Soledad Requena de Spyer was 21 years old when she left her native Peru in search of a new life in Brazil. She met and married a Brazilian and moved to Mina Gerais where she had her first child before finishing her social service degree at the Triangulo Integrated College - Uberlândia Federal University.
In the late 1980s, in Minas Gerais, Soledad was an immigrant, a young mother and a student. On the street, they asked if she was the child’s nanny. In the shops, they asked if she was Japanese. At her own front door, they asked if she was the maid and if she was from the impoverished Nordeste region.
With a calm voice and a lot of patience, she explained that she was an immigrant, the mother of the child and that she owned her own home. She felt as though she wasn't accepted in the community where she lived. And often, not even by her college classmates or professors, even though she was one of the first in her class. She graduated, had another child, separated from her husband and completed a master’s degree. But for many years, she was still the nanny, the maid, the Japanese girl, the girl from Nordeste. She was considered an outsider; few people knew her story or cared to find out. She lived like that for many years.
My job is to defend the rights of immigrant women involved in sewing.
Over time, as an immigrant, she overcame discrimination, she overcame fear. She did not give in to her setbacks. With enviable dedication, she wrote her own success story.
Today at the age of 60, with the same quiet voice and the same patience as when she was a student, Soledad dedicates life to helping immigrant workers. She coordinates roundtable discussions for garment workers for the NGO CAMI (Center for Migrant Support and Pastoral Care).
With the tranquility that came in the past from her immigrant origins, today she is dedicated to the mission she chose as a way of life: “My job is to defend the rights of immigrant women involved in sewing.”
She visits workshops, offering classes in Portuguese, workshops cutting and sewing and entrepreneurship. “By accessing information on their rights, learning Portuguese, tackling entrepreneurship, they take their first steps towards eliminating slave labor, domestic violence, and exploitative business practices,” explains Soledad. “Through the discussions, women find the strength they need to overcome their challenges.”
Soledad believes that finding collective solutions and seeking collective empowerment and learning is what has already given hundreds of women access to new possibilities to build a new life. “Many have come from situations of extreme vulnerability, from slave labor, and today they have their own workshops. We’re on the right track.”