Interview by Kyra Steck
My name is Isadora, I am 30 years old, and I was born in Brazil. I first moved to the U.S. when I was 9. I used to live in Boston, and I have an older sister who married and moved to the Island, so I used to come here for summers to visit her, when I was probably around 11 or 12. Then when I turned 14, I went to live with my dad in Brazil for a year. When I came back, my sister said I should come to the Island and work, so I had my first job at Cronig’s. I moved here, I fell in love, and I decided to stay and go to high school here. I’ve been here since then.
When I moved to the Island, I had already met people who made me feel like I was welcomed in the community. The community felt really inclusive. It’s one of the great things about the Island. I think that’s why you have so many people who find it hard to believe that certain things happen here, because on the outside, we are a very open, inclusive community.
I work for a domestic violence and sexual assault [organization], and the first thing people say to me when they hear that is, “Does that happen on the Island?” Yes, all the issues you see happening around the world happen on the Island as well, you just don’t see it. They all happen, but people are not paying attention as closely to it, because this is supposed to be a happy vacation place. It’s “where I go for vacations” and “where I spend my summers.” I think that’s why when you talk about real issues, a lot of people have a hard time believing or even accepting that we actually need to do something about it.
I think the biggest thing for us on the Island — and I talk about this with my friends all the time — is how race is seen as something completely different here than, for example, in Brazil. I am Brazilian, but I’m a white Brazilian in my country. So this is the first time that people have labeled me because I wasn’t born here. Sometimes not even because of the color of my skin, but simply because I’m an immigrant. They assume I’m a person of color, they don’t ask. I think on the Island, we don’t realize that we are constantly labeling the Brazilian community as “people of color.” They think we all have the same story, but we don’t. We each individually have different stories — happy stories, sad stories, all kinds of different stories. Everybody experiences the U.S. differently.
I had a really bad experience once, when I went to get my license. It was the most horrible experience I’ve ever had. I spent seven months telling the lady that I had papers and proper paperwork, and she kept declining me, and would not allow me to even take my written test. At one point I looked at her and thought, “This lady really hates me, and she doesn’t even know me.” That was the first time I think I experienced someone mistreating me because of what I looked like or where I came from. That little “born in Brazil” made a really big difference. To me, that was a shock, but I like to think that I’m a person who has fought for my rights. I kind of took that head-on — I was pissed. I was ready to take the whole DMV down if I needed to, but thankfully, I managed to get my license here. I put that experience in the past.
When it comes to race here, I see that as a Brazilian on the Island, you’re constantly scared of the police. You’re constantly scared of going to things like court, or even a town meeting. I think for the longest time, Brazilians had this idea that the police were here to arrest them and send them back to their country. Court meant the same thing. Anyone with authority was that. I’ve worked with ESL adults, and I’m now working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, so it’s so important to me to get that information out there. I think the more informed they are, the more they know their rights, and when they do experience that backlash, they’ll know what to do. They’re not going to be frozen, not knowing what to do or where to look. They still have rights as human beings. Just because they’re an immigrant or a person of color doesn’t mean that their rights get stripped away.
I’ve been blessed enough, and privileged and so lucky, that I’ve only worked in environments where people were very accepting. They accepted me with open arms, and I’ve only dealt with people who had a very strong opinion that you cannot treat immigrants differently. But I know that it happens, and I think it’s small, everyday things, like when you meet someone who is automatically making fun of your accent. They think it’s funny, but they’re making fun of something that I can’t change. Or when you meet someone who asks, “Do you have papers? Are you illegal here? Do you pay your taxes?” You would never approach a white person and say, “Hey, how much did you pay for your taxes this year?” Or, “Are you getting paid legally?” Those are not topics of conversations that you have with anyone, but it becomes normal to be asked that when you’re a Brazilian or when you’re an immigrant. It’s the normal line of questioning.
Get to know me first, and then if you want to know more about it, then yes, go for it. I love to educate people on what being an immigrant is, but it’s not going to be the first thing that I tell you. It’s private and personal information, and I think that’s where the line is. A lot of people don’t see that as being disrespectful to an immigrant. They label it as curiosity.
I have been so lucky and privileged that my experiences as a Brazilian on this Island have not been entirely bad. I think they’ve been good. I think I’ve felt welcome. But just because I’ve had that experience doesn’t mean that other people don’t experience it differently. I have friends who talk about what they can do and can’t do, and people tell me their experiences, and I try to help them. So that’s why I know that there is an underlying issue here on the Island.