Anna & Gracinda

Parades da Vitória , February 2023

'I thought she was going to be older!'says Gracinda to her granddaughter Anna, when I arrived at the house. In February I met Gracinda and Anna in Paredes da Vitória, Portugal, the village where Gracinda used to live before moving into a retirement home. It is an old fishing village sandwiched between two hills, reaching out towards the sea. The landscape on the way from Nazaré is lunar. Anna's mother tells me that a massive fire destroyed the entire forest about 8 years ago. Invasive plants have since taken over, preventing the tall pines that once enriched the region from growing back. 

Few people live year-round in this village. From the large terrace of the house, we have a view of a large part of the village. The new constructions are recognizable from the older houses. There are houses attached to each other looking like stairs, with the same square shape and salmon pink colour. On the right, there are fields, strawberry crops, Anna tells me. For our exchange, we settle into wicker armchairs in the winter garden. At 33 (age of her granddaughter today), Gracinda was already living in France. She was an immigrant in France. "I suffered a lot. To start life, I was forced to hang on{...} We were badly seen on both sides, by the French and by the Portuguese".


Gracinda was born in 1934 in Batalha, a small town about 30 kilometres from Nazaré, into a farmer's family. Gracinda left school at the age of 12. Already at that age, she was doing chores on the farm and around the house. The list of chores her mother prepared for her and her four sisters included finding wood for the fire, finding acorns to feed to the pigs, cutting herbs and olives and much more. Later, when she married, her situation did not change much. "We were living in the Middle Ages at that time compared to what I see today. We lived in a dictatorship, we couldn't talk, we couldn't talk about the situation in the country. It was a closed country. With the men, it was the same thing. They were a dictatorship towards women.” From 1933 until 1974, Portugal was ruled by a dictatorship headed by António de Oliveira Salazar (until 1968). The dictatorship lasted until the Coup d'Etat and the Carnation Revolution (Revolução dos Cravos) of 25 April 1974. The coup marked the end of the far-right dictatorship in Portugal which lasted for over 40 years. It also brought an end to the colonisation of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau.

Gracinda's husband was a political activist. At home, in Portugal he listened to the radio clandestinely, read a lot and was aware of many things "Did you listen to the radio with him?"" I ask her? "No, he listened to the radio in secret from me, and sometimes even when I was there it was as if I wasn't there", "Did it scare you ?", asked her granddaughter Anna "No, I was unaware, I didn't realise it." Later, he made a name for himself in France and Portugal for his militant, associative and political actions. His bust was even exhibited in the Paris Immigration Museum and he was an association representative to European institutions. What Gracinda told us that day was not his militancy.  

Her husband left Portugal first to find work and settle in France. He had been warned that the police would come for him. Gracinda stayed in Portugal for two more years with their young children, the animals and the land to look after, "it was a slave life" , she exclaims. During this period she had lost a lot of weight, was tired and finally her husband decided to come and get her. When she arrived in France, Gracinda did not speak a word of French and had hardly left her native Portugal. She says it herself: “When I arrived in France I knew nothing, I don't hide it.” Gracinda immediately realised that to get by she had to learn the language. Her husband didn't want her to work, he wanted her to stay with the children and raise them. "He broke my legs", says Gracinda. 

During the interview, we hear fighter planes. There is a military base not far away. The planes fly low and make a very loud noise that requires us to interrupt the discussion for a while. They pass by so regularly that we finally ignore the noise of these long-billed planes and continue talking.

 "We had to go to Paris to get the papers done, to be legal. He put me on the train with him and I left my children alone in the little house,"continues Gracinda with emotion. I couldn't say anything, I followed him like a little dog. When the meeting was over, he went to work and told me: "You count the stations and get off at the eighth one. I panicked, like I don't know what! I'm a bit shy !,exclaimed Gracinda. When I got to the station I had counted, I went out the opposite door so I had to cross the tracks. The policemen saw me...!"she says and claps her hands as if she relived the scene. "I didn't want to give the papers because I didn't have the address where the children were, I had the other address where we had arrived at the very beginning. I thought I wouldn't see my children again. I was dead. In the panic, I don't know how I did it but I knew the address. And then the police let me go." Gracinda ends her story by saying: "Everyone should be an immigrant to understand the world, to understand other cultures, to understand other people, it's very, very important. You are always out of place, the place where you were born is always there, Gracinda says, holding her hand to her head to show her brain it does not disappear”. 

