When three attempts to gain a visa to the United States failed, Valtecir did not give up his dream. After 28 days traveling from Brazil through Mexico, he made it across the border. Unable to say more than “how are you?” and “goodbye,” he set out to learn enough English to work for non-Portuguese speaking contractors. For many years, employed by others, he honed his trade skills until Valtecir summoned once again his determined spirit to start his own company. After 6 years as an entrepreneur, he has grown Val’s Painting into a highly sought after supplier of services to commercial and residential clients. Valtecir and his expanding staff are licensed to remove asbestos and lead and are fully equipped with the most sophisticated and efficient tools of his profession to tackle any job including large scale wall covering installations. Still committed to perfecting his English, Val finds time to continue with English classes at the Gardner’s Adult Education program and is an active member of the GPA community.
When three attempts to gain a visa to the United States failed, Valtecir did not give up his dream. After 28 days traveling from Brazil through Mexico, he made it across the border. Unable to say more than “How are you?” and “Goodbye,” he set out to learn enough English to work for non-Portuguese speaking contractors. For many years, employed by others, he honed his trade skills until Valtecir summoned his determined spirit once again to start his own company. After 6 years as an entrepreneur, he has grown Val’s Painting into a highly sought-after supplier of services to commercial and residential clients. Valtecir and his expanding staff are licensed to remove asbestos and lead and are fully equipped with the most sophisticated and efficient tools of his profession to tackle any job including large-scale wall covering installations. Still committed to perfecting his English, Val finds time to continue with English classes at the Gardner’s Adult Education program and is an active member of the GPA community.
Getting to the U.S./02:21
Deborah: Welcome Valtecir. It’s great to have you here today. Everybody has a story. Tell me about yours a little bit.
Valtecir: First I’m gonna start. I grew up on a farm until I was 16. Then I went to a small town to work at the supermarket. And I see a few of my friends coming over and because my dream was to buy a house in Brazil, and go back over there. But because the economy is not like here. You work a lot but you make less money, so I see my friends coming over and sending money and buying their houses. That’s why I wanted to come over.
Deborah: How old were you at this point?
Valtecir: I was 25.
Deborah: Okay. What year did you come to the States?
Valtecir: 2005. March, 2005.
Deborah: What was the hardest thing about coming here?
Valtecir: The hard thing was getting a visa ‘cause 15 years ago it was pretty much hard because I lived in a small town. Didn’t make much money. So when I go to the consul, if you’re low income, they won’t let you come. Probably won’t get you a visa.
Deborah: So how many times did you have to go back to request one?
Valtecir: Three times.
Deborah: And then how did you actually physically come to the States? Did you fly here? How did you come from Brazil?
Valtecir: Actually, I came from Mexico.
Deborah: Oh. OK.
Valtecir: Because I didn’t get the visa, but I really wanted to come over.
Deborah: So you were pretty determined. Was there one week, one day that was the hardest getting here that you could talk about?
Valtecir: The worst day was crossing the border. I was really anxious. And I didn’t know if they’re gonna work well or not.
Deborah: How long did it take you to get to Boston?
Valtecir: It took me I’ll say 28 days.
Deborah: Did you have family here in Boston?
Valtecir: No, not at the time. I was I just said friends.
Valtecir: Yeah, I was, for about 10 years living here without any relatives.
Deborah: Wow. Yeah, but you’ve done a lot. Are you a citizen now?
Valtecir: No, not yet.
Deborah: But you have green card, right? When did you get that?
Valtecir: Oh, it was five years ago.
Deborah: I asked you what was the hardest day and what was the happiest day from the time you left Brazil to now, what’s been, is there one particular day that stands out as a really happy time?
Valtecir: Yeah. When my daughter was born.
Deborah: And she’s how old? She’s two now?
Valtecir: She’s two in four months.
Deborah: Oh, okay. And did you know your wife before you came here?
Valtecir: No, I didn’t because we’re from a different state and probably eight hours from my state to her state.
First big client/05:50
Deborah: So when did you get your first big commercial client, Valtecir?
Valtecir: Was in 2016. That’s when I got my first big job.
