My parents were eagerly awaiting our arrival on an early Spring morning, and when our plane finally landed after the almost 10 1/2 hours flight and we made our way to the luggage claim area, the reunion was filled with a lot of hugging, laughter and a huge sigh of relief. For someone who had spent most of their entire lives in a small and sleepy town in the East coast of Brazil, waking up and finding yourself at JFK Airport was nothing short of a major event! I had never seen so many people of so many different races and speaking so many different dialects in my entire life, all 16 years of them! Everywhere I looked, everything was so different from what I was used to… even signs (so many of them) were in a different language! Eventually we grabbed our luggage and made our way to the parking lot looking for our car.
Before my sister and I left Brazil, I had the very hard task of giving away all of my possessions and only bringing the very bare minimal to start “a new life”. I was still going through my mid-teenager years, so I had to give away all of my favorite music LPs, books, childhood toys, and all the mementos I had collected through the years. This may not be such a big deal to you, but I have always been very attached to the things people give me, specially if they were given by someone I really cared. Seeing the things that represented so many people and moments of my life slowly drifting away filled me with a great feeling of personal loss. This feeling would stay with me for the next couple of years as I tried to adjust to my new adopted country. I was a stranger in a different land, where nobody knew me and I did not know anyone.
It’s been 23 years since this event took place, and I’m still here in the “Land of the Free”. Through the years I have survived High School, graduated with a Bachelors in Science from an university in Upstate New York, married (another immigrant from another country who you shall meet soon), moved a couple of times, and now find myself raising three young girls in North Carolina, the first Maciel generation of our families to be born outside our countries! Our similarities and differences, however, go beyond only the generation gap!
You see, contrary to a lot of the “stereotypical” immigrant families, we have completely immersed ourselves into the Americal way of life and culture, with a dash of our childhood cultures sprinkled here and there to add a little diversity to the mix. My wife and I stopped observing the holidays from our countries of origin a long time ago, specially those with no corresponding holidays here. We share a lot of the things that we learned growing up with our kids, but always in a nostalgic, almost didactic sort of way. We speak a mix of Brazilian Portuguese-Mexican Spanish-New Jersey English at home and try our best not to force our children to learn either language in particular. As it stands now, our kids' primary language is English and even though I still make a habit of speaking in Brazilian Portuguese to them, their vocabulary consists of several words that they only say either in Spanish or Portuguese, like the word “daddy”. My wife’s vocabulary has also gone through a very interesting transformation, and she now speaks more Portuguese than Spanish when talking to our kids. Maybe it is because she was very young when she moved to New York in the early 1990s and never really got a lot of exposure to the Spanish language growing up in a different country.
All I can say is that I call North Carolina home, I vote during elections, I always get emotional when hearing the American Anthem, and together with my wife I raise the next generation of the Maciel family! Maybe they will take some of our culture and teach it to their own kids one day… maybe one day they may even learn to speak Portuguese or Spanish… maybe they won’t, and that is ok by me. We don’t even force them to follow the same religion our parents (and their parents) taught us growing up, prefering that they make that decision on their own, when and if they’re ever interested in doing so. We want them to be able to choose their own paths and make educated decisions about every aspect of their lives without any pressure or guilt.
I’m an American-Brazilian, my wife is American-Mexican and our kids are Americans with a touch of Brazilian and Mexican pride and culture. Together we form the New American Family!