventy-five.

True courage is to go after your dreams
even when everyone says it’s impossible.

Concerned about understanding her world and her role in it, Cora wrote about the simple things of everyday life. The context and lyricism of her poetry overshadowed her poor grammar.

Knowledge we learn with the masters and books.
Wisdom we learn with life and the lowly.

Brought to national attention by Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987), Brazil’s most influential poet, Cora’s work was well received by literary critics and poetry lovers. Following her third publication, Vintém de Cobre – Meias Confissões de Aninha (Copper Coin – My Confessions of Annie) in 1983, Carlos Drummond praised her collection in a letter to her (excerpt translated by yours truly):

My dear friend Cora Coralina: Your “Vintém de Cobre” (Copper Coin) is, for me, a gold coin, and of a gold that doesn’t suffer from market fluctuations. It’s the most direct and communicative poetry that I’ve ever read and loved. What wealth of human experience, what special sensitivity and what lyricism identified with the sources of life!

Cora Coralina died on April 10, 1985 at ninety-five years old.

You can read Cora Coralina’s poem, “Saber Viver” (Learn to Live) in its original Portuguese and English versions at my Writer’s Website.

 

Note: Quotations and excerpts of poems by Cora Coralina (translated by yours truly) were found at kdfrases.com.

Feeling Sick at Work: Unexpected Kindness

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Woman with Migraine HeadacheWoman with Migraine Headache
Photo Credit: Science Daily

 

The female worker was definitely not feeling well. She writhed in the chair placed on the sidewalk outside my local grocery store. A co-worker stood beside her. About half an hour later, on leaving the grocery store, I encountered a commotion outside. A fire brigade and ambulance had arrived. I watched the paramedics lift the stretcher with the woman into the ambulance. Did her family know that she was on her way to a hospital, I wondered.

It’s no fun getting sick at work, especially if you live a long way from home and use public transport, as was my case when I worked at a large retail store in West Hollywood. The journey took over an hour and half, using three buses.

One hot summer’s day with a malfunctioning air-condition system, I suffocated with the heightened fragrances of scented candles in my work area. By mid-morning, my head pounded. By lunch-break, a debilitating migraine struck. In the lunch-room, I slumped over my lunch, sickened by the assault of aromas and sounds. I couldn’t eat. The pain-killer I had taken earlier proved ineffective. Nausea kicked in. In the back of the lunch-room, I made a makeshift bed with three plastic chairs and lay down.

Staff members entered, had their lunch, and left. A few people inquired about my condition. Assured that I wasn’t at death’s door, they returned to work. My lunch-hour ended with no relief. Through a co-worker, I advised my supervisor that I felt too sick to return to the sales floor.

I had to get home. A taxi was out of the question. That could cost an entire week’s wages. My sons couldn’t help. At the time, we had no vehicle. I had to make it to the bus stop.

A woman – the only female staff member who wore ankle-length skirts to work – asked if I needed anything. Owing to different time schedules and work areas, we had never before spoken to each other. When I told her about my predicament, she offered to take me home.

I made it down the elevator to the parking lot. As I sat down in the front seat, a wave of nausea struck me. Removing her purchases from a plastic shopping bag, she gave me the bag. I felt better after emptying my stomach. What an embarrassment!

My rescuer chatted with me on the drive to my residence. Her name was Janice. She was an Orthodox Jew, married with three children. She shared a little about her life as a Jewish-American woman. This personal contact with someone of the Jewish faith was a new experience for me.

After that day, Janice and I were no longer strangers. A month later, she left the store on medical leave. I requested a transfer to a store closer to home. We never met again.

Sometimes, help comes from people we least expect to reach out to us, bridging the divide between us.

Part Three: The Legacy of Walter Rodney

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Walter A Rodney - A Promise of Revolution - Edited by Clairmont ChungWalter Rodney (1942-1980)
Photo Credit: Monthly Review Press

Walter Rodney was born on March 23, 1942 into a working-class family in what was then known as British Guiana. His father was a tailor and his mother a housewife and seamstress: descendants of African slaves brought to the colony (1633-1834).

Rodney grew up at a time when the major ethnic groups, the Africans and Indians – descendants of indentured laborers from India (1838-1917) – were united in their struggle for self-rule. Formed in 1950 during the Cold War (1947-1991), the colony’s Socialist People’s Progressive Party raised concern in Washington DC, USA. In response, Britain suspended the Constitution of British Guiana in 1953, setting into motion events that racially divided the population.

