The immigrant heart

It’s the kind of subject that everyone has an opinion on, nowadays. Tip of the tongue, pro or con, Immigration is great, or Immigration sucks. Bring them in, or send them home….


What I don’t seem to hear, though, is what people consider to be home… Or what is “being a true American” or a “true Brazilian” means… (lots of “…” on this post, lots of thoughts, inconclusive thoughts, sighs, “saudades”, nostalgia, fear, sadness, hope…. All of them demand “…”)

Let me start by what I know best. Let me tell you what being a “true Brazilian” means: My father was born in Rio, and was on a ship to his mom’s Portugal when he was 2 months old. At 6, he was in a plot to kill Dictator Salazar, and at 21 he was listening to cannibal tribes in Congo, right before he hopped on a ship to Brazil. Back in Rio, he was asked: “What ID do you want? Portuguese or Brazilian?”

He said “hé, since I’m here, let’s go with the Brazilian one.”

He always considered himself Portuguese, as other people around him did. As I do. His accent was the most charming thing about him, and the stories he told us at dinner made me love a country I am yet to visit. Now, more than EVER, I understand how he felt when he listened to fado, sitting on our couch, eyes distant and a wistful smile to Amalia Rodrigues’ voice. (he wouldn’t weep, as I do when I listen to “O Bêbado e o Equilibrista”, but I am pretty sure he felt the yearning those melodies brought…) He sought the smells he left behind, and brought them to our kitchen, the flavors to our table and the culture to our hearts.

Yet, he couldn’t have been more Brazilian. Especially when he bragged about his ancestors, “We descend from the moors and the jews” (note: AND… Apparently there are both Muslim and Jewish bloods running somewhere in my highly mixed veins) Dad adored this melting pot he said he descended from. It was his pride and joy, to belong to many places, and to no place at all…

Shifting to the other side of my family, we call ourselves “Italians”. Yes, my mom is “nonna” to my kids, as her mom was to me. Even though my “nonna” descended from native brazilians (you mix that with the moorish genes my dad brought to the cake, and you understand my sister’s amazing olive skin tone…) My great grandfather (my nonno’s dad) came to Brazil on the huge Italian immigration wave (would we have called them “hunger refugees?…) and here I am, his great grand daughter pride of her “Italian side”. We are loud, love pasta, place our “mammas” in the very center of the family, and all of that, because we still think WE were the ones sailing the ocean a hundred years ago. Basically, the same yearning my dad had, we feel for a culture we NEVER experienced as our own.

No one in Brazil will contest that: being a true Brazilian is being from everywhere, a mixture of a bit of every corner in the world.

I married a mixed Italian/ Spanish guy, have blond frackled kids who I placed on a ship to a different country I now call home.

I cannot conceive a world without Immigration. At least, not my world. We are ALL immigrants.

And here is where I finish my first thought… What does “home” mean to me?

An Immigrant has a split heart, has eyes always teared up and feels that something is always missing. But at the same time, the first step of becoming an immigrant is filling your heart with hope an joy. You do not throw your soul to the sea if you are not expecting to float, to lie on your back and contemplate the blue skies. You know you will swallow some water on a storm eventually, but you long for the warmth of the sun.

An immigrant cries in the shower because one picture she saw reminded her of a friend, or of the smell of a place. An immigrant smiles when she sees the flag of her country and weeps when she listens to the National Anthem. An immigrant, knows different literatures, languages, songs, foods, beliefs, Histories, and should be seen as an addition to every nation. You don’t make foundue with one good cheese.

Nevertheless, embracing a new country brings new loves, new ways to see the world, new friends and a new National Anthem. After a while, becoming an Immigrant gives you a new home. So, at the end, there is nowhere to run… Your heart will ALWAYS be split, you will forever be missing someone, some place, some taste, some sound… You will forever be crying in the shower.

I wouldn’t change not even one step of my History… If I stay in the US forever or for one more day, this will always feel like home to me. And I love it. Loving the US doesn’t make me love Brazil less. People shouldn’t make that assumption, for an immigrant’s heart is filled with nuances that allow us to understand love as a whole.

Love is one, and this is what I believe home is…