Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Next Stop: the Old Country...

When I immigrated to Brazil, I had to make a pact with my parents to help them accept the decision. I had to agree that every year, Vini and I would honor the American tradition and travel back for Thanksgiving with the family. It made my mother a little more willing to let go, and not dwell on the five thousand mile distance.

Alas, for the first year my parents elected to visit us in São Paulo for the holiday and we had a big, raucous holiday meal at Claudia's apartment on the other side of Jardins. My dad and I even chipped a few golf balls at a local hotel, and banished his fears about the cuisine in Brazil with a mere visit to a churrascaria. (Dad's not big on travel. Which made the whole visit more poignant.)

But this year is all about returning to the Old Country. We'll be spending a few days vacationing in California before we head east for the holiday. It'll be Vini's first real American Thanksgiving, and my first as an émigré. And oddly enough, this will be the longest single visit home to the United States since I left in March of 2007. So for me, this will be a milestone on various fronts.

I have this feeling in my gut that I will arrive in the U.S. feeling far more foreign than native. That will erode a little, of course, when I get on the line for U.S. citizens at passport control in Dallas-Fort Worth, and Vini and I are separated. Once we arrive in L.A. and are driving through West Hollywood, I'm sure all the gay-ghetto vibes will come crashing through as well. When we stroll around the mall with Mom back east in the thrall of the Black Friday sales mania, I will be choking on the fumes of Americana and all the memories of childhood will fill my head to the rim. And no question -- the first morning at my parents' house, when we're all in the kitchen having breakfast, I will crack my first native New Yorker accented words, and Vini will duly mimic me.

But no matter. Slipping back into the skin of the old me is as easy as slipping into a martini. But only the skin. Everything inside, all the DNA, is re-arranging at a steady pace. I crossed the 50% mark of feeling Brazilian at some point in 2008; it's unmistakable, even though the shape of it is hard to fully describe. As I sit here this morning, typing this in my home, I am more Brazilian than American on the inside.

So what will this mean as I head to the U.S. for this two week visit? We'll see. I know that the ways in which my family interacts with each other is something ingrained in the culture of our lives back there. Moving to Washington wasn't enough for me to shake it; perhaps only to see it more clearly and resist it. But I would always find myself somewhat drawn in inevitably. And it would be painful.

But Brazilians are, by their very nature, strictly averse to conflict and confrontation. It was first evident to me in business dealings, where a Brazilian interlocutor would never say "no" even if he meant "no". This is unbearable for American businessmen, who value clarity, efficiency and getting to the point. Ironically, though, when it's turned onto the personal side of the coin, there is a bit of a reversal.

Americans seem to stage all sorts of proxy battles in their family lives, and vent their repressed emotional spleens on each other over usually ridiculous and trivial matters. It's because they don't want to get to the point, or often because they won't even allow themselves to see what the point is to their anger, their regret or their fears in the context of a family relationship. They too often fall back on the nagging, the bickering, the taking things out on each other.

Now, sure, Brazilian families have their share of fucked-upness. But I have never seen family members go at each others' throats here, certainly not during holidays. I do see an enormous amount of physical tenderness, of affectionate hugging and touching. Of effusive praise and adoration, and of extremely low tension and a lot of laughter at the dinner table or in the back yard. I can honestly say that I will have to repress my desire to be affectionate to my family members when I'm back there next week. My mother is the only one who loves to hug and touch. It will feel strange.

I am blessed that Vini will be with me all the way through. I'll always have someone to whisper asides to in Portuguese, someone who will understand and feel much the same as I will from moment to moment.

And as much as I'll be very happy to visit the country I was born in, I will be equally happy to make my way back home.


Tim C said...

I hope all the marshmallows on the sweet potato casserole don't scare Vini away.

Lucrece said...

Emigrating is strange, isn't it? It's curious how I feel more American than Venezuelan; and yet, I culturally empathize more with my Spanish roots.

It feels so psychologically nomadic.

Anyways, thanks for your musings. They're a delight to read. It's funny to see how Americans realize how frigid they are in comparison to other cultures.

Anonymous said...

The rest of you may become brazilian, but your skin will always be lily-white american.

I am glad we get to keep something.


North Dallas Thirty said...

Welcome back. If you guys are heading to SF, let me know; it's good incentive to finish painting the guest room. :) Happy holiday!

Kevin said...

Tim: *shiver* even I can't handle it...

Lucrece: LOL I didn't want to take in the "frigid" line at first. I got my American back up a little at how sharp a word it was that you chose. But then I thought, from an outside perspective, I think that yes, there is a bit of angry frustration at how Americans can be on this score. And when you've found yourself denied that easy sense of affection that any stranger in the street gives you in many parts of the world, then a sharp word like "frigid" is in order. :)

Ran: well I guess I am cursed with that one thing. But it's a bit more Irish than American, isn't it?

NDT: Our west coast tour just might feature a pop up there, but we're availing ourselves of the Hiltons' good hospitality thanks for a zillion guest points :) In any case, I'll give you a buzz!! xo

Fly Brother said...

kev...i'm jealous on so many levels right about now. i wish you and vini both a safe and wonderful holiday trip. eat some punkin pie for me!

Lorenzo said...

I just wanted to say that I love your well-written, witty blog. Your observations on my people and culture are dead-on.

I'm a Brazilian male living with my Irish-American boyfriend in NY. We've been together for 13 years and I kind of go through the same experiences you go through only in reverse.

My bf and I always spend Thanksgiving with his big Irish family and I wouldn't trade you for the world. My mother joined us once and made her famous doce de batata doce. Everybody loved it : )

Take care.


Lorenzo said...

Sorry...I wouldn't trade it for the world.