It’s been awhile since I’ve written, mostly because I have been thoroughly enjoying the freedom of not having a schedule. No tours, no deadlines. Just visiting places at exactly the pace I want.
After Ushuaia I flew to Buenos Aires. I know I will get a ton of backlash from this, but I didn’t fall in love with the city the way so many others do. It is very European-looking, and as rightly people say it’s the Paris of South America, unlike any other metropolitan city on the continent. Frankly, I feel that the Porteños (the people who come from the capital) try too hard to live up to what Buenos Aires is supposed to represent to outsiders, and their egos are hard to suppress as they talk about the wonders of their city. The rest of South America isn’t too fond of Argentinians, and Argentinians don’t really like Porteños. Maybe I am biased being that my family comes from it’s larger neighbor, Brasil. But I have to admit that even as a New Yorker, I was surprised by the nose-in-the-air feeling of the city. Porteños don’t say they are from Argentina when traveling, they say they are from Buenos Aires. This sentiment is all too familiar to New Yorkers who when they travel wouldn’t even think to call themselves Americans. I should be used to the Porteño attitude. However, rightly or not, as I travel South America I let my Brasilian roots direct my expectations, reactions, and observations of a particular place. As a Brasilian I wouldn’t be able to live in Buenos Aires. But as a Brasilian I also wouldn’t be able to live in Paris, a city I fell in love with when I studied abroad there. And so visiting Buenos Aires allowed my never ending struggle with my identity surface, and I felt confronted with how I was supposed to act or feel based on my upbringing.
Unfortunately (or not), my Greek heritage doesn’t affect me the way my Brasilian ethnicity does. When I reflect on my Greek identity, I can only think of my Greek-American after-school activities during my childhood that my grandmother (without filtering my sentiment here) flat out forced me to participate in. This included Greek school, Sunday school, Greek soccer, Greek dance, and weekly Greek youth group. For better or worse, despite it having been such an intense presence in my childhood for over 8 years, I have let that part of me stay in the past where it belongs.
So that leaves Brasil. I am first generation Brasilian, with only my mother living in the United States from her entire family. I grew up visiting my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, extended cousins, and family friends in Recife my entire life. I spoke Portuguese with my mom and with Brasilian relatives and friends that she frequently hosted at our house. We still speak Portuguese, although when I am angry or upset I usually switch to English, as it’s easier to properly convey my emotions in that way. Growing up with cousins all within the same age range made it easy to transition to being “Brasilian” whenever I went to visit them. I didn’t let much of American culture influence my behavior while I was there, and aside from a small American accent in my Portuguese, I felt right at home.
Lately things have changed, and every time I go back to Recife I find my values more aligned with how I live my life in New York. One of the biggest issues I have with visiting my city is that it’s increasingly become a more dangerous place to live. I am comfortably apt at taking the subway at 4 am alone after a night out in New York City. In Recife, I wouldn’t dream of walking half a block alone in my own neighborhood past 9 pm. It’s two different worlds, and the one I try to fit into in Brasil only makes me feel more trapped. When I’m there my independence is gone, and so my behavior changes. Just as it has changed my family as they adjust to this safety problem, one that only in the last decade has become significant enough to affect quality of life. Recife is still very much a third world city in the way it’s people think and behave, and I am often frustrated at how some things haven’t changed despite the resources available, or how some behaviors and customs reflect an ignorance that has no excuse in our globalized world. I can also observe my mother often feeling the same when she visits home. I will be visiting family in Recife in early February; we shall see what happens then.
I find myself switching between my “Brasilian” and “New Yorker” selves whenever I travel. When in Western Europe, I feel like a New Yorker. In Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East, the cultures were so exotic to me that I honestly felt just plain “Western.” When in Colombia, I felt such a beautiful connection to Brasil as I saw so many cultural similarities between both South American countries. In New York, it’s a sporadic sway between both sides, depending on the situation (and can be a whole other blog post). In Brasil, well, that’s the ongoing conversation I have with myself, one that is directly affected by my relationships with my immediate family as I see how our values and ways of life are changing as we grow up.
In Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, I had never felt so Brasilian in my life. I felt so proud to come from a country whose people are so warm and welcoming, and who inject passion into everything that they do, whether it be dancing, eating, talking to people, loving one another and fighting with one another. They are proud to be South American, and to be descendants of not only Europeans, but of Africans and indigenous peoples. Brasil is rife with corruption, the widest income gap on the continent, violence, gangs, and favelas. But it’s also a culture that, similarly to the United States, has accepted such a melting pot of ethnicities and has nurtured and integrated them into Brasilian culture.
This all sounds terribly harsh towards Buenos Aires. I truly enjoyed so many parts of the city and its people: the lovely hipster neighborhood of San Telmo and it’s Sunday antique market, the milongas where you can learn and dance tango every night of the week, the oddities and behaviors of drinking maté, dulce de leche that is to die for, the gorgeous and lush parks, the Porteño respect for Evita, and their love of nightlife and of staying out until sunrise. I met some wonderful Porteños who were gracious and proud to show me around and make me feel welcome. It certainly won’t be my last visit to Buenos Aires.