I don’t know who needs to hear this, but I hope that you have had the chance to discover who you are beyond your immigration story or politicized label. And if you haven’t, I encourage you to look deep inside yourself and try to imagine what kind of person you might have become organically, had you not been or felt limited in your pursuits, or discouraged from being yourself in some way. You are not simply what life has made you. Your soul has qualities that are inherent and independent of any struggle you may have experienced. Tapping into that by reclaiming your culture can make you feel whole.
Most children don’t know what kind of adults they will grow up to be, but they have the starting point of an identity, and they are shaped by the culture they grow up with. Assimilating into American culture left me devoid of those foundations, feeling empty and personally ambiguous. The only things I could identify with –being undocumented, and a person of color– are both criminalized markers. As an adult, my inability to break into the field I studied– Marketing, may be due to not knowing how to describe my innate self– until discovering my purpose was to write. Once I did, it became really important to me to immerse myself into my culture in order for me to write about more than just being an immigrant because that is just simply not all that I am. We are so much more than the cards we are dealt in life.
I began my self-discovery journey by researching my culture’s history, learning that I was born just a few years after the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship, in 1985. This probably explains, if only partially, my upbringing, which was hostile towards personal autonomy. But as part of the first generation of Brazilians born into democracy, I feel strongly called to use my voice to speak out against injustices, especially having grown up in a nation that has always encouraged that. This is shown to be true in the newly developing culture of protest and civic service in Brazil, largely led by young and middle aged adults. They are the first and second generations to be educated in liberal studies.
Then, I familiarized myself with Brazilian artists, and their music hits differently. It is said that if you know another language, you know another perspective, and I believe in this wholeheartedly. For example, the word “saudade” means to miss something. In English, we say we miss it, as in, we are incomplete without it. But in Portuguese, we say we ‘have’ a or ‘feel’ the feeling called “saudade”, which is a melancholy nostalgia for something or someone, and that feeling in Brazilians is so potent, it is almost an ailment. We don’t have a word for anything less. And I feel that. If I say I miss you, please know that I’m not just saying it. I truly feel ‘saudade’ of something that we experienced together.
The last few months, I have binge watched a handful of novelas on a Brazilian channel’s streaming platform, and this is what has completed me the most. Finally, I have been identifying with story characters on a deep level. They are intensely a bunch of things — the keyword here being ‘intense’ — including intensely loyal, which I have been throughout my life, to a fault. I have held on to, and valued friendships in America, on a level that has not always been reciprocated. Those that have reciprocated that feeling, I have gone out of my way to show appreciation for.
From watching novelas, I have conditioned my brain to hearing Portuguese without the mental strain of comprehending it. My brain is becoming more flexible to thinking about complex ideas in Portuguese, which allows me to discuss things with friends and family members that I couldn’t manage before. Opening my mind to complexities, allowing for meaningful exchange on topics such as racism in Brazil and Candomblé has been transformative.
So writing a bio or even a cover letter are no longer tasks I struggle with because I have pieced most of the pieces together that form the puzzle of my soul. Can you describe yourself without naming your profession, hobby, political party or label, what school you went to or degree you earned? Do you know what truly, deep down, makes you you?