Saudade: News from and for the Brazilian community/Notícias de e para a comunidade brasileira

Brazilian Islanders: Meet Carla Beatriz Damian-Gomes

Carla Damian-Gomes

A tradução deste artigo se encontra no final da versão em inglês

Starting with this column, I would like to begin introducing some members of the Brazilian community, in addition to writing about events, opportunities, and other pertinent topics. This week, meet Carla Beatriz Damian-Gomes, the first Brazilian to attend the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and the first female Brazilian court officer in Dukes County.

Where did you live in Brazil?

I lived in Santa Catarina, one of the three states in south Brazil.

How was MVRHS when you enrolled in 1994? How was your first day?

I was so scared on my first day because I didn’t know the language. I was in a private school in Brazil, and when I did a placement test [at MVRHS], I did really well, and the school offered me to be a sophomore instead of a freshman, but we ultimately decided that it was best to remain a freshman, as it was the best option because I didn’t speak English. Back in 1994, I felt a little lonely because I didn’t have anyone since I was the first Brazilian.

There were no apps to translate among all of the other technology that makes our lives easier nowadays. I had a dictionary. People didn’t really talk to me, but we got the point across. It took me six to seven months to begin to feel comfortable speaking in English. My ESL teacher, Jacquie Callahan, helped me a lot in the first year. She had books, little kids’ books, that she used to help me. She had only me as a Brazilian student among her American students. The second year got better because two other Brazilians joined the high school. I believe it was Genaina Pereira and Renata Barros.

How would you say that the Island has changed regarding the Brazilian community? In your opinion, what have been the big changes?

There weren’t as many options as far as Brazilian stores and restaurants. Helio da Silva had a little store we used to go to for all things Brazilian and to rent Brazilian soap opera tapes, because at that time Comcast didn’t offer Brazilian channels, as they do now. We had to put our names on a waiting list to have access to these tapes and had two days to watch and return them. I don’t know exactly how many Brazilians lived on the Island back then, but not as many as today. They didn’t own houses or anything. If two Brazilians back then owned houses, that was a lot.

What happened after you graduated high school in 1998?

I was not legal when I graduated high school, and despite having a full scholarship to college through a lady who lives in Chilmark (her name is Ms. Steiner), I couldn’t attend because I didn’t have a social security number. I had to accept that as difficult as it was, that was my reality at the time. I tried to change that though. I took the ferry and a bus by myself and went to the immigration office in Boston and explained my situation, and the opportunity I had and asked if they could do anything to help me. However, they laughed at my face and told me to go home, that no one was going to bother me as long as I didn’t do anything wrong. I had to, at the very least, try to do something about it. I remember thinking that it just wasn’t my time. God knew when my time would be.

What did you do after high school?

I worked as a dental assistant for 10 years and as a counter person at a no longer existing deli on the Island. Ultimately, I got my papers through one of the last immigration reforms that opened in the U.S., the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act of 2000 (the LIFE Act), but actually ended up finalizing the process through marriage, and now I am a naturalized American citizen.

Where is home for you?

It is so strange the feeling of not truly being able to answer that question. Sometimes I am in the U.S., and it doesn’t feel like home, and I feel the same when in Brazil. It is as if I am perpetually lost between both worlds and cultures.

How does it feel to be Brazilian on the Island?

Well, I believe that when you move out of your country in pursuit of a better life, you have the responsibility to live your life in a way that doesn’t jeopardize other members of your community. Sometimes it can be hard because I feel that if something bad happens on the Island, some people say that it is probably a Brazilian, and that is challenging. I understand some frustrations expressed regarding immigration, fairness, and so forth. However, one thing that concerns me is the lack of something to allow immigrants to have a driver’s license in a way that other states have done it. For me, it is a way to provide public safety. As of now, because the state refuses to do something about it, the state doesn’t really know or control anything regarding the immigrants living in Massachusetts. To me, it makes no sense. All cars would have insurance, and people would be accountable for maintaining their license, perhaps preventing some behaviors that right now clog our court system.

Why did you become a court officer?

I had always wanted to be a police officer because of the way things are in my country. I wanted to feel less powerless. I became a court officer in 2011.

Why do you love the Island? What makes this place so special for you?

The Island’s landscape is similar to where I come from, and this is such a beautiful and safe place, especially for my kids. I would have stayed here even if I couldn’t live here legally. That would have been a sacrifice worth making for the safety of my family as well as my own.

How do you feel about the current state of immigration in the U.S. right now?

We never stop being an immigrant, regardless of becoming a naturalized citizen. It is so sad because there are so many great people from all over the world just trying to make a good living for their kids; the American dream is an idea that will never die. The lack of a reform hurts everyone. People tend to forget that they will become responsible for costs associated with trying to send people home when, in reality, immigrants, since the birth of this nation, have only made this country better. I hope that eventually, a bipartisan bill reaches the Congress. It is needed because we, as a country, would only benefit for that to become a reality.