Deborah: And how long was that after you started your business?
Valtecir: Actually I started doing small jobs and then a year later. I know the contractor because I used to do small jobs for him. And he asked me if I could handle the six townhouses—the interior and the exterior. That’s when I really started my business.
Deborah: How many houses were they?
Valtecir: They were six townhouses in Cambridge.
Deborah: Townhouses. Okay. Wow. Were you a little nervous about it?
Valtecir: In the beginning, I was, because I have a lot of experience in painting but you know not that big a job to take care of on my own.
Deborah: Yeah. So you were on your own and if something went wrong, it would be your fault.
Valtecir: Yes. Kinda.
Deborah: So how did you deal with that nervousness? What did you tell the person you were nervous or did you, how did you deal with it?
Valtecir: No, I didn’t because I knew that I was gonna get it done but you know, at nights when I got home, I started thinking there was a lot of work and wanted to get it done.
Deborah: Oh, you were afraid you weren’t going to get it done in time?
Valtecir: Ya. But then everything went smoothly and I got everything done on time and he was happy.
Deborah: And that led to a whole long list of happy customers from what I understand.
Valtecir: Yes, and after that big job I wanted to expand my clientele and I went to the offices of a big contractor who does a lot of commercial spaces and I gave him. We used to work for him like ten years. And then I gave him the card and then a month later he called me to do a small job in Billerica and since then I do pretty much all his work, his painting.
Missing Brazil/ 08:31
Deborah: That’s great. Do you miss Brazil?
Valtecir: Yes I do.
Deborah: What do you miss about it?
Valtecir: I’d say the climate. The people that I grew up with and the mountains. There’s a lot of mountain in my state.
Deborah: Do you take any, do you do any hikes here in the mountains?
Valtecir: Not really, but I want to. I don’t have much time now because I’m the owner and I work too. I work almost like 24/7.
Deborah: Really? When do you see your daughter and your wife?
Valtecir: After I get home late at night, I do all my estimates, invoices, pay bills. So when I get home I play with my daughter for a while and then later I do my computer stuff.
Valtecir: Yes. But I want to slow down a little because I need more time with my family.
Deborah: About the virus, the coronavirus is that helping you slow down in terms of not working so hard, or you were working as hard as ever?
Valtecir: No it’s slowed down. I stay home as much as I can. Just a little worried because we don’t know what.
Deborah: Talk to me a little bit more about what you’re worried about. What are some of the thoughts you have and fears you have about what’s going on?
Valtecir: Financial situation. A lot of pressure. A lot of things going around you and you can feel that pressure if you scared to get the virus. But you have to go out to do stuff.
Deborah: Yeah. So do you think you’re going to apply for that relief from the city of Boston?
Valtecir: Yes, I will. Because I have all the documents I qualify for. I think that covers pretty much.
Deborah: Yes, you really, you’ve got all these different licenses. And, do you, have you have lead removal? Do you have something for asbestos also?
Valtecir: Yeah. I think that covers pretty much.
Deborah: What made you do that? Go for that certification?
Valtecir: Because painters sometime if you do old houses you have to test if they have lead or not because the law is if they catch you at the job and there’s lead in the house, you can get probably a thirty-thousand dollar fine. If you don’t have.
Deborah: $30,000 fine?
Valtecir: Yeah, I think from five to $30,000.
Deborah: So once you realized that, you decided to become certified.
Deborah: I’ve been very impressed with all the equipment you have for wall coverings and all kinds of things that are very sophisticated. It’s certainly not handyman type stuff—very professional.
Valtecir: I want to have all the right tools because then the job goes smooth. If I don’t have the right tools, it takes longer to do and sometimes the job doesn’t come well finished.
Deborah: Wow. Tools are pretty important. Do you have any hobbies, things that you do other than spending time with your family and working 24/7, or maybe you had hobbies back in Brazil that you left behind that you’d like to do again. Music. Dancing. I don’t know, mountain climbing, what sort of things, anything that?
