Last year for 4th of July I was in Brazil and I wore my Salvadoran soccer jersey as a personal act of contempt against U.S. Imperialism. Of course the act was geographically out of context, but it was kind of a “fuck you” to the majority of Anglo Americans in my program whom I came to loathe. It wasn’t so much that they were white, it was more that they were incredibly culturally insensitive, whiney, and fetishizing of Brazilian culture and people. So I was trying to say, “I’m not like you Amerikkkans and this blue shirt is why.” Though I am United Statesian by birth, my roots lie in Latin America’s smallest country, and I was suddenly living in its biggest.
The most mundane things fascinated me, like the fact that most food and household items were labeled Industrias Brasileiras, literally “Brazilian Industries,” equivalent to “Made in Brazil.” Free trade hasn’t quite manifested itself in Brazil like it has throughout North America. First off, nothing is really made in the USA anymore. Secondly, El Salvador’s economy is totally fucked up because shit like Washington Apples are cheaper than the local produce, which can be said for much of the Caribbean and the rest of Central America as well. I was kind of in awe that a country could be integrated in the global market, and yet be more or less really sustainable… especially a hot, tropical, and economically unequal Latin American country at that!
I felt at home. I remember telling my mom over the phone saying, “you could find the cultural diversity and global cosmopolitan nature of US cities, but not too far away there was the warmth and provincial nature of El Salvador.” (STFU before anyone gives me shit about Salvi not being provincial because it has, like, one Starbucks). Penthouse skyscrapers suites overlooking aluminum shanty towns, a Little Tokyo district and chaotic informal street vendors. If you had a venn diagram of first and third world, Brazil would be right in the middle, it reflects it’s G20 status. It was by no means idyllic, it just reconciled for me what in my head was two mutually exclusive but familiar places.
Not only were my notions on development challenged, but so were my notions on race and ethnicity. Being a light skinned latino put me in Brazil’s “white” category, as uncomfortable as that made me given my experience with U.S. racial hierarchies, it was a validating test of the social construction of race. Having full lips and swarthy facial features didn’t mark me as a spicy hot foreign other! I was just part of the general make up of society, and with some decent Portuguese skills, 50% of the time I passed as a boring local. I loved that. Being Salvadoran American in the US has it’s challenges: In general terms, White America thinks I’m a hostile affirmative-action anchor-baby, and among Latinos I’m a minority within a minority (cough Mexicans in LA cough). Brazil is demographically really complex, and maybe it had to do because I was an out-of-context foreigner, but I felt I fit in for once.
It’s also not that exotic if you’re from a Caribbean basin country like El Salvador. People tried to introduce me to passion fruit, green coconuts, plantains, cashew fruit, beans, and yuca, all of which I was pretty familiar with. In fact Brazilians have way more uses for yuca than we do (farofa wtf). There was even some linguistic similarities to Salvadoran Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese: vos - você, ta bien -ta bom, sorbete-sorvete among others. It wasn’t just the Iberian and Amerindian influences in both cultures, but also the West African influences, which goes largely ignored in Mesoamerica.
And so I stood out that day in Brazil, in my blue Selecta jersey, and it made me a target to get pick pocketed. I tried to cancel my credit card but it didn’t go through because the Indian call center folks were unaware of the big American holiday. So I was out a couple thousand dollars scholarship and I couldn’t graduate until I worked for two months to pay off my study abroad tuition. So I was totally a victim of Brazilian identity theft, to be fair I also had my luggage (including my jersey) stolen at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles the day I arrived. Possessions and money are fleeting, so I didn’t really care, which brings me to my next point…
Why am I writing about Brazil on 4th of July? Because the U.S. decided it wanted to escalate bloody wars in Central America that forced my parents to leave, separated them from their families, so that the U.S. can sell guns and have them as cheap labor. So I see my U.S. passport and education as a birth right, not for being born on blessed soil, but because I see it as reparations for the effect Reagan-era Cold War foreign policy has had on my family. So I’m going to use my American privileges to see Brazil, teach in Korea, see the world’s beautiful nuances, and wear my blue and white jersey to places it was never meant to go. And so will my children, and my children’s children, and until the world blows itself up.