The workers’ united front for self-rule left its mark on the young Rodney. With his father involved in the formation of the party, he helped with door-to-door distribution of party manifestos. He attended political meetings with his mother. Recalling those days, he said:

With all the vicissitudes of racial struggle that went on in Guyana, I have seen what my parents did and I have seen what other people’s parents did, and what people we call ‘neighbor’ and ‘cousin’ also did. They were not political ideologues, but ordinary people taking their destiny into their own hands. (1)

The young Rodney’s success at winning an open exhibition scholarship to Queen’s College, the country’s most prestigious secondary school for boys, exposed him to another world. His history professor, Robert Moore, has this to say about the young Rodney:

By the time I encountered Walter in the classroom, in the Upper Fourth Classic, he had clearly enhanced his gift of leadership. His peers enjoyed his self-confidence, which did not come with arrogance. They bonded with his sense of humor. They were impressed by how much reading he had done and how much of it he could quote from memory. On top of all that, his teachers were clearly taken with his writing: lucid, concise, questioning, and flavored with the Rodney wit. (2)

Rodney’s academic success took him beyond Guyana’s shores: Jamaica, London, Tanzania, and the United States. Yet he never forgot his working-class roots or lost his accessibility towards others. Rupert Roopnaraine, one of the founding leaders of Guyana’s Working People’s Alliance writes:

He is one of those people who can appeal instantly to people. There are people in life you meet for the first time and you feel you have known them for a long time. He was one of those human beings who had a very instinctive contact with persons in all walks of life. Walter can have that impression on prime ministers and bauxite workers as well. There was no difficulty on his part. He had a biology completely open to persons, which, of course, was part of his undoing. (2)

Unwittingly, Rodney welcomed his assassin as a brother. Rodney’s attempt to mend Guyana’s racial divide and challenge the dictatorship government cost him his life. He left us his life’s work and his writings.

With unfettered global capitalism leading the human species towards self-destruction, the time has come for us to re-examine his writings on scientific socialism.

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(1)  Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual, Africa World Press, Inc., USA, 1990.

(2)  Clairmont Chung Editor, Walter A. Rodney: A Promise of Revolution, Monthly Review Press, USA, 2012.

Your US-Brazil Trade Assist: Website Update 2014

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USA Trade with Brazil 2005-2013USA Trade with Brazil 2005-2013
Data Source: US Census Bureau March 2014
Rosaliene Bacchus – Your USBrazil Trade Assist

 

I would like to thank the 126,576 visitors to Your USBrazil Trade Assist website in 2013, an average of over ten thousand monthly. In keeping with my commitment to all the students, international trade professionals, small- to medium-size importers and exporters, and others users, I have completed my yearly update of links, data, and charts.

The charts, listed below, have been updated based on preliminary data for 2013 provided by the US Census Bureau and Brazil’s Ministry of Development, Industry & Foreign Trade (MDIC).

Doing Business with Brazil

  • Brazil Exports 2009-2013
  • Brazil Imports 2009-2013
  • Brazil Imports by End-Use Category 2013
  • Brazil Exports by Region (Trading Partners) 2013
  • Brazil Imports by Region (Trading Partners) 2013
  • USA Trade with Brazil 2005-2013

Doing Business with the United States

  • US Exports of Goods & Services 2009-2013
  • US Imports of Goods & Services 2009-2013
  • US Imports of Goods by End-Use Category 2011-2013
  • US Exports of Goods by End-Use Category 2011-2013

Regional Trade Blocks, Tariffs & Trade Barriers

Links and data for trade blocks updated.

  • Another South American regional trade block added: ALBA-TCP (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty

THANK YOU for making Your USBrazil Trade Assist your go-to resource for trade blocks and doing business with Brazil.

The Instigator, Seductress & Vampire: Competition among Women in the Brazilian Workplace

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Competition among women in the workplaceCompetition among Women in the Workplace
Photo Credit: CulturaMix.com

With rapid growth at the leather company, the challenges soared. More work. More staff. More intrigues. More stress. Wherever women gather, troubles follow. Envy, jealousy, and power become our deadliest enemies.

