This is my longest blog post by far. I dig into my journey to understand and resist my relationship to whiteness and honestly there is just so much to say! Content Warning on this one for anyone who does not want to read about that process for me.
The first words I ever typed into a Google search (or maybe it was Yahoo back then) were AIDS+ORPHAN+VOLUNTEER+INTERNATIONAL+TRAVEL. I had been living with my foster family for a few months and getting used to all of the resources suddenly at my fingertips. My mom and I had never had the internet before even though it was 2004 when she died and I was nervous to mess anything up on the computer that the family used and told me that I was allowed to use as well. We had a lesson in school on how to use the internet and how to search for things so I tried to remember what the librarian had taught us. I clicked on the very first result that came up. A year later, I would be on a plane to Brazil with that first result without ever even considering a different organization. `
For a while after my mom died, I was in a daze. But with time, the fog began to lift and the more awareness of my new reality came with the urge to flee. I wanted to run away. I am homesick for my hometown and the people and places that raised me now, but back then, I was ready to get away as fast as possible. I petitioned my high school to give me permission to graduate a year early. It could have been pretty simple. I would take the G.E.D. and then I could begin my new life as a grown up and leave behind my life as an AIDS orphan. But I was 17 and so I needed parental permission to graduate early. My foster family was kind enough to really give it some thought, but they decided that I wasn’t ready to be out on my own. It felt so weird to have this new authority figure situation in my life. My mom basically let me do anything I wanted. I felt powerless. But only for a minute. Once I realized that I was not going to make my escape to college for another year, I took a deep breath and worked up the nerve to do that google search.
I spent the next year of my life, focused entirely on my new mission to LEAVE and not only to LEAVE but to go as far away as I could imagine going. The organization that I found, had volunteer positions in a number of countries around the world, but I specifically wanted to work in an AIDS orphanage. That was really important to me. I had never met anyone other than my parents that was HIV+ and I needed that. I needed to be around people that understood this part of my history. I also really wanted to love on some kids in a way that I so desperately needed to be loved and cared for. Not in the way that people who are trying to save you love you, but in the way that people who really see you love you. Grown AIDS ORPHAN to BABY AIDS ORPHAN. I did not know yet, that while my heart was in a good place, I was stepping into a whole business that I have now learned is called Voluntourism. Shudder. Honestly, I rarely talk about my trip to Brazil, because I would never make it again. I never want to give anyone the impression that anything that I did while I was in Brazil made any positive change for anyone. It didn’t and I know now that I was part of a dynamic that actually causes harm to vulnerable communities while allowing mostly wealthy young people from around the World to feel like they are “giving back” in some way.
I wasn’t rich, obviously, but I did have the family that I was living with in my court and although they were pretty solidly middle class, they were well positioned in our community. Everyone knew and respected them. They made ME palatable. I ran with it. Suddenly people who had never given me a second out of their day were listening to my fundraising pitch. I had to raise a lot of funds for my trip! I was even invited to a luncheon at the Club that I had previously only entered when I went to help my aunt do her job there as the cleaning lady. I stood as tall as I could in front of these men all in suits and I began my story, “….I am raising money to volunteer at an AIDS orphanage in Salvador, Brazil….This is important to me, because I am an AIDS orphan. My parents all contracted HIV right here in this town and lived and died here in secret….” Saying those words to those people (to any people!) felt terrifying. But also liberating! The adrenaline and the release was intoxicating. Soon, I was knocking on doors selling hoagies to the neighborhood, “I am raising money to volunteer at an AIDS orphanage….My parents…died in secret.”
I had a Chicken BBQ at the one grocery store in my whole town. I had an uncle that had worked there all of his life right out of high school all the way until he was eventually laid off after 20 years of employment. Anyway, this is the same store where my older cousin would shove her moms food stamps into my hand when we were kids so that I had to check out when our moms sent us to the store together. I had to pay for all of our stuff in stamps and then a separate order all in stamps for my aunt. The cashier looking at me like I was trash and the other people in line groaning about how long it was taking to do two orders. This was back when food stamps were actual stamps and not EBT cards like today. It was a place where I felt shame mixed with anticipation for the food that would soon sooth my hunger at the beginning of each month.
