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Reylla Santos

Immigrating while Brazilian

I was born and raised in Brazil in a middle SES family of 7 (5 children and both parents). I immigrated to the US at the age of 26, and since then I have been going through some experiences that I had no idea that would impact me as much as it has. I have always been told that I was fun, loud, extroverted, and great to be around. However, I have heard the opposite since I moved to another country. Now, I am told that I am "too much," too loud, too angry all the time, and hard to make friends with. Of course, this had caused turmoil inside of me until I was able to understand what was happening.

During my first year in the US, my accent prevented me from feeling confident. At my master's program, I was misunderstood followed by laughs and jokes about my accent. Then I started to feel incompetent or "less than." When I heard compliments, I thought that they were fake because people were just trying to be nice to me. I started to feel anxious during presentations and constantly compare myself to others so I could "improve" aka "fit in." However, that was an unattainable goal. I would always have an accent, I would always "look Latina" (whatever people think that Latinas look like), and I would always be "too much." On dates, people would ask me if I had monkeys as pets and if people had shoes in Brazil. I would also have to ensure that people knew that I was not looking for a green card and that I had a good life in Brazil. Aside from all the references to Brazil as a favela, filled with crime and poverty, known by its Carnaval, big booties, or wild forests. I heard from who I thought was a good friend that I accepted a job (which they thought was not good) just because "of my visa status." I witnessed friends disappear after inviting them to go to the movies because there was nothing to do in the freezing winter months of Chicago while a poor full-time student. I have also heard how I share "way too much" about my personal life, and that makes people uncomfortable after seemingly being interested and showing up as "nice and warm." People assumed that I was begging to live in the US because I came from poverty and the US was a "better place to live." I had to daily explain to my husband how hurtful some things were that he was saying and doing as well as his friends. I accepted and laughed at hurtful jokes about me and my ethnicity because I thought that this is what we needed to do. After all, I was the "different one."

My self-esteem for the first time started to decline; I became self-conscious, I doubted myself; I started to seek confirmation outside; I started to cry out of a sudden; I became grouchy, rude, and angry all the time; I was mad at people, and in turn, people were mad at me. It easily became a dysfunctional social cycle. I pushed people away, they pushed me away. Being an outsider, misunderstood, angry, frustrated, sad, and lonely was way too familiar to me. Always longing for something different, more welcoming, where I could be unapologetically myself and not be so misunderstood. I just wanted to be myself without having to explain that I AM NORMAL! Therefore, I found myself constantly having to prove myself, my worth, my knowledge, my skills, and my normality.

Today, I created this space to be myself and attract people like me, who embrace differences, and who have a lot of love to give regardless of their and other people's identities. And that's when I realized that I do not need everyone to be part of my circle, but I can find and be embraced by people who are loving, caring, and humble. Then I was able to find myself again and be happy to be who I am. I just needed to look a little further.

Reylla Santos
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