The Instigator was the Brazilian wife of one of the Italian supervisors in the tannery. She joined the Cut-and-Sew Factory in a supervisory position for which she was ill-prepared. With her incompetence unmasked, she used her Italian connection to belittle the factory staff and instigate conflicts among the female sewers. Tempers flared.

Complaints from our clients placed me in a conflict situation with the Instigator’s husband. In defense of her man, she added me to her Enemy List. When the company let her go, peace returned to the Cut-and-Sew Factory.

The Seductress used different tactics to get her way. A single woman in her late twenties, she held a business administrative degree from her home state. Like all out-of-state staff members, she lived in the nearby township of Cascavel. Her sexual encounters became the talk of the small coastal town. Monday mornings began with the circulation of her weekend escapades. The young, local, female staff relished recounting the spicy details.

The Seductress reveled in her conquests and fame. “I have them in the palm of my hands,” she declared one day, smacking her palm. ‘Them’ referred to our company directors.

Instead of focusing on her work, she roamed porn sites, read her fan mail, and flirted with men on the phone. Assured of her privileged status, we were shocked the day she was fired.

When I was appointed manager of the export department and began training my team, the Vampire – a local, young mother in an unstable marriage – became my Achilles heel. She sucked my energies with her jealousy of new team members, especially those with English language skills. Thwarting my attempts to have her train newcomers to use the company’s operating system, she sabotaged their work forcing me to seek help from the technical staff.

To complicate matters, the Vampire started a clandestine liaison with an Italian director. Nothing is secret in a small town. Her affair triggered a chain of intrigues and alliances among the staff within and outside of our department.

She had demonstrated great potential for growth as an import-export professional. With advance technical training and fluency in English, she could one day become the company’s export manager. I had erred in keeping her on the team. Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. Hopefully in time, she would see her folly.

In a small town like Cascavel where jobs are scarce, competition becomes fierce. Women like the Instigator, Seductress, and Vampire transform the workplace into a battlefield. One always has to be a step ahead of the enemy. Always alert. I had to be tough to survive. That I succeeded in meeting our shipment deadlines and attending to the needs of our clients to their satisfaction was no easy accomplishment.

“Wobbly Baskets” – Poem by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor

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Market Vendor - Painting by Guyana-born Artist Joan Bryan-Muss

Market Vendor – Georgetown – Guyana
Painting by Guyana-born Artist Joan Bryan-Muss

 

On March 8, 2014, we commemorated International Women’s Day. In my Poetry Corner this month, as a tribute to working mothers, I feature the poem “Wobbly Baskets” by Trinidad-born poet Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. Leaving her family behind, she left Trinidad at thirteen years old to live with her mother’s sister in Queens, New York. Eleven months later, her mother and brother joined her.

“Wobbly Baskets” captures well the plight of far too many working class women in Guyana and the Caribbean. She describes women who sell all kinds of food in the marketplace, straighten hair, wash clothes, and sew. Some go overseas to work and provide a better life for the children they leave behind. Focusing all of their energies on providing for their family, they give no thought to realizing their own dreams.

My mother was such a woman. She worked at home as a seamstress. Sometimes toiling day and night, with little or no sleep, she raised the school fees needed to send me and my four siblings to high school. Those were the days before the Guyana government had made education free from nursery to university.

My Haiku poem “Fractured” was not directly inspired by Boyce-Taylor’s poem but by the comments she made in an interview with Ana-Maurine Lara in March 2007:

[A] lot of my work has a big migration theme in it, because that was a time when I felt most fractured. Because migration is fracturing, and so I guess up until my last book, I was still working on that fracturing.

Read “Wobbly Baskets” and learn more about Cheryl Boyce-Taylor’s work at my Poetry Corner March 2014.

 

Part Two: The Legacy of Walter Rodney

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Walter Rodney Speaks - The Making of an African Intellectual - Africa World Press - USA - 1990Walter Rodney (1942-1980)
Photo Credit: Africa World Press

Walter Rodney – historian, Pan-Africanist, social critic, and political theorist – was actively involved in the struggle for freedom of black and progressive peoples worldwide. During the mid-1970s, when blacks debated the relationship between race and class, Walter Rodney observed:

The debate which is going on is the reflection of a profound deep-seated crisis in the capitalist and imperialist system. The fact that this debate simultaneously proceeds within the United States, within circles in Africa, Asia and Latin America, [and] within broad communities of students and intellectuals in Europe…indicates the universalization of a particular ideological debate at this time, and it is a reflection of the real crisis in capitalism and imperialism.