I remember on this day, I was dressed in a long tie-dye skirt. I had recently pierced my nose and I wore a hemp bag with a rainbow peace sign stitched across the fabric. My hair was down to my waist and I was of course in sandals. This was when I was in my hippie phase, before I was told that I was too angry to be a hippie (true!) and before I realized that hippies were not the activists that I thought they were. In my hometown they were the only activists that I had ever learned about! No mention of Act Up or the Black Panther Party in my History classes. Anyway, I was there in the parking lot of a redneck town looking like THAT and talking to the farmers, the guys in pick up trucks with gun racks in the back, the faces of all of the parents of all of the kids that I grew up with who saw me as nothing more than trouble. One by one I stopped them as they approached the store. I was selling BBQ so people of course were gravitating toward the grill. The father of the foster family was graciously cooking away so that I could do what I really came there to do. “I am raising money to volunteer in an AIDS orphanage in Brazil…My parents…lived and died…in secret…” I am not proud of my voluntourism trip, but I am proud of teenage Crystal Fawn for looking my community in the eye, speaking my truth and demanding that for the first time in my life, they really SEE me.
While he waited for his chicken, one man turned up his nose when I said the word AIDS. He gave me a look that sent chills down my spine. He was offended and maybe even scared to learn that there were people living with AIDS in our little town nestled into our corner of Appalachia. “Why would you go all the way to Brazil for to take care of sick babies when we have enough of our own sick babies right around here?” I was trained to never speak back to a man and so it took all of my courage to reply but I was almost out of this town and so I was feeling bold. Plus, all those parents were right…I was trouble. 😉 I looked at him and I said the truth. “I want to take care of all of the babies in the world. I want to take care of all of the babies, because this town never took care of me. YOU never cared about the AIDS babies right in this town. And you still don’t. I AM taking care of the sick children of this town. I am taking care of ME and I am getting the hell out of here!!”
When school started back up and I was officially a senior, I poured myself into studying the history of Salvador, Brazil. I learned that the city was called “little Africa” because so much of the culture, religion, food, dance and everything! Was carried and now thriving in the descendants of people stolen from Africa and brought as slaves to Brazil. I learned that the slaves in that city rebelled and ran the Portuguese out! That Salvador was 98% Afro-Brazillian for this very reason. I learned all of that and so much more.
I began taking Portuguese lessons from the only person that I could find in my town that spoke the language. Unbelievably that person was the landlord who ruthlessly exerted her dominance over my home the day that my mom died. See previous blog posts to read about this joy of a woman. Anyway, I swallowed all of my rage and I sat at her kitchen once a week to wrap my tongue around the words that she was handing me in the hopes that it would all be worth it to be able to actually communicate with the children at the orphanage!
I graduated from high school which mostly just felt like nothing because my mom wasn’t there and that was it. A week later, I was on my first flight. First to Buffalo, then Atlanta, then Sao Palo and finally Salvador! My boyfriend drove me to the airport. He chatted with a man who had a celtic knot tattoo similar to his own while I checked in. We sat in the airport forever. It was my first time and I was nervous and excited and got there way too early. We were there long enough to see that man with the tattoo board his plane and then come screaming back off of it a few minutes later. He was sobbing and shaking and he glued himself to the window to watch the plane with his wife still onboard take off. My boyfriend went to go check in with him to make sure he was ok. Turns out it was his first flight too and he was very afraid. (also, side-note in case this isn’t obvious. WHITE PRIVILEGE!!! Can you imagine any man of any other race than white screaming and running off of a plane into an airport and not drawing the attention of security?!?!??!!?) I was pretty nervous about taking my first flight, but I decided I wasn’t going to do THAT.
I kissed my boyfriend good-bye and walked away from my childhood and into the next phase of my life. It sounds ridiculously corny but I was a teenager and that is exactly what I thought I was doing.
When I landed in Brazil, this is what I noticed. Every single airport employee was dressed in what I can only describe as farmer clothes. Or maybe what people who aren’t farmers would dress in if that were a costume at Halloween. I am talking straw hats, overalls, long gingham dresses, pigtails on all of the women and freckles painted on their cheeks with Sharpie? Straw tucked into pockets….boots…I mean. The whole thing was very…confusing. I had just left my Podunk town to experience a major international city and…this is what I was seeing? At some point, I learned that I was arriving right in the middle of a festival to honor …farmers maybe. I don’t remember exactly, but right off the bat, any assumptions of what I thought this experience would be were shattered.
