I've always been intrigued by my mother's story, but lately I've been asking her a lot off questions about her childhood and how she ended up moving to the states from Brazil. So I started recording her stories. Listening to her share these amazing memories and going to a lot of Brazilian gatherings lately, has me thinking about what it was like growing up half-Brazilian.
Back then I never felt different from my American-parented friends but looking back there were quite a few differences.
1. Songs from my childhood. Once in a while my mom would play "This Little Piggy" with me but I preferred the Brazilian songs and games she would share like:
Fui ao botequim (went to the cafe/bar)
Tomar café. (drank coffee)
Encontrei um cachorrinho (encountered a little dog)
De rabinho em pé. (with his tail standing up)
Sai pra fora, cachorrinho, (get away, little dog)
Que eu te dou um pontapé! (or I'll kick you!)
It loses a lot in translation but this little song ended in a tickle and I always loved it.
2. Eating late. In Brazil dinner is usually eaten around 8 or 9, sometimes 10. While my neighborhood friends were being called in to have dinner around 5 or 6 (which seemed like a late lunch to me), I would be using that time for homework. 'Til this day eating dinner late is completely normal to me.
3. Music. My father had a lot of influence on my musical tastes, but not as much as mom. While my friends' parents would be playing old school soul and 70's funk (the latter was so unfamiliar to me until my later years) my mother would be blasting her samba grooves. Batucada (heavy percussion sound) and bossa nova (a soft mellow sound) was all you heard in our Saturday morning clean-up soundtrack.
Dancing samba in the living room to songs from Astrud Gilberto, Jorge Aragão, and Jorge Ben was one of our favorite activities.
4. Black beans and rice. Black beans and rice is staple dish in Brazil. No matter where you go in the country someone is cooking a pot of beans. Or if something else is on the menu there is always a pot of rice to accompany the meal. My mother cooks rice with everything! Including spaghetti! Talk about carbs on carbs.
We had black beans and rice often because 1. it's delicious and hearty and perfect with chicken, beef and even some seafood, and 2. it was comfort food for my mother who was thousands of miles away from everything she knew.
5. Guarana. My friends were drinking Coca Cola, but my favorite soft drink was Guarana.
6. Being the "Gringo" of the family and friends. I don't know if it's about assimilation but my mother did not teach me to speak Portuguese. I know a lot, and I can definitely understand more than I can speak but in social settings with Brazilian family and friends I'm the one in the corner trying to keep up with the various conversations. My limited and broken Portuguese was and will always be "cute" to them.
7. Spending time in Brazil. When I was 10 my mother sent me to Brazil for two and a half months to spend time with family. Then, I would be responsible for returning with goodies from her home (like the berimbau instrument shown in the picture above).
I've found that most of my friends who also have parents from other countries are sent away during their summers so they can get a taste of the culture and of course spend time with family they rarely get to see. I must say, that experience changed my life. It allowed me to understand my mother a bit more, along with getting a better grasp on Portuguese and that part of my heritage overall.
8. Spending weekends with other Brazilians. Because all of my mother's family was/is still in Brazil we adopted a family of other Brazilians who lived close by. We spent most weekends with them eating feijoada (black bean stew) and Brazilian fried chicken while catching up with one another. These people were my aunties, uncles, and cousins who teased and loved me in Portuguese.
9. The Casa Latina. Aside from weekend visits with our surrogate family and cleaning the house to Brazilian music, I also spent Saturday mornings grocery shopping with my mother at what she generically called "the case latina." This was a tiny grocery store that had meats, products and produce that could not be found in our local Giant or Safeway. At these stores we could find our Guarana and cocodas (a coconut sweet, shown bottom left in the picture) among many other things. I also know the smells and sounds in the tiny aisles also took my mother back to her memories of home.
10. Brazilian pride. Brazilians are very proud to be Brazilian. They LOVE wearing the Brazilian flag, making songs about being Brazilian, and are quick to say, "I am from Brazil." My mother is no exception. So growing up I rocked Brazilian t-shirts, rode in a car adorned with a Brazilian flag sticker, and whenever guests came over my mother ALWAYS had to show them her one and only tape of carnival in Rio. Back then I was embarrassed, but now I understand it was all about being proud of where she came from.
What about you? Is your family from far away? How did this make your childhood different from your American friends? What dishes did you eat? What music did you grow up listening to? Do share.