My brother, my mother and I came from Brazil to the United States in 2018. I was 17 years old and as all teenagers, I had the desire to explore and discover everything. Specifically, I dreamed of coming to the United States. It is a desire that a lot of people have: live in the United States with the hope that it can be ours as well. When I came, I thought that I was about to live that dream.
I grew up in a city named Campina Grande, a city in northeast Brazil. I loved my city because I had my family there and all my friends. But I also grew up always thinking about America. I imagined the United States would be like the movies, like High School Musical. I imagined I would be welcomed. That everyone was kind and patient and treated us as they treated themselves.
From the moment I arrived I desired to be an American, because I thought everyone had their perfect lives, perfect jobs and perfect families. But the first few months after we arrived in the United States were difficult for me and my family. We did not speak the language, we didn’t know anyone, we were not even familiar with the weather, Brazil is always hot and suddenly we were surrounded by snow. Family and friends were far away, leaving a huge hole in our lives. Being an immigrant is like a new birth. The adult becomes a child and has to learn to crawl again. I saw everyday my mother struggle trying to learn this new language, trying to navigate a new land. And I felt the same.
But also we didn’t always feel welcome. I was confused why many people call us Hispanic when we were Brazilian and spoke Portuguese. When I spoke with some people they would ask me: "Where do you come from? I don't recognize that accent." Such questions made me feel uncomfortable. Why did it matter where we came from? I felt like we were carrying a label on our forehead that said: Immigrant.
I wanted to enjoy what the country had, but I found I was afraid of being labeled as an immigrant, I was afraid of not fitting in, I was afraid of not knowing how to communicate.
I began to see the real America. The complicated America where immigrants didn’t always have access to opportunities. I saw how hard it was for immigrants I knew to go to college. I saw a lot of immigrants not be able to work because they didn't have the documents they needed. I saw people crying because they were struggling with the English language. I too struggled and I felt sadness.
But, although at first I felt that I would not fit in, with time things changed. In the United States I met people from many different places across the world. I met them at school, at work and in our neighborhood. People that speak Portuguese, English, Spanish, Khmer, French, Hindi, Nepali and Arabic. I realized that all these people were like me. They too were all looking for the American dream. I saw students from Kenya, Cambodia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Portugal and from other countries succeeding. I saw America there. At work I saw my colleagues working hard to do a great job. I saw America there. And then I realized where America really came from. I realized that real American included us: immigrants, that stand every day to work and make the economy work, that fight for our family, that leave our home, our country to live here.
I realized immigrants are like warriors. They have left their home and their family. Their weapons are hope, humility and positive thinking. I came to this country because I saw this country as a safe place, a place where I could start a new life. Maybe in the future we will have a society where more people will understand how important immigrants are to our country.
© Maria Eduarda Guimaraes Campos. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.