The house that the organization put me up in, was occupied by 25-30 young adults from all over the world. Turns out I was the youngest. And the only person who had ever experienced poverty. On my first day in Brazil, I ate dinner alone at a table meant for 30 people and served up to me by a Brazilian woman who explained to me that all of the other volunteers usually went away on trips during the weekends to see more of Brazil and to have FUN. This was the beginning of my realization that this trip was not going to be the trip that I had anticipated. I was coming out of high school, so having a woman cook a meal and serve it to me on a big table, felt like the cafeteria at school. I didn’t realize yet, that it didn’t quite feel that way when it happened at breakfast and dinner every single day.
After that first dinner, I went for a walk. In a city of 2.6 million people. Alone. I had already taken my first flight. I was determined to fully be in this experience. To fully be this new person. I asked around for a store and found myself at a mall. I did not go all the way to Brazil to be in a mall, so I turned back around and started for home. Except I had no idea where I was or how to get back to my “home.” I tried to use my Portuguese from my lessons with my old landlord, but she spoke Portuguese from Portugal. Also, as desperately as I have always wanted to learn another language, I am kind of terrible at it. Years of Spanish and I still sound ridiculous every single time I try to speak with friends. At some point, I got smart enough to write down the address and showed it to a kind looking person. I walked the direction that they pointed until I felt unsure that I was still going the right way. Then, I repeated that with another kind person until eventually 3 or 4 finger points and instructions that I could not understand later, I found my way back.
Over the next couple of days, the other volunteers arrived. I felt like I had just moved into the Real World from MTV. Most of the volunteers were young women and they were all apparently in love with this volunteer named Travis who was from the US. Texas, I believe. There was a woman from India who was kinda actually dating Travis to everyone else’s heartbreak. There was a woman from Lebanon who dressed like she was a runway model every single day. There was a woman from Mexico who seemed the most down to Earth until she started sobbing over her secret love for Travis. I did not fit in to say the least, but I didn’t expect to fit in when I chose to go on an international trip so I was kinda loving it. I wasn’t jaded or judgemental in the ways I would be now. I just soaked up all the powerful woman energy and absorbed as much as I could about what it meant to be a world traveling woman! It was quickly apparent that this was not the first trip for these other volunteers. They had gone on vacations abroad with their families growing up, or trekked the Himalayas, or WOOFED in Ireland. At this point, I still believed that I wanted to be like these women. I planned to get a tattoo when I got back to the States of the raised fist, a symbol that I saw everywhere in Salvador, and then to get a new symbol on my body from every place I ever went until my body was covered in marks of places that I had been.
Anyone who knows me at all now, will find this impossible to believe. Brazil was my one and only international trip. I am kind of a homebody. I never got that tattoo or any tattoo, but Brazil left a much deeper mark on my body. More about that later.
On that first Monday, I got in the van that would drive me to my job placement. There were two other volunteers going to the same placement as me. One was a Black woman from Britain who had already been there for a while. The other was a white woman that I remember nothing about. The Black woman was in med school and wanted to extend her trip to Brazil. She had found the trip to be meaningful in a way that I was searching for and I hung on her every word. She had already seen so many volunteers come and go that she did not give me the time of day. Looking back, and really even then, I already didn’t blame her. I had been on the receiving end of enough well-intentioned but ultimately harmful social services to get why she didn’t trust me. (I did not yet get the ways in which white supremacy had shaped me or to understand these other significant reasons why she might not instantly trust me.)
The other volunteers were placed with the older kids because their Portuguese was actually coherent. Also, I imagine because they were adults. I was 18 and probably about the same size as some of the older kids in the orphanage. I was sent to the baby and toddler rooms. They were across the hall from each other and I was to go back and forth throughout the day, changing diapers, giving meds, and just holding and loving on the smallest people in the facility.
There was water knee deep in the building on that first day. It was the rainy season. A woman led me down the hall and cackled as she patted me on the shoulder and pointed to my first job. The toddler room had 8 wooden cribs lined along the walls and gorgeous chubby smiling blabbering faces peeking out at me from behind the bars. But I realized right away that the nurse who led me in here was not just laughing in that “good luck newbie!” kinda way. She was laughing because a girl about the age that my youngest is now, had taken off her diaper and fingerpainted the entire wall behind her crib in feces handprints. Her little fingers had smeared poop on every single bar holding her in that crib and I even found it on the babies within her reach to either side of her crib. I loved her instantly. I picked her up. I carried her to the outside plastic bucket where someone had kindly brought me a pitcher of water. I poured it down her body slowly while talking to her. The water must have been cold because she screamed and danced her body out of the stream. I imagine she must have been scared of me too, I was a stranger, but these kids were used to strangers caring for them already and she was all smiles with me as I had carried her outside. I cleaned her up and calmed her down with a towel wrapped around her body. Well not so much a towel as a clean rag for this purpose of drying off her little body. She clung to me and I carried her all wrapped up like that back inside. Now what to do with her while I cleaned out her crib. At first I made a rookie mistake of letting her play on the floor while I tried to clean the mess, but she was like all 2 year olds and was causing more chaos for me to clean up and I wasn’t making any headway on scrubbing off her artwork. I picked her up, and set her back down again in a crib with another toddler.