Gracinda didn't want to sit still, she told me, crossing her arms to make sure I understood what she meant. "I started to look for some housework, I started to work and earn a little bit on top, I was so happy.” At first, her husband didn't know she was working as he left at 7 am in the morning and came home at 6 pm. When he found out he didn't say anything, he just let it happen.  

Anna has just turned 33, "I feel happy, well surrounded, in a couple with someone who respects me, who encourages me and listens, a life partner. Unlike Grandma, I am with someone with whom I feel like a team. We are raising our daughter together. I have a job that takes up a lot of my time and makes me travel. Recently I was in Burundi and Haiti, one of the countries that has made the biggest impression on me! I have never experienced immigration, when I moved to another city it was by choice.” Anna says she has a peaceful life and still has many plans, but she knows that nothing is final. Anna's story ends quickly, but when it comes to the events that affected both women, Anna doesn't need to think for long: 

"Personally, it was the birth of my daughter that had the greatest impact on me. It changes everything to become a mother! It changes your way of thinking; you have a little person under your responsibility, you start to understand other things, for example how your own parents acted. You try to build differently.” On the political side recently another thing has deeply marked her. "In France they wanted to call into question abortion..." She turns to her grandmother to make sure she understands what she is talking about. "And yes, it did affect me because I personally experienced it,"Anna continues, "For me, it's a fundamental right. It's not that I want to get involved because I don't have the time or the energy, but in any case, it made me angry, it made me angry about the status of women and our rights today that we have acquired. Finally, the French Senate voted by a majority to include it in the French constitution in early 2023. I ask Anna if she is willing to tell her story. "It was a couple's decision after the first child. Not easy because I think it's always a difficult decision to make anyway, even if it is a bit more known now, at least for people who are, I think, open-minded. Before it happened to me, I thought it was something that was not completely harmless, but almost. In reality, it's clearly not the case, it's a hardship! Afterwards, I suppose, it depends on how each person experiences it. But for me in any case, it was complicated. The doctors, on the whole process, were fine. The treatment before was rather good and gentle. During the abortion, however, it was very medicalised, it was like line work. I didn't get any care afterwards, it was violent. I was in a lot of pain afterwards and I had to do it twice because the first time didn't work.” I ask her if she thinks that the fact that her partner was with her changed anything in the way the doctors treat her: "Ah yes, yes, yes. That he was there and came to all the meetings. Yes, clearly, yes," Anna replies quickly. "I'll always say I've had two pregnancies. That's how I accepted it, and at the same time I want to talk about it! It's true, it's a special act, it's not a trivial thing. But what is still missing today is a fully-fledged and truly dedicated care for this kind of act. Both to differentiate it from maternity, from something joyful, but at the same time to avoid an ultra protocol medicalised care, as if it were an illness, which can be traumatic for the woman."

For Gracinda it is difficult to define a significant event. She speaks more globally of the moment of women's liberation and the freedom to speak: "That was the moment when I made my husband understand that I had the right to speak." Anna, her granddaughter and I try to understand what moment she is referring to: the '68 demonstrations, the end of the Portuguese dictatorship, other things. We have been talking for an hour already, we can feel that Gracinda is getting tired and the questions get more difficult for her to answer. However, she tells us that her husband had changed a lot once the women had more freedom of speech. Earlier in the discussion, Gracinda mentioned her trip to Egypt. She does not name it as a significant event, but from her account it seems to have affected her a lot. "It was great to go there... to see the culture, the communication, the reactions.... I still have a movie in my brain from that trip."

We end our discussion on power. For Gracinda "power is to be in your place, because we didn't have a place before; now we have our place. I exist, I am someone, I am here.” For Anna, power symbolises independence and ability, but above all, the possibility to provide for oneself. "This is the education I received: to be a strong and free woman.”

It was interesting and cool to do that interview.", says Anna. Gracinda, repeats in a more uncertain voice: "It was cool„.
It was only after the death of her husband that Gracinda started to read but also to be more interested in current affairs and especially that she started to develop her own ideas! Today she feels out of step with the people in her retirement home, "They don't know what to say. Fortunately I left, I learned a lot of things, it was traumatic but a richness,"says Gracinda. Immigrating and travelling are both in the larger category of mobility. One brings all kinds of trauma, questioning and a lot of obstacles. Travel is for the person who doesn't care about anything, travel is for recharging, disconnecting and discovering new things. As Anna said, one is accepted by the receiver, because it is short-lived. The other is sometimes seen as something to be fought for to stop it. Gracinda, who was an immigrant in the 1950s, might be seen as an"expat"today.