Ana Della: A student born in Brazil, studying dentistry

Ana Della — Courtesy Ana Della

Interview by Kyra Steck

I was not born in the U.S. I used to live on the Island when I was little, like when I was 2 years old. I stayed there for two years, and then I came back to Brazil, and stayed until I was 15. Then I came back to do high school on the Island. I came halfway through freshman year, and graduated in 2014. It was a good time for me. I went back to Brazil for college, so I’ve been back and forth a lot.

My mom and my dad met in the U.S. They got married in the US. They’re both Brazilians, but they got married there. I was born in Brazil, but then when I was 2, I went to the United States. When I was little, I don’t remember much, but I know I didn’t want to go when I was 15. I was in Brazil, and all my friends were [there], and I was a teenager, so of course I didn’t want to go. But high school here for me was really good.

I started off in ESL classes, and there were a lot of Brazilian kids in my class. I remember Ms. Norton was the teacher there. She was awesome. I have a picture from my first day, and it was snowing. I didn’t think there were going to be any Brazilian kids, but when I went to class, there were eight or nine. So that first time, when I first got there, was such a relief. I knew there were more people I could speak Portuguese with. The other kids were there for more time, and they were translating so many simple things for me.

I feel like I didn’t have any really bad experiences. I never felt really bad, or like, “Oh, I don’t belong here.” But before I could speak English, it was harder. I didn’t have anything really bad, but when you talk in class, when you need to read part of something out loud — for me, the first years, I was like, “I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to read in front of people.” Because we’re afraid someone is going to laugh at us or be like, “Oh my God, your English is terrible.” Sometimes it’s only in our minds, like maybe they’re not going to even care that our English is bad or not good enough. But sometimes it’s something that was put in your mind. I remember in Driver’s Ed, we had to read little phrases from this book, and it started with the first one in the class, and I started counting, like “oh, when is it going to be my turn?” So I started practicing, practicing, practicing the phrase before I said it out loud. There was something in my head like, “Oh my God, I don’t want to say it wrong, I don’t want to say it wrong.” It was especially hard reading Shakespeare in English class. So that’s something that I was a little anxious about, but junior and senior year were better.

The problem also was, for the ESL credits in the high school — it’s not the same credits as a normal course. It’s not the same. Your GPA is not the same. I didn’t go to college in the U.S., but if I did, that was something that was not going to help me, because I did ESL for two years. And that’s something like — I don’t know how to speak English so that’s why I’m doing the ESL class. It’s not because I want to, or because it’s easy, or something like that. It’s only because I need this class.

Sometimes people assumed things about my intelligence because of how I spoke. I remember this time I went to the high school counselor, and she was really nice. I liked her. But I went to her my junior year, when I was taking only one ESL class, and told her, “Oh, maybe I can do an AP class.” And she was like, “Are you sure? Think about it. Maybe it’s going to be too hard. You’re not going to get high grades like you get in normal classes.” Back then I was thinking about if I was going to go to college in the U.S. or not. When she said that to me, I didn’t feel bad. I was like, “Oh, OK, maybe that’s true.” But maybe she could’ve encouraged me and said, “Go to the AP class, that’s awesome. Maybe you’re going to study more.” I remember thinking, “Oh, maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m just going to graduate high school and not do anything after.”

Speaking as a Brazilian, sometimes people think that we go to the Island to steal jobs from others, and we just want to work and we don’t want to go to college. We don’t want to have a life in the USA. Sometimes they think we’re just going to the U.S. because Brazil was horrible, but that’s not true. There’s so many other opportunities in America. That’s why we go there. It’s not because we hate our country, or anything like that. Some people don’t even ask you why you are here, and assume you’re just here to work, and that’s it. In the high school, sometimes they don’t think you’re going to go to college, or they just think you want to graduate, and that’s it. That’s all things they assumed before, and they don’t ask you.

I never tried talking about racism. I remember we talked to Ms. Norton about it. But sometimes, people here don’t want to talk about it, because they already have an idea made up in their minds. They think, “Oh, they’re already here, and they’re working like I was. If they’re here, that’s good enough.” With racism, it’s pretty hard. They don’t know how it works. They don’t know the reality. They’re not going to want to talk about it.