Soon I would learn all of their names. I would learn all of their stories. Some of them were HIV+. Some of them had parents who were HIV+ and had died. Some of them were waiting for results. On my first day, there was a new toddler to arrive. He was coming from a Catholic Orphanage that some of the other volunteers from my organization were placed at. He had tested HIV+ and needed to be moved into this group home facility. First he had lost his mom, then right as he was feeling adjusted to the orphanage, he was being asked to adapt to this new loss and adjust to this new community at the AIDS clinic. All before he turned 3.
I did not know that this facility was for all people living with HIV and not just for children living with HIV. The volunteer organization left that part out. Maybe they thought that cute babies would feel safe but adults with AIDS might scare off the wealthy volunteers. I loved the babies and the toddlers so much, but I was also longing for connection and to be able to connect with people who might hear my story of losing my mother, father, and step-father and actually relate to it rather than pity me. Whenever I was allowed, I would visit with the older children or the adults. Visiting with the older children is how I came to realize how harmful this whole volunteer program really was. It was set up to give the volunteer just enough time at their placement so that they could write home and sound heroic and or take selfies with brown kids to post on Facebook (sorry I will not be sharing any pictures likes that) and then they could leave without seeing their impact or being accountable in any way to the people or communities that they (WE! ME! I did this!) had spent time in. The older kids weren’t going to hand out sweet smiles or pose for any cameras. They were pissed and they saw right through this whole thing. I saw so much of myself in them. I learned that they spent 24 hours a day on site, even doing their school work from the facility rather than leaving to go to school in the larger community. They NEVER left the facility unless there was a volunteer willing and able to take them. The volunteers were always needed to do the work that they signed on for and so the kids stayed inside all day every day. I asked my van driver if he could start bringing me an extra day every week on my off days so that I could walk the kids the few blocks to the beach. I got permission from the nurses at the facility and that was that.
There was also a woman who reminded me of my mom. She was skinny as a bean pole, had no teeth, and she had huge ears. But it wasn’t all of that even that made me feel my mom’s spirit when I was in her presence. It was the way she put her hand on mine when we talked and the way that she listened so closely to my words and talked to me even when we both knew that neither one of us understood the other. She made me a pair of earrings that I still have. She was always crafting, again, just like my mama.
The day that I realized that there were adults living in the group home facility, I found the babies all cheerful and happy, already fed and each with a perfect lipstick kiss stained on their foreheads. I discovered the lips on a person that at the time I assumed was a man with sparkly high heels, a mini skirt and the brightest red lipstick I have ever seen. I did not have the vocabulary yet for transgender or drag or queer even. I did not know yet that I could just ask what pronouns this person would like me to use. I did not know and love as many transgender and or queer people as I know and love now. At the time, I just introduced myself and this person gave me a big smile and said, “you can call me, Mama. I am the Mama of all of these babies!” In Portuguese of course, but that much I understood. Soon, I would learn that this person came by most mornings if they were feeling well to give hugs and love on each baby. To make them feel loved by a face that would stick around…longer than any of the volunteers that came through just for a couple of months during the summer …like me. I learned that this person, “Mama,” was also HIV+ and lived at the facility being a glitzy gorgeous light for everyone, not just the children.
Every night back at the Volunteer House, I would stay up late into the wee hours, playing ping pong with the other youngest person in the house. Let’s call him M. He was young like me, right out of high school in NYC. We hit it off right away because we both LOVE to talk and have long conversations about everything in the world. I had never met anyone like him before and his experiences as a black boy in a huge city from a middle class background were so different from mine growing up in a small town as a white girl from multi-generational poverty. We would talk and talk and talk and send the ping pong ball back and forth across the table. At the beginning of the night, some of the other young people would join us, but after hours of hearing us go back and forth about race, class, gender, prisons, healthcare, education…they would eventually wear out and head to bed. Our friendship is one of my favorite pieces of the trip.
