“Why pick Brazil, though? I wish I could go to the United States” countless Brazilians told me. From students at PUC-Rio to Uber drivers and locals. It always riled me, taking me a few seconds to answer. But every time I responded with the same answer: “Because Brazil (and any other Latin American country for the matter) is enough, even better; you only need to invest in it.” Most never understood what I meant, and those that did smirked with a shrugged thinking I was naïve because their country is corrupt and without opportunities to provide them. Maybe Brazilians are right.
Yet, I don’t believe I am naïve nor idealistic. Americans from Latin American descent and our American peers in North, Central, and South America, must re-learn our shared history and worthiness of who we are as a people with roots in the Americas. I long sought to come to Latin America to study abroad, ultimately choosing Brazil to learn a new language and understand the history of ‘the U.S. of South America’ and its relationship with the world. Europe was never in my mind to study abroad, as it is for many of my peers back home in the states, especially Latinos and people of color. I specifically point out this fact – as I’ve done previously– because Latinos have a duty to be boldly audacious and travel to the lands where our ancestors were exploited and robbed, displacing future generations.
Brazil is wondrous. My experience in the country – from Rio de Janeiro, to Ouro Preto, São Paulo, among other places – has deeply changed me. Meeting people from all walks of life and re-learning and learning what I never imagined possible has been eye-opening. To say that I experienced Brazil’s culture fully would be false, however; that is unattainable within the span of a year in a culture that spans centuries. But I have learned Portuguese, made friendships with many locals and foreigners, many from Latin America and others from Europe too.
The most profound experience however will be the wide and indescribable inequality that permeates not only the streets of Rio de Janeiro but its prestigious institutions such as PUC-Rio. Some Brazilians, especially Blacks, working the most minimal tasks, trapped in unnecessary positions as employment is necessary to their nourishment. They know there’s more to life but there’s a sense of destitution and apathy towards something they see as very remote. I could never be in their shoes and completely understand them, but it reminds me of the countless times when Brazilians at PUC-Rio and European peers questioned whether I am American, always rebutting with a: “Yeah, but where are you really from?” Maybe they are right. Because I am American but also much more than that.
The country and the experience has empowered me. I left the United States in a set mindset, still holding to a dream of furthering my studies in U.S.-Latin American relations to springboard a career in the Foreign Service, or other U.S. government agency to fundamentally change, I believe, an antiquated long-standing U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America. In Brazil, I realized that where I could make the biggest impact was not there but outside in the community where lack of organization and leadership continue to persist in Latino and people of color neighborhoods. I now know where I always should have been, and I could never repay this to my time abroad and the people I met in a country that too remains yearning for fundamental change.
Valeu Brasil! [Thank you, Brazil!]