Caught Between Two Different Cultures

Posted in Excerpts at 09:30 am by admin


Stella and Grace on the Terrace

Stella and Grace on the Terrace

In my book, Divine Betrayal, I write about moving from America to Brazil in 1939 and back to America in 1945.  Then, in 1948, we returned to Brazil and three years later came back to America.  By the time I graduated from high school, I had attended fifteen different schools. I had no choice in these moves.  As the young daughter of a missionary, I moved with my parents.

I was five years old when we left Lansing, Michigan, where I felt safe and loved by my family and the church congregation where my father ministered. Brazil was a strange land to me. After the initial shock of a different language, different smells, the incredible beauty of Copacabana beach and a hair-raising car trip to the south of Brazil to stay with relatives, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I soon adjusted with the help of my Brazilian cousins, and, with every new day I felt more comfortable in Brazil.  When we moved to Florianopolis, I became part of the neighborhood, with loads of friends and many different and exciting things to do.  The six years in Brazil went by way too fast, and then it was time to return to America.

When we returned to the U.S., I was eleven years old, but I could not read or write in English and I spoke with a strong accent. Kids can be cruel at that age, and they teased me constantly. The acceptance of my peers was very important for me and I had to work hard to be accepted. After overcoming some hurdles, like temporary blindness and moving from Michigan to California, I finally began to “fit in.”

I think that moving can be very difficult for children, even if it’s just from one state in the U.S. to another. Even the cultural differences between states like California and Michigan can be a difficult adjustment. Losing daily contact with close friends and family can also be very traumatic. These feelings should not be ignored or dismissed as unimportant.

Despite the difficulties, I not only survived–I thrived. I felt accepted, like a “real” American, by the time I was a freshman in Turlock High School. But just three years later, we had to return to Brazil. I did not want to leave California or my friends and return to that strange land, but as a fifteen-year-old, I had no choice. The first few months I cried a lot, and it took a while to disconnect from America. Also, I traveled throughout Brazil with my parents for eighteen months.  I didn’t go to school during this time, nor was I able to make close friends because the longest we stayed in one place was one week. I was very lonely at first.

But then I met Stella. As a teenage girl, having a close friend was extremely important. Stella helped me adjust to life in Florianopolis.  We went to high school together, had lots of friends, and I spoke Portuguese like a native. I could have passed for a Brazilian. Again, I felt secure and accepted.  Life was great!  I dreamed of going to medical school with Stella and staying in Brazil forever. But the dream ended when, three years after returning to Brazil, we again returned to the U.S.

My parents moved to Germany, and I stayed in the U.S.  Although I didn’t journal during this time, the first year back in America was very traumatic.  We were in California, and again I did not fit in.  I spoke with an accent, dressed differently, and was treated as an outsider, a foreigner. It took awhile to feel American again.  I longed for Brazil.

Anyone who has moved from another country to the U.S. can identify with the feelings I experienced.  I always say that when a person is raised in two different cultures, they will never be 100% happy and “at home” again.  There are things today that I miss and love about Brazil.  I love Brazilian food, Brazilian music, Brazilian beaches, and the roar of the Atlantic Ocean. But most of all, I miss the Brazilian people: their passion for life, their demonstrative nature, the wonderfully expressive Latin language and their friendliness.  It is very difficult for me to describe these feelings about missing Brazil.  Yet any Brazilian who moves to America may have these same feelings. 

America is a wonderful country with conveniences, super highways, financial opportunities, and great schools. Many Brazilians and Mexicans want to move here, but once here, they say as I do, “I can never be 100% happy again! I will always long for whichever country I’m not in.” I think this may be true for any immigrant from any country in the world.

What does one do about these feelings of longing and loss? It helps to visit the country you miss, but often the person can not afford the long and expensive trip. Many people from various countries tend to live close to each other in the U.S. Sometimes Americans cannot understand why there is an Italian neighborhood in their city, or a Brazilian or Cuban neighborhood in New York City, but I understand. I don’t have a Brazilian neighborhood where I live, but there is a newspaper called “The Brazilians,” written in Portuguese, which has been in print for 37 years.  I still read this newspaper from cover to cover and it helps me keep in touch with Brazil. Reading it helps me to “Matar as Saudades,” which loosely translated in English means, “To kill the longing, the feeling of being lonesome.”

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