We are all foreigners

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“Oh, Brazil???” And there comes the smile.

I’ve heard about such experience from another people, mostly friends. When they travelled abroad and the natives discoveries that were talking to a Brazilian citizen, something magical always occurs. A little bit of joy, curiosity and and amusement creating a brand new conversation between unknown people.

I finally experienced that when I went to Paris, in 2013. I’m Caucasian and even in Brazil a lot of people told me that I look like a European citizen. Sometimes they really thought that I’m a foreigner. According to several people, I could be German, Italian, Argentinian or Jewish.  But they didn’t misidentify my wife, a Brazilian brunette with curly hair and brown eyes. So, the question was just to confirm: “Where are you from?”.

It was always funny. I remember a serious receptionist at Saint-Chapelle (a church next to Conciergerie, where Mary Antoniet was arrested at French Revolution) suddenly said to us: “Bom dia” (“Good morning” in Portuguese, the language spoken in my country). I had to ask how he knew we’re from Brazil and he pointed out the tourist guide in my hand, where you could read the words “São Paulo” – it’s the second biggest city of Brazil. And, of course, he gave us a smile.

What had all of those people felt as soon they heard “Brazil”? What’s in their imagination, what did they have in mind? Perhaps the most common stereotypes are: carnival, soccer players, beautiful women, beaches. This video make my point about that issue:

Things Brazilians Are Sick Of Hearing

But I don’t want to be prejudiced neither do I want to be stereotyping peoples’ minds and motivations. I realized that Brazil has a powerful image around the world, and It’s positive almost always.

Nelson Rodrigues, one of our best writers, described once that we, Brazilians, suffer from “slum dog  complex”. It’s a habit to despise our potentialities and characteristics (like our country and culture), thinking that we’re not good enough. And the foreigner is better then us, and that we should strive to be foreign from our own land.

There are some examples: we forgot good (and historical) musicians like Tom Zé. But when the producer David Byrne discovered him, the Brazilian critics said “Oh, what an artist!” If the North-American talks about this legendary musician, then it has to mean this artist is indeed special, right? And when we have doubts and lack of confidence about our strengths and talents, it’s our “slum dog complex” commanding again. When we won the 1958 Soccer World Cup with a 17 years old Pelé playing like an adult, beating the Swedish team in Sweden, Rodrigues stated: “It’s the end of slum dog complex!”. Nevertheless, sometimes we resuscitate it.

However, I have to remember that we, Brazilians, are foreigners too. That’s so obvious to say a thing like that, but only when we have direct contact with another culture or place beyond our boundaries we realize that. In Paris I felt that taste and, I must say, I liked it! Yes, I was then the outsider, the extraordinary one who came from another reality to there.

We play different roles across the world. The globalization and the facilities to travel and to connect with another people by technology emphasize that kind of situation. Thus, we have the choice to maintain our prejudices and closed mindedness about the foreigner (the stranger?) and about ourselves, or to be open.

Being open is to give up power, control, and any other thing that immobilizes us. Raul Seixas, a great Brazilian rock-star, sang: “I prefer to be a walking metamorphosis, Instead to have the same old opinion about everything”.

If we’re all foreigners in some way and sometimes, why keeping cultivating stereotypes and barriers to know, to listen and to understand the other human beings who divide the Earth with us? The (cynical or innocent) deafness is planting intolerance, hate and all kind of wars – inner or outer ones.

By the way, even in this material world we’re all foreigners. Why so serious?


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3 comments to “We are all foreigners”

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  1. Wow, what a wonderful article! There are so many things to say, I will try to condense them. The first thing this reminded me of that was growing up listening to my grandpa talk about what it was like growing up in the Philippines, joining the U.S. military, and meaning racism head on. If he was often told that he would never make rank because ” he couldn’t even speak English.” Despite the fact that, while heavily accented at the time, my grandpa spoke and still speaks better English than most people I know. If if

    But the experience changed him. He decided to make himself as much like a born and bred American as he possibly could. I remember that, in his stories, he would often tell me of the negative side of living in a third world country, everyone was always so poor, there was never any work, and many people there were just too lazy to make anything of themselves the way that he did. He would sometimes get mad at me for watching programs in Filipino as I attempted to learn the language on my own.

