Last week it happened again.
Another fancy customer at the dry cleaners where she works doing alterations brought in some pants to be hemmed.
Working quietly in the background, Dirce da Silva did her duty. Even more quietly, though, she noticed the $2,200 price tag from the Escada designer pants and once again dreamed of showing off her talent.
“I can make pants just like that,” said the seamstress, unable to hide her pride. “But here all I do is repair clothes. So many I see, I feel like saying to my boss: ‘I can make all these clothes, even much better,’ but I have no contact with the clients. And I don’t talk much with the owner either.”
Back home Dirce, 46, was quite the seamstress. In her small town of Mantena, state of Minas Gerais (not too far from Governador Valadares, where most of Metrowest Brazilian immigrants hail from), she was the name everyone knew when it came to elegant weddings. She made many brides’ gowns, but beyond that, she was in charge of the looks of the whole family entourage at those fancy moments.
“I think I have made some 40 to 50 brides’ gowns,” said Dirce, who started sewing at age 13. “But what I did the most, all the time, were the clothes for everyone else in the family, at these weddings. I made all the dresses for the bridesmaids, the mother of the bride, the mother of the groom, many siblings and the witnesses, that we call the ‘madrinhas’ and ‘padrinhos.’ We had all different colors and the most difficult thing was to hide the clothes. Nobody wanted anyone to see his or her outfit before the wedding day.”
Dirce has even made some men’s suits, she said. But those were not her favorites. She loved the variety of the dresses with glorious fabrics she had to go buy out of town.
“I went to Valadares to buy some of the materials, but many times I had to go all the way to Sao Paulo,” she said.
Because many of the fabric stores in Brazil have in-store stylists, Dirce started a collection of drawings of dresses that she would play with, mixing and matching some of the details. She also created some of her own, because of the way some of her customers insisted.
Since she got to this country, though, Dirce has been away from any of the requests. But that is too bad, because she has found here some of the very materials she used to pay a premium for.
“Some of those fabrics that cost 50 to 70 dollars per meter there I have seen for about 19 dollars per yard here,” she said.
No need for those right now. Here she must work long hours, side by side with two Hispanic women, to make sure nice store bought clothes fit customers just so. But she seemed thrilled for a chance to tell the story of the days when she was recognized for her sewing talent and bold creativity.
“Back home I had my own sewing studio and while I worked awfully hard, I did well,” said Dirce. “I always had a new car, I liked to do that every year. But when I started hearing people talk about the money they made here and converted dollars into ‘reais,’ I thought that maybe I could work a little less and still make some money.” So she decided to give the adventure a try and traveled north with her teenage son.
She first went to Florida and she liked it there, but missed public transportation.
“I got a license, but I got afraid to drive,” she said. “It was all so busy.”
She then came to Massachusetts to join her older son.
“I really like it here,” she said. “When I first arrived in April, I had a feeling I had already lived here. And I got lucky because only five days after I arrived I got a job.”
Unfortunately, the pay has been very little.
“I had thought I could make at least some $10 per hour,” said Dirce.
Unfortunately, a change seems difficult to foresee. Speaking hardly any English and working in the background, Dirce wonders if she will ever have an opportunity to sew the way she did in Brazil.
“I haven’t had much of a chance to dream,” she said, “but I would love to open my own business again. Can you imagine, if I could work with someone who could understand me and speak English? Right now I feel squelched, I’m not myself.
“When I learn English, I know I’ll grow wings!”
Este artigo foi originalmente publicado no Metrowest Daily News em dezembro de 2001.