You have probably heard the expression “decolonize your mind”, and in various contexts. The way I think about this concept changes from day to day. It can be applied to so many issues because it encompasses so many facets of our society. It affects different aspects of our lives. Internalized racism colonizes our mind. European standards of beauty colonize our mind. Cultural assimilation colonizes our mind. Expectations of achievement colonizes our mind. Capitalistic idealism colonizes our mind. It’s different for everyone, but one thing is universally true. Colonized thinking keeps us caged.
For me, the most overwhelming contexts have been internalizing racism, and cultural assimilation, but I’ve struggled with others, too. This year in my life has been about doing the work that would free me from self-sabotaging and restricting thought patterns. I started out by dissecting my immigration story, and exploring the ways that assimilation stole my sense of self– just as colonized indigenous people and enslaved Africans were robbed of theirs. Then, I explored my internalized racism, the thoughts and feelings of inferiority that I had about myself, and where they came from. One thing that still haunts me is the emotional turmoil of countless times thinking I might need to restart my life in Brazil, and the suicidal thoughts that followed. I could never begin to imagine doing that. My Portuguese is too limited, I didn’t graduate there, I didn’t even attend middle school there. I don’t know any of the history. I might be held up and robbed. I won’t find a job. The list of fears go on and on.
I think this is what Dreamers must be going through right now, and it is completely valid. This may be coming from a place of legalized privilege, but more and more I am overcoming this fear of returning to Brazil — because who knows what could still happen to me? I am still not a citizen. To overcome this fear, I have become reacquainted with my culture, and started to imagine possibilities. I have also talked to relatives about certain limiting thoughts I used to have. For example, if I chose to continue my education, I don’t need a Brazilian high school degree. My cousin reassured me I could get my masters there, if I wanted to, by showing my Bachelor’s degree from the United States. With the currency exchange rate, my small savings would be enough to pay rent and live on for years. I know this from looking at a Brazilian rentals app. Today, the possibilities of self-employment are endless, especially with social media. We no longer depend on corporations, and everyday we are becoming more of a society of entrepreneurs that can work from their phones and computers, anywhere in the world.
The work of reimagining my life in Brazil has been another form of decolonizing my mind because dependency is another aspect of colonization. The colonizers stripped Indigenous People and enslaved Africans of not only their culture and identity, but of their self-determination. Imagine what it must have been like for the first generation of freed slaves. To be free to pursue something and not have any idea what to pursue. Thinking about how to even begin, must have been paralyzing. For Dreamers, African Americans, or anyone considering leaving the United States, the mere act of imagining a life elsewhere would be as liberating as it has been for me. For Dreamers, it may become necessary to come up with a plan — an exit strategy, and the work of imagining is the first step. Challenge your thoughts. Do research about your homeland. Talk to your faraway relatives. Imagine what could be by asking yourself, “what if it’s possible?” Our ancestors and immigrant parents are living proof that there are infinite possibilities in the unknown.