One night M found me crying on the couch. I had walked to the internet cafe to check my email and received a message from my boyfriend. Feeling threatened by my new friendship with M, he came clean about the times that he had cheated on me over the course of our relationship in the hopes that I would confess my own. But the truth was, I was not in Brazil to find romance. I was loving my time at the orphanage and learning from my new friend who I saw as only a friend. I loved that we didn’t have that energy between us. It felt like what I imagined college would be like. Having peers who were smart and could teach you and grow with you. I had nothing to confess to the boyfriend, but my heart was broken. He had held my hand through my grieving my mom’s death and so he was not an easy person to move on from. But M convinced me to get up! Even though we could legally drink for the first time, we both preferred our ping pong games to the bars. But that night we went out. I had no idea what to order and didn’t understand the bartenders recommendation so I just smiled and said, “sim.” He handed me a mug of a hot liquid that I immediately spilled when I took a deep inhalation of the steamy alcohol. We were already laughing. A couple of drinks in and M stood up. He tried to walk to the bathroom or something and one of his dreadlocks was caught in a chandelier above us. We were laughing so hard as he reached above his head to untangle himself and I tried to direct him where to go while also laughing hysterically. We were just two ridiculous tipsy teenagers out on the town in another country and I knew right then that no matter what happened with the cheating boyfriend, my life was going to be full of good people that I would love in one way or another. They might not know me inside and out. I wouldn’t ever again be able to introduce new friends or loves to my mom, but I would find so many good people worth sharing my life with.
Maybe it was because of this night, I don’t remember, but somehow M got the idea that he should give me dreadlocks. My hair was still really long and I was clearly a hippie spirit. We planned to start doing the process the next night instead of our ping pong game. The next morning, we made an announcement about it at the breakfast table and we were so excited. All of the white people were like, “Ok! Cool! Whatever!” They thought of M and I as kinda weird anyway, so they probably didn’t pay much attention. But there was a volunteer from Jamaica who stood up from the table and walked away angrily. Now, I know so much more about white privilege and responsibility. But then I was unaware of any reasons why me getting locks would be offensive or hurtful. I also didn’t know that while it was ok for me to not know, it was not ok for me to expect this black woman to teach me everything I didn’t know. I should have walked to the internet cafe and spent my time researching the history of how white supremacy has punished black women for wearing their hair in natural styles. I should have done the work. But instead I went to her and asked her to explain it to me. I wanted to understand. She was not a hand holder and she did not coddle me in the least bit. She was mad and she definitely made it clear that I was acting like a privileged white person. The other volunteers were watching all of this drama unfold and one by one the white volunteers piped in with things like, “Wow, it’s not a big deal!” or “She should have been nicer about it! You are just a kid!” and the more the white volunteers came forward to reassure me that I had not done anything wrong, the more I opened my eyes to her point. White privilege. It was a totally new concept to me. I had been vocally anti-racist in my hometown. Just intuitively racism had felt wrong and against my core beliefs, but my understanding of how racism played out systemically was non existent. I still thought that being racist was just when people called other people names or said mean things about them based on the color of their skin.
I learned one of the most important lessons in my life from that experience. It took me a while to digest it and to incorporate necessary changes in my life, and as a person who receives privileges based on whiteness every day, I will spend the rest of my life continuing to digest and make changes to myself. I owe her a massive thank you for giving me the gift of her time and her energy and helping me begin to lift the veil of whiteness that I had grown up with.
Once I opened my eyes to reality, I could not unsee what I was seeing. Everywhere I went in Brazil, I was noticing some things that left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Crowds parted for me. Everyone was working to please me, protect me, entertain me and serve me. I had to really look at the fact that even as a poor orphan girl from the US who had experienced homelessness, food insecurity and constant violence, I was White. And that was a resource I had been cashing in on without even knowing I had it!