The above and following quotes come from Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual, published in 1990. This work represents transcripts of conversations between the Institute of the Black World (IBW) and Rodney during a two-day period, April-May 1975, in Amherst, Massachusetts. The sessions aimed not only to probe the historical contradictions in black struggles and in Black America, but also to review Rodney’s own intellectual and political development.

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[Caribbean] people have been operating within the aegis of capitalism for five hundred years, which is longer than the working class in the United States. We have been confronting capital, firstly on the slave plantation, and then subsequently on that same plantation after slavery. It is not quite the same as a European capitalist framework, but the conditions of work are in effect capitalist and class alienating – that’s the important thing. The consciousness which springs from this is quite obviously a class consciousness and has been there for many decades and comes out sporadically in various kinds of revolts…  It didn’t take the working class a long time to understand…that neo-colonialism hasn’t meant any real change in their lives.

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[I]n Guyana there has been the problem that historically the working class has always been divided mainly because of the manipulation of the planter class. The Indians were introduced into the society specifically to counter and break the development of the black working-class movement that arose in opposition to conditions after the end of slavery. So it is not simply as though Africans and Indians co-existed without any relation one to the other. Economic competition between Africans and Indians was deliberately created within the construct of the old capitalist order.

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What do we do with the large number of unemployed? Thirty-three percent of [the Caribbean] population is unemployed. Do we call them “lumpen proletariat” and with all that that implies – that they’re outside the working class, that they are even in some ways anti-social – or should we understand that this is a fundamental part of the development of capitalism in our society? It is part of the thrust of capitalism to keep our working people from even having the right to work.

——————–

In Guyana, racial politics persist. CARICOM is dead. Black America faces mass incarceration. Global inequality is entrenched. Social turmoil grows worldwide. Emancipation remains illusive.

Was I Worthy of Marriage?

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Battle for Same-Sex Marriage in the USA - February 2014Battle for Same-Sex Marriage in the USA – February 2014
Photo Credit: CBC News (Steve Helber/The Associated Press)

 

Since migrating to the United States, I have witnessed the redefinition of marriage from the union of one man and one woman to include same-sex couples. It was a victory for my gay brothers and lesbian sisters. But the battle is far from over. Of the fifty states of our Republic, only seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages. (Learn more at the National Conference of State Legislatures website.)

In his letter of 19 February 2014, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, expressed support for the federal Marriage Protection Amendment introduced by Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas in the House of Representatives. “The amendment would secure in law throughout the country the basic truth known to reason that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” wrote the Archbishop.

The Archbishop, in his letter of 28 February 2014, further endorsed the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 introduced in the Senate by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. The Archbishop noted: “Marriage needs to be preserved and strengthened, not redefined. Every just effort to stand for the unique meaning of marriage is worthy of support.”

The institution of marriage has evolved over the ages in keeping with the progress of humanity. In the early years of my parents’ marriage, the 1950s and 1960s, divorce was not an option. Marriage is a contract unbreakable only in death of a spouse. For over twenty years, until my siblings and I were old enough to take care of ourselves, my mother endured the verbal abuse and violence. By then, divorce had lost its social stigma.

The women’s liberation movement in the 1970s brought relief from subjugation. Women gained equal status with their marital partners. A senior high school student at the time, I decided not to marry and have children. I was not going to bring children into this world to suffer domestic abuse as I did as a child.

When the time came to reconsider marriage, I determined that I would not repeat my parents’ mistakes. My marriage would be based on love and mutual respect. Ten years later when my marriage crumbled in Brazil, I had to confront the specter of divorce. Laws designed to define and protect our rights under the marital contract turned me into a loser and a sinner. Reconciliation with my God took years.

Same-sex marriages did not destroy my parents’ marriage or my marriage. Long before same-sex couples clamored for equal rights under the law, the institution of marriage has failed to meet our needs as couples and parents. A Pew Research in 2010 revealed that 72 percent of all adults in the United States were married in 1960. This number fell to 52 percent in 2008.

Who am I to judge if my gay brothers and lesbian sisters are worthy to be joined in same-sex marriages? My marriage ended in divorce. Was I worthy of marriage?

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