This is a long overdue thank you letter — an idea I dreamed of years ago when I would watch you open all that mail on your TV show. You helped me learn Portuguese during my student exchange in Brazil in 1989, something I’ve always been grateful for. I now realize that you taught me much more than how to say a few words in a new language. In fact I think you showed me an enlightened way to come at life, with way more profundity than I gave you credit for at the time. So now, when the world could use a little more profundity, I am finally writing this letter.
Please don’t feel badly if you don’t remember. You were just going about your business on your show, singing your catchy songs, having lively conversations with your young guests, dancing around in your over-the-top outfits and beaming your contagious smile at us. Ad libbing in response to letters and conversations with adoring fans, you slipped in advice on conserving electricity at home and using natural skin remedies — all in the guise of fulfilling our obligation to be happy which was the premise of your show.
At 18 years of age I was in theory too old for your program and so I pretended to watch with irony, but you had me eating out of your hand.
At the end of each episode, as you blew kisses to your millions of viewers, you would call out to us in different ways. One day, you said in your crystal clear, pep-rally Portuguese something like, “…and to all the boys and girls from another country visiting Brazil, tchau and beijinhos to you, too!”
I answered aloud without realizing it, all teenage cynicism swept away by the moment: “Obrigada! Tchau, Xuxa!” My host sister and I laughed, excited that I was at last making sense of some of the verbal chaos I had been experiencing as an exchange student. Yet there is so much more to thank you for than your great diction and friendly farewells.
That was the year of Brazil’s first democratic election. Every night my host family and I watched television ads (during which I learned the Portuguese word for “ad” is propaganda). All 22 candidates had their allotted time to present their candidacy’s political propaganda…er…ads, the most prominent among them securing the most airtime.
This meant that Fernando Collor de Mello (aka Collor), who went on to win the contest, had over an hour of television exposure every night. This was his own sort of variety show featuring scenes of himself shaking hands with people all across the country, patting children on the head, wearing a loose white dress shirt and thrusting his smiling mug in front of the camera.
It meant that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (aka Lula) had a sizable amount of time, too. Enough to wave his four-fingered hand in our faces each night, bellowing how he would make things right among the nation’s millions of under-served working class.
Although my teenage self wanted to believe both of these fellows — the dashing businessman and the feisty revolutionary — I didn’t find either message as compelling as yours, Xuxa. And it turns out, both of them went on to be presidents of your great country, and both proceeded to take advantage of their power in criminal ways that defied all your good advice about being happy and looking after one another with kindness.
And then just the other day, nearly 30 years later, I found myself back in beloved Brazil at the time of another election. Some friends and I went to see Mãeana canta Xuxa, a performance covering your music at São Paulo’s soulful music venue, Casa de Francisca. Your songs about believing in ourselves, about caring for Earth and all of its many life forms, while recognizing that we’re all baixinhos (little ones) deep down, sounded more relevant than ever.
If a stranger arrived in a spaceship from another planet (like you did every day, Xuxa, at the start of your show!) he might be forgiven for confusing the sparkly props and Ana Claudia Lomelino’s sexy-weird outfit as indulgent, retro kitsch as the band covered your greatest hits. But he would be wrong.
Those middle-aged bearded men smiling as they swayed and sang along with your Lua de Cristal? They heard your message of love and beautiful possibility, of finding the courage to continue the fight.
That one woman in bright blue spandex pants (similar to ones I wore to aerobics class back in 1989)? She was performing the lyrics to your alphabet song, Abecedario da Xuxa, in Sign Language: A for amor (love), I for igualdade (equality), L for liberdade (liberty), N for natureza (nature) and so on. She knew she didn’t need permission to rejoice in her difference, as that room was overflowing with C for coração (heart).
At a time when poets are moved to expose the hate flowing across the airwaves, when the streets are marked with the blood of people whose ideas don’t fall in line with the “order and progress” of a Brazil led by the front-runner Bolsonaro , your words of love and kindness with a dash of M for molecagem (mischief) are the kind of contagion we need. It’s going to take all the courage you planted in so many young hearts all those years ago for us to come out the other side of this pernicious global tide and arrive on the planet we’d like to live on.
Spending an evening listening to your music, sung by a richly talented young artist in a room full of people brimming over with love, was a great gift not because it made us forget what is wrong, but because it helped us remember what is right.
Thank you for showing us that there is more power in lifting people up than in pressing them down. Thank you for reminding us that at the end of the day we are all just young baixinhos, and that each one of has value. And most of all, thank you for revealing how much joy we hold in our collective hearts and for encouraging us to bring it to the world.
Muito obrigada e beijinhos,
Lorraine (your long-time Canadian fan)
*** This story first appeared on Lorraine’s blog in October 2018. ***