Valtecir: In Brazil I used to ride motorcycle as I grew up on a farm. Riding horses and I used to play soccer, pretty much every Sunday. Here I only go to church every Sunday and I used to go to the gym but not after my daughter was born. Because you know when I get home from work she wants to be around me. I [don’t] feel good leaving her and go to the gym.
Deborah: That’s not an option to go to the gym.
Valtecir: Yeah. But I feel that I have to do more, spending more time doing . . .
Deborah: Tell me about your English. It’s very good. and you’re easily understood. When you got here in 2005. What was your English?
Valtecir: Pretty much almost nothing. Oh, when he was “How are you?” and “Goodbye.”
Deborah: That was it? What made you decide that you needed to learn English?
Valtecir: Because my first job with an American who didn’t speak any word in Portuguese and I worked with him for three weeks. On the fourth week he paid us and never called us again because he needed someone that could understand at least a little of English because he wasn’t able to be at the job all the time. He had to go around to other jobs he needs to call someone to see what’s going on at the job and me and my other friend didn’t understand anything. Then I put my mind to it. That I really need to learn English. And when I was in Brazil too, I was really interested when there were English courses that were once a week. Just like a little writing. A few questions. But I say I wanted to learn another language. Then I started here taking courses at home twice a week. After three years of studying at home my friend told me about the GPA program at the Gardner.
Deborah: The Gardner. How many years have you gone to that?
Valtecir: For the GPA, the Gardner, say almost 10 years.
Deborah: Wow. I know Erica is your favorite teacher. She obviously inspired you to keep going.
Valtecir: Yes. Rita was a great teacher too.
Deborah: I don’t think I knew her.
Valtecir: She was before Erica. It was good taking courses. I still like to go to GPA because that are the best way to get involved in a community.
Deborah: So you’re still going to classes.
Valtecir: Yes. I’m taking classes online now.
Deborah: And what about your wife? How’s her English?
Valtecir: Her English is good. Yeah. Sometimes you ever have trouble understanding, but if speak slowly, she watches a lot of TV.
Deborah: Yeah that can help. What are you the most proud of your accomplishments of your many accomplishments Valtecir? What stands out as well? Almost a turning point. And then after that you felt,well, I think I’m going to make it here?
Valtecir: Like I said. Because I grew up on a farm and now I look at how far I got. Come to another country, learn the language, and open my business. I can help other people like my workers. I can help them get a job.
Deborah: How many of them do you have?
Valtecir: I have four. I can see my next goal, I want to buy my own house.
Deborah: Ah Ok? Is that your dream? What was your dream in Brazil?
Valtecir: I have my two houses over there [in Brazil] which is good. There is not expensive like here. One my mom lives in one and another one is my sister.
Deborah: So you still have lots of family back in Brazil. You’ve been able to visit them to go there?
Valtecir: No, not yet, but I did. We have, FaceTime pretty much in. Okay. Pretty much every day or every week.
Deborah: That’s great. Did you bring anything with you from Brazil? Like some little trinket or something that you have always kept with you? One person I talked to, she has a doll from when she was five years old and she took it with her from Peru. Do you have something that you’ve brought while going thru Mexico, getting into the States that you kept with you?
Valtecir: I still have a prayer. that, my mum wrote me in a piece of paper. She gave it to me. Yeah.
Deborah: Very nice. What does it say?
Valtecir: I don’t have it with me right now, but it’s like if someone tries to come after me, it feels like their hands and feet are tied they can’t get me.
Deborah: In other words, when you say that prayer, you imagine that you’re being protected.
Deborah: Is it by heart in Portuguese?
Valtecir: Yes. I can remember that whole thing now.
Deborah: Can you recite it? What you remember in Portuguese? I love to hear it in Portuguese—in your native language.
Minha Santa Catarina, clara e Digna.
Vós soste aquela senhora que passaste
Pela casa de Abraão. Encontraste 100
Homens parados, bravos como leões e
Com vossa santa palavra abrandastes
Os vossos coracões. Assim minha santa
Catarina, abrandai os coracões de nossos inimigos.
Se tiverem pés, que nao me alcancem.