    My grandma grew up in the Hawaii that was not a state. Through her, I don’t see how the native Hawaiian quickly became foreign and the land that was supposed to be theirs. There is received results tension between politically active groups of those of Portuguese descent, Filipino descent, Japanese descent, and the native Hawaiians. And her stories near for much of what my grandpa would tell me in tone. Despite the fact that they were both from veritable island paradises, I feel as though they both suffered from slum dog complex. But I had the opportunity to watch them change… They made themselves foreigners, adopting a new culture, different political ideologies from the ones they grow up with, different speech patterns, and everything else. But as the aged, I could see a homesickness grow in them. Then, a kind of cultural pride began to emerge. Not a pride born of haughtiness, but one that saw if that there was beauty and sharing where they came from. This is one thing the story reminded me of. A kind of cultural insecurity.

    As for myself, I’ve always sort of felt like a foreigner. I’ve never really been Filipino enough for the Filipino community, there really no Hawaiians around, just the kind of genericized Polynesian, on top of that, when you grow up being physically different from everyone else it’s almost as if there’s another society within the society in which we live. For a long time I was wondering, I was aimless. I’ve already known what it feels like to be a social outsider, akin to the immigrant experience without ever having emigrated. It is because of that that I hold on to my roots, and as I grow I’ve tried to deepen them. All the while, like a tree I stretch out knowing that my roots with proper care will be strengthened and remain a solid foundation. And as my branches stretching out, I greet the world symbolized by the sun and declare, I am cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world!

  2. I’ve never been in Brazil and until I travel it, I have to rely on second hand info to gain my impressions. From my POV, which may not reflect the stereotypical US society’s perspective, Brazil is a large country w/ a diverse geography and is peopled by a wide range of individuals w/ different backgrounds and interests.

    I have two generalized impressions that come to mind when I think of Brazilians. On one hand, I think of the beaches, the beautiful woman, free spirited thinking and a joy in the celebration of life and partying down- a high quality of life regardless of relative economic or class considerations . On the other side, I think of the struggling workers who are serfs in the copper mines, or public projects and the short-term benefits that the impoverished locals need for their immediate survival. The struggle between the sanctity of the rainforests and the immediate income that private, outside contractors provide seems to be a major political concern.

    We are all foreigners living on a teeny, tiny speck of dust w/ an extremely rare biosphere that supports lifeforms the most complex of which has evolved w/ consciousness. We all carry genes from the same mother- “mitochondrial Eve”, who lived w/ our hunter-gather ancestors somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago- a mere eyeblink in the context of geologic time.

    Race is a construct based upon skin colors and minor anatomical differences that are the result of the diverse range of local environments that different groups of ancestors developed their distinct languages and cultures in. Delineating our species by race is antiquated thinking. Aren’t skin tone differences between societies or ethnic subcultures about the same thing as black, brown, blonde, red, auburn, grey, white, bald? hair color differences within a society?

    In my travels to distant lands I’ve met and lived w/ people of all ethnic bloodlines- some that I could only communicate w/ in a form of sign language that we developed. People have the same feelings, intellects, emotions, needs, problems and interests everywhere that I’ve visited.

    Virtually every individual on earth could sit down to share meals together for a couple of days and be the better for it. Humans are universally drawn to love and repelled by violence. The forces that sub-divide the world into rival groups by both religious and secular dogmas are not abstract. Real people w/ vested interests and insatiable appetites for power and capital are directing the show. We need to hold them responsible.

    In the meantime, hopefully we’ll exorcize some of the unreasoned, irrational prejudice and bias that we all have been socialized to believe as true and survive the current self-destructive paradigm together.

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