Smile. Make Jokes. Don’t Get Arrested or Deported.

He was joking with me.

It’s been 8 years since I’ve travelled out of the country (the first being back in 2010 when I went down into Haiti to help rebuild the communities after the earthquake). I’ve been wanting to travel, but you know how life in the United States is… we have this laundry list of things we’d like to do and we just put them off until we die.

I’m not sure how it is around the rest of the world, but in the US, making plans to do things is dang near an Olympic sport. Then we spend the bulk of our life, time, and resources on everything BUT the plans.

My brother is getting married here in Brazil next Saturday.
Estu en Brasil!

It was such a curious moment receiving my passport and visa back from the woman smiling behind the window of her immigration booth, not all menacingly plastered with “Policia De Federal” stickers all over it. As one step followed the other away from her, rising and falling with the elation of official admittance into this country, I realized I was the outsider. But in a legit away. Again, not like in the United States where I’m an outsider because trigger happy, functionally insecure colonizers and their ceaseless supply of offspring feel threatened by my existence and do their best to keep me boxed in and away from what’s rightfully mine… here I felt more like when a friend invites you to a party with their work friends. Or that first time going to your girlfriend’s family barbeque. It’s just like- This culture wasn’t made for me or designed with my ease and sensibilities in mind. 

Which is good! I was excited to be here! Probably should’ve put more of an effort into learning Portuguese, but too late for that now. I’m here and in the mix. Most of the people I was speaking to didn’t speak English. All labels were in giant, Portuguese letters with a picture beside it, and then tiny English letters beneath it. I was jazzed. A challenge! Pulling together my powers of language, the thin connection between Spanish and Portuguese, and raw deductive reasoning- I was ready.

And I was also aware.

With the whole slave trade thing, I missed out on identifying as an immigrant in any capacity. But being pseudo labeled one here really caught me. Instinctively I knew to be polite and non-assuming, just out of respect for where I was. But I also knew extreme activity could get me kicked out the country. Which was crazy. Not that extreme activity could get me kicked out (that makes sense), but that I was in a place I could get kicked out of period.

I couldn’t fathom being dragged out and/or imprisoned for having done nothing. Especially if I’d been here my entire life? And worked and contributed and become a part of the infrastructure of the country? MADNESS!!

It took on a whole new feel.
Every step of my unbothered freedom pounded that reality deeper into me, taking me back to the moment I’d landed and messaged my brother.

SMS: Just landed.
SMS re: Sexy. Take your time. Smile. Make jokes. Don’t get arrested or deported. We will arrive there by the time you get to the main area. Almost 20m away.


And it was funny. I grinned and sent a witty reply.

But as I walked down the hallway, deciphering the signs guiding me towards the baggage claim, I couldn’t help but feel two distinct things.

  1. A VERY awkward sense of privilege.
  2. Undeniably American, and that it was time to renegotiate what that meant.

Only Americans can truly fix America and make it what it’s supposed to be.
And what luck.

I happen to be one.


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