Si tiverem mãos,
Que não me agorrem. Se tiverem olhos,
que não me vejão,
Que se vejam acorrentados de pés e mãos, como o Senhor
Se viu na cruz. Por todos os seculos e
Valtecir: Thank you.
Deborah: Can you send me a translation of it by email?
Deborah: That would be wonderful. We can take a picture of the piece of paper. So that piece of paper, how old is that piece of paper?
Valtecir: It’s probably 15 or 16 years old.
Deborah: Is it falling apart, or if you take a picture of it, I’d love to see it. And maybe you could translate it.
Valtecir: I used to carry my wallet.
Deborah: The same one from Brazil?
Valtecir: Yes. But, I think now I put it somewhere.
Deborah: Oh, you would carry the prayer inside your wallet?
Valtecir: Now I keep it in my drawer.
Deborah: Okay. That sounds good. Anything else? Anything else you want to tell me about? You told a story in class about how you finished a job and the person gave you a thousand-dollar tip.
Deborah: Could you tell me that story again? Just briefly.
Valtecir: There was in Newton. I was doing inside the house. I took all the pictures down because the girl told me. And then I removed and patched it. As the job was going. Would you help me hang this picture here, this one there? I was moving them around. I said sure, no problem and then you know. I was doing what she wants and then by the end, the husband came. He was in the garage and he came and said, “I would like to give you something because we are happy with the job and you’re a good guy and we are so happy to have you at our house.” And then he gave me that thousand dollar tip.
Deborah: What did you do? Was it a check or was it cash?
Deborah: Did you realize at the time it was a thousand dollars. Did you count it right there?
Valtecir: No. It was cash. I didn’t count it in front of him. I was happy about the money but really happy that they liked the job I was doing.
Deborah: Yes. I think you are somebody that radiates a lot of honesty and pride in your work, obviously, and that makes the difference when people are looking for help with their projects.
Valtecir: Yes, because I tell my workers that I want to do the job that the client wants. Cause some people, they do what they think is right sometimes but not what the clients want. They argue.
Deborah: They argue with you and say I’m not going to do it like that?
Valtecir: Some people think they know more than the owner of the house. They try say this looks better than this. I let them. I want to make them happy.
Deborah: That’s your philosophy.
Valtecir: Yes. You can’t argue with them. Just do it.
Deborah: Well, so your dreams are to own your own house. And what do you think is going to happen from this coronavirus? And, and I know you’re worried about some things.
Valtecir: I hope, it’s passes by soon. To go away soon. And can get back to normal life. Yes. And I think after that, things can change a lot. People will think different then.
Deborah: And what way do you think they’re going to think different? I think I agree. I think the world is not going to be the same and I think people are learning a lot about themselves while they’re stuck at home. What are your thoughts about that?
Valtecir: Because I think people are just thinking working working, not much time with their family. And probably now, they might spend more time with the family, with friends. Now, you want to go to your friend’s house but you can’t. And I hope noone gets too scared to shake hands again or something. It’s probably gonna be a while before we get used to like before.
Deborah: It will be a while before it gets back to the way it was before. I think a lot of good is going to come out of it in terms of people realizing what’s really important.
Valtecir: Yes that’s true because now you can see that we can see that we are very funeral.
Deborah: Funeral? You mean Vulnerable?
Valtecir: Whether you are rich or poor you are in the same situation. It’s like you can have all the money you want but you’re not so safe.
Deborah: Right. Yeah, it’s cutting across all economic racial, social. So everything it’s a big equalizer. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me. Thank you very much. And I hope you’ll be safe and I hope your business continues to grow, but I hope you slow down a little bit, work smarter. Maybe, maybe make more money, have more time with your family and not burn yourself out. Don’t burn yourself out.
Valtecir: All right. I will.
Deborah: Thank you so much.
Since this interview, Valtecir has become a father for the second time. You can see some of Val’s extraordinary interior and exterior, commercial and residential projects on his website: valspaintingservicesinc.com. In spite of his accomplishments as a master painter, Valtecir remains a humble and grateful resident of the U.S., always eager to help his fellow immigrants and keep increasing his language skills while finding that balance between home and work, family and career.