When I was four years old my family came to Rio from Salvador. My family is a mix of São Luis do Maranhão from my mother’s side, and Salvador, Bahia from my father’s side. My grandmother worked cleaning in a private school in the zona sul and we had a small house in a neighborhood in the north; from there she bought a small piece of land here in Maré, in Nova Holanda. My father never came here inside the favela and my mother was a passista in a samba school, her head was always in another world between Serrano and Mangueira. My grandmother was my father and my mother; she was the man of the house. I was raised by my grandmother and I’m very proud of that.
It was 1968 when we got here to Nova Holanda and back then there wasn’t a third of what there is today. It was all shacks on stilts surrounded by water and mud; there weren’t any markets or stores, there wasn’t basic sanitation. When you left your house you had to use plastic bags on your feet until you reached the main avenue because the ground was pure mud. We endured a lot of difficulties but we were happy. You could sleep in the middle of the street or on the sidewalk; people got together and had parties; the children spent the entire night playing.
And so I’ll say to you, Nova Holanda had its moments of difficulty, as all communities do, but the people here during those years, we were united. If your house didn’t have electricity and mine did, I would fix a wire for you so that you could have electricity too. If you didn’t have running water in your house and I had it in mine, we would install a pipe and see what we could do from there. If you didn’t have food, I’d invite you over and give you a plate of mine. One would fight for the other and that’s how Nova Holanda grew. Nowadays you don’t have that; if someone does you a favor they’re going to charge you in some way.
During the 1970s and 1980s we began to modernize. There were supermarket chains and pharmacies that entered and we got electricity and running water. But with it came its difficulties: more cars in the street, less freedom to come and go, more shootings, more violence. I never wanted to involve myself with any of that – I never wanted to smoke marijuana, never wanted to snort cocaine, never wanted to steal from anyone – because I knew that in the end I was going to make someone else suffer the consequences. I knew that they weren’t going to fall on my shoulders but on those of the people who had put their trust in me, in my case my grandmother. I could never embarrass her or deceive her. So I made sure to always be that person who went out to work; I worked in various places, delivering tables and other jobs, now doing tatoos, because I knew that I had to help my grandmother at home. She left this earth recently, but thanks to God she never had to say, “my grandson is in prison, my grandson is on the corner with a weapon.” The only weapon that I carry is the pistol I have for doing tattoos in my backpack.
Later on in my life I began thinking that I couldn’t be just another Bahian here in Rio. I said to myself: “I’ve gone to Rio and become a vagabundo.” I had to prove who I was and why I was here, so during that period I entered university to study law. I did tatoos here and there, I worked here and there to pay my tuition. Everyone had a problem because I was black, poor, and favelado, and they said that because of that I couldn’t be a lawyer: “someone who’s black, poor, and favelado is going to university for what?” The challenge incentivized me more. I had to show those people that I had the capacity to graduate.
And I entered university in order to please my father, who has a lot of prejudice, who always thought that someone who was black and favelado was marginal. He’s a lawyer, I have a sister who’s also a lawyer, I have a brother who’s a professor of mathematics – and during my life my father always said, “Marcos, you live in the favela.” That’s why I made a point to do the same thing that my siblings did. I wanted to be equal, I wanted my father to be proud of me. That’s why I battled so hard, did a thousand things in this life, because I had to show him that someone who’s poor, black, and favelado has the right to dream, the right to achieve his goals.
My father separated from my mom, he abandoned me when I was young. During that period of abandonment I looked for him and my world closed. People would say to me, “you don’t have a father,” and it was painful. Every Father’s Day I had to sit in school and do drawings for him – but where was he? That was my great trauma, not having had a father to be able to say to him, “I love you.” But at the same time, I realized that my father was what he was. When I saw him, I saw that he only thought of his own status. So once I graduated I went to see my dad with my diploma, and I said: “here, take this. Are you satisfied?” He sat there looking at me, embarrassed, and then he said: “You did it, my son.” And I said: “Now that you’re satisfied, I’m going to live my life the way I always wanted.”
The fact is that I never wanted to participate in that lifestyle that he had, being a lawyer, because there’s a lot of hypocrisy there. A criminal lawyer doesn’t have the right to have his own life; he always has to be looking out on all sides, and I like to go around without having to worry. I chose to be one thing, and I studied to be another thing. And so today I’m a trained lawyer, I’m a tattoo artist, and at night I work security in a samba school, Acadêmicos do Salgueiro. There are some weeks at the samba school where we have events on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights, and I’ll spend the whole night awake and in the morning I’ll be out doing tattoos. It’s tiring but it’s fine – that’s my life, a life of work and of searching for something better.
Every day I wake up and I say, “Father, thank you for one more day because if I want to succeed, I can and I will.” A person who believes in himself never has difficulties he can’t overcome. If you keep saying, “I don’t want this anymore,” then you’ll go backwards. If you persevere, if you see the difficulties but continue fighting, there’s a correct and dignified way that you’ll achieve your goals. Your desire is your power. Keep moving forward, don’t turn your back to anything or anybody, and remember: below God, the one who controls your life is you. That’s why I wake up every morning and say: “thank you my father, because today is a day of victory.”
For the future, I hope for that which all of us hope: the best for our children. I have three children: a son who works in Bonsucesso, a daughter who studies at university, and now I have a son who’s two years old. I want the best for him and today I work for that. I work during the day and I work at night so that tomorrow my son has a better life – so that he doesn’t need to wake up at dawn to work, so that he doesn’t have to sweat the way I’ve sweat and go through what I’ve gone through. And what I hope in my life is that one day he can sit down and say: “thank you Dad, because with your help I managed to get to where I am today.”