Will they still like me? The question resounds in my head when I am 14 years old. Over and over as I wait in the airport with my mom and my younger sister, then as I sit in the airplane seat, and again as I am right outside the door of my grandmother’s house. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my family, three years since I said a tearful goodbye to my grandparents and a plane took them 5,000 miles away from me.
While both of my parents studied medicine in Cuba, my younger sister and I lived with my grandparents in Petropolis, Brazil. It was where I was born and raised; I was 5 years old when I learned I was moving to America. I counted down the days in excitement. I didn’t know much about America; I knew my dad’s family lived there and there would be snow where we were going to live. I knew I would go to a new school. On my last day of preschool, I skipped as I held my grandma’s hand. I rolled a small purple suitcase by my side, one that back then held my school supplies but would later hold keepsakes I took with me to my new home.
Coming to the United States, I learned English very quickly because I was so young. My mom and my sister were the only two people who could speak Portuguese, and as time progressed, we would speak English more and more with each other. I was lucky to come back to Brazil as a 9-year-old when I still could speak to my family. I didn’t realize that the next time I would be back I would almost be in high school and would barely be able to speak Portuguese at all.
I didn’t realize then what an important piece of myself I was losing, and, as I grew older, memories began to slip away from me. I forgot how green the mountains were in my hometown because of how often it would rain. I forgot about how my family would celebrate birthdays late into the night. I forgot about the Palacio De Cristal (Crystal Palace) that would glow during Christmastime and about the barraquinha de cachorro quente (hot dog stands) that lined the streets where I lived, where I could add corn and potato chips as toppings on my hot dogs.
The first time I came back to Brazil, I spoke Portuguese in my thick American accent, and I would struggle to express complex thoughts. I was old enough to realize how much everything had changed around me. Everyone seemed so comfortable with each other. Where did I fit in? Despite this, my cousins and I soon became inseparable. Years of not speaking to each other did not change that, and we spent every moment together. I tried to write down every detail, photograph every moment I could. This was my community, and everyone around me contributed to who I am today. Despite all the years away, we were still connected to each other.
Coming back to the United States, I realized how unique my identity is. Before, it was something I struggled a lot with. When I lived in the United States, I was Brazilian, and when I was in Brazil, I was American. I spent most of my life trying to choose one identity to define me, but I have grown to a point where both of my identities merge together. After much practice communicating with my family and meeting other Brazilian friends nearby, I am now able to speak Portuguese fluently. I was able to grow up in an American culture that values independence and another in Brazil that values community. And, I’ve been able to mold both of my identities into something of my own.