Down syndrome (or Down’s syndrome) is caused by the trisomy of the 21st chromosome, meaning that the people with this condition have extra genetic material. So instead of having 46 chromosomes, which is the usual, a person with Down syndrome has 47 chromosomes. In this way, the chromosomal difference generally causes learning delays, but that doesn’t mean that those individuals aren’t smart or can’t learn at all: they just need more incentives and special help by others.
People with Down syndrome are just like anyone else, each of them has their own personality, characteristics, professional choices and interests. But in the whole world, they still have to deal with the ableism, which is the discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities; most people just see a person with disability as their condition, refusing to acknowledge them as a thinking and capable human being. That happened to Débora Araújo Seabra de Moura, the first Brazilian teacher with Down syndrome, who was, in 2018, a victim of ableist posts made by a judge that mocked her and questioned if a person with Down syndrome could even teach someone. The shame is on the judge, since Débora conquered several prizes, was recognized by an United Nations panel in New York on the World Down Syndrome Day and also has the childish book “Débora conta histórias” (“Débora tells stories”, in free translation) published, being very proud of who she is. Quoting the Australian journalist and comedian Stella Young, “the ’disabled people’ are more disabled by the society that we live in than by our bodies and our diagnoses”, what is being proved every day by this people: they are extremely competent, why shouldn’t the society give them opportunities to achieve their life and professional goals?
In 2013, the Brazilian movie “Buddies” (“Colegas”, in Portuguese) was released. The movie mixes friendship, adventure and “Thelma & Louise”, being the first movie from Brazil to have main characters with Down’s syndrome: Stallone (portrayed by Ariel Goldenberg), Aninha (Rita Pokk) and Márcio (Breno Viola). It won several prizes, including the Gramado Festival.
Over 270.000 people in Brazil have Down syndrome, so it is refreshing to know that they are gaining representation in the media and in the job market. Exclusively to the Wanderlust Herald, some successful individuals with the syndrome tell more about their careers and life.
Maju De Araújo
Maju de Araújo liked to pose for photographs and to catwalk since she was a little girl. The dream of becoming a model didn’t stop in childhood: nowadays Maju is conquering the Brazilian runways, facing the unrealistic beauty standards of the fashion industry. Maju felt fulfilled in breaking a record on Osasco Fashion Week, going on the runway over 40 times in a single edition. She also participated in Brasil Eco Fashion Week and Brasilia Trends, besides being the ambassador of Revlon and of the Miss and Mister Down contest. As her inspirations, she mentions the most famous Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen and Madeline Stuart, an Australian model with Down syndrome.
Cacai Bauer is the World’s first digital influencer with Down syndrome, a thing that she is proud of, since it has helped other people with disabilities to show themselves on social media. In 2016, she created a Youtube channel, but it wasn’t the initial plan: her mother had the idea after Cacai’s sister gave up on her own channel. It was a success! Then BBC Brazil discovered her, brands started to contact her to partnerships and she had the opportunity to grow on the platform. Her biggest dream is to become an actress and participate in soap operas and movies, besides visiting Disneyland. Cacai Bauer has over 250.000 followers and as she always says: “being different is normal”, all people are gifted and they just need opportunities.
Bia Pimenta is a plus size model, a job that she loves. Bia was passing through some hard times before the opportunity to become a model: on her first job, the boss didn’t want to accept Bia’s physical limitations while working, which caused health issues to the girl, such as seizures episodes. The trauma was overcome after medical and psychological support. Right after this bad situation, Bia was looking for new clothes to go on a date with her boyfriend in a store called Psil Plus, when the owner asked her if she wanted to do a photoshoot for the Valentine’s Day campaign. She obviously accepted and has worked as a model since then, participating in the Osasco Fashion Week, Beleza Pro Business and several other campaigns. She was nominated for “Miss Plus Size Inclusion” on the “Miss Vale do Paraíba” contest. The girl confessed that she got a little nervous before going on the runway, but Bia says that thinking about love and happy things makes her braver; besides that she also has the photographer Adriana Libini to work with, who always captures the best in her. Being a plus size model isn’t Bia Pimentas’ only job, she works as an attendant as well. Her biggest goal is to work as an actress and to be on big brands’ campaigns.
Nicholas Filinkoski started to photograph when he was a child, having used analog cameras and a cell phone until earning a digital camera. After finishing high school, Nicholas chose to study Photography in college. When his class was about to graduate, they decided to do a photographic exhibition to celebrate; the title was “Down Syndrome By My Look”, aiming to show these people’s beauty and potential. A fan of Richard Avedon, Nicholas loves to take pictures of models, fashion shows, concerts and events; one of the highlights of his career was being invited to photograph Carvalheira 2020 in Olinda, an event that had over 10.000 people a day in which he had chance to take pictures of some Brazilian celebrities. He is now working on a project named “A Special Look”, in which he will take pictures of people with diverse pathologies to show them in their recreation moments to promote self-esteem.
When Tathi Piancastelli was a teenager, she took theatre classes in Brazil. After going to live in the USA, Piancastelli started to have physical theatre classes with the Brazilian teacher Debora Balardini. In that time she had the idea of writing her own play: “Menina dos Meus Olhos’ ‘ (Apple of my eye, in English), in which she also starred as the main character. Her play won the International Brazilian Press Award. Tathi also wrote (together with the director Fábio Costa Prado) the play “Oi, eu estou aqui” (Hi, I am here), inspired by her exchange program for people with Down syndrome.
Tathi Piancastelli became a samba theme for the Carnival school “Unidos do Alvorada”, from Manaus; she was the inspiration for the cartoonist Mauricio de Souza to create “Tati”, a character that has Down syndrome like her, from Monica’s gang (Turma da Mônica, in Portuguese), the most iconic comics from Brazil; and she was also part of the documentary “Expedição 21” (Expedition 21).
Claudio Aleoni Arruda
Claudio always loved to take care of horses, so riding since he was a child helped him to have equilibrium and motor coordination. His love for horse-riding came because of his idol, Doda Miranda. He is a horseman and a speaker, but before, he used to work in Applesbee’s, an American restaurant franchise. Claudio started to participate in jumping championships, he was the vice-champion of São Paulo in 2009 and won first place in 2011. In 2013, he left jumping championships for horse training. He dreams to be an Olympic medallist (in 2016 he had the opportunity to take the Olympic torch after being choose by popular vote), to build up a center of equine therapy for people with disabilities and to have his own TED talk to tell his story. He already went to the UN to release his book “Mude Seu Falar que Eu Mudo Meu Ouvir”. Claudio works for the Sociedade Hípica Paulista as an assistant to the riding instructor. “Believe always and never give up” is the message that Claudio Aleoni Arruda wants to send.
Bia Reis used to have art workshops at her school, so while doing a jewelry box as a gift for her mother the idea of setting up an atelier came to her mind. Then, she decided to learn new techniques and to become a craftswoman. Her favourite pieces are the mandalas, in which she can use the pointillism technique, her creativity and the mix cheerful colours (what explains her love for the artist Rita Caruzzo). Crafts changed Bia’s life and helped her to achieve financial autonomy.
Alessandro Cerabino works for Reed Exhibitions, an events company (which he loves to work with). Besides that, he takes theatre classes and also practices sports, like swimming, which is his love. He also works at Programa Atendentes Eficientes (Efficient Attendants Program), which is a project to help people with Down syndrome have experiences with the job market, participating in fairs.