I was partially only seeing this for the first time because whiteness shields white people from seeing the truth but also because I grew up in such a “white” place. Out of a town of maybe 2000 there was only a handful of black people and maybe another handful of non-black people of color. In my town, the brownest faces that I personally knew were on relatives on my dad’s side. I grew up being told my dad’s side was Native American (I grew up in land that belongs to the Seneca’s but is currently colonized territory.) Me untangling my relationship to potentially having Indigenous Ancestry is maybe for another post but whether I do or whether I don’t (PLEASE DONT CHIME IN WITH YOUR OPINION OR ANCESTRY DOT COM RESULTS!! I get it our family has a complicated relationship to this conversation!!!) the bigger point is that I grew up believing that I was indigenous on my dad’s side and that had a powerful effect on how I saw myself in relationship to the world. Once when I was talking to one of my uncle’s on my dad’s side I said, “Listen, I will tell you what I have been up to in my life, but please don’t respond with anything racist. I just can’t handle that from you.” and my uncle said, “What?! WE Aren’t white! We can’t be racist, baby just tell me what you’re doin’ with your life.” and…ya, that kind of response shapes how you see yourself. Side note: Anti-black Racism still exists among people who aren’t white so just to make that clear, but the point is that I was being told that I wasn’t white and that wasn’t who “we are.”
Regardless of this part of me that didn’t connect with whiteness, (and now that I understand whiteness as an identity that is not even real, but was created to justify violence and oppression, colonization and slavery, I really do not connect with that identity) I DO recognize that the world does see me as white and that is how I move through my life. and when I say whiteness, I mean whiteness as a system of oppression not necessarily the color of my skin. I am not advocating for self hate. I LOVE myself and this body that I was gifted including my skin. ❤
Anyway, sorry this is so long, but race is complicated in America, and I was just beginning to really see that and grapple with it. I had to travel to another country to do it, but there it was. I was in a city where most days when I left the volunteer house, I did not see another white person. Not only that, but I had learned that Salvador was a port city and the first stop for slave traders to bring human beings to sell to the Americas. There were two doors on many old buildings a reminder that in the past white people and black people would not use the same entrance. There was still the part of town where slave auctions would be held. It was impossible to not stand in that space and feel the grief and violence and inhumanity of it all. But one night, in that part of the city, the part that made my spirit feel everything human all at once, I heard a drum thumping in the distance. I walked out of a shop that I was in and took a few steps toward the sound. I could feel myself pulled to it. My heart felt like it was trying to jump out of my chest. The drumming was so loud and it was clear there were many drums. I turned a corner and Oh my God! I could not believe my eyes. there was a dozen men with drums over their heads thumping and moving right down the middle of the street toward me. At least a hundred people were following them and dancing to the music. Like me, people were gravitating toward the parade until it was hundreds. A boy was moving through the crowd selling beers. I bought one and also bought a couple cigarettes from the next boy. I don’t remember who I was with or anything other than being in the center of a neighborhood that used to hold slave auctions and was now filled with Black joy and Black music and Black Celebration. I found out that this happened every Tuesday and vowed to go every week that I was there.
One day, M left his wallet in a taxi. The driver brought it back with every cent and even his passport in it. I remember someone in the house saying, “Wow! I can’t believe they brought back your passport. That is so valuable, because you are black and from the USA. I bet they could have sold that!” and I sat with that for a long time. It had been so easy for me as a white woman to obtain my own passport., Again, even as a child of poverty. Even as a young person new to the internet and living in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t sleep that night thinking about how difficult it would be for a young person from the orphanage where I worked to come to the US in comparison to me going to Brazil. I thought about how freely I could move here in this country where I did not speak the language and was a different color than most people who lived here. I thought about the tables being turned and how unsafe and unwelcoming my hometown would be for a Black Brazilian even if they could get the passport and visa to visit. and this is when I felt like less of a tourist/volunteer and more of a colonizer. I just could see the thread so clearly connecting me from my own country built on colonization genocide and slavery and the history of that in this new land and how white people were still traveling all over the world with a freedom that was not unconnected to this history of colonization. I just couldn’t unsee it and I still can’t. I don’t know if I knew that I would not travel again out of my country or if that realization came for me after I got home, but at some point I knew that my heart would rather sit right here and invest my love and energy into getting to know people from around the world who visit or move to the US and listening and learning more about immigration politics.
I still do not feel any call to travel. I love living in a community with a lot of immigrants. I love getting to know my immigrant neighbors and working to create a welcoming community in my corner of the world. I am committed to recommitting every day to my own work on decolonization and eradicating white supremacy in myself and in my community. This is not what I thought that I would find in Brazil, but 15 years later, I am still grateful for the gift of having my eyes opened.
Back in the US, just a few years later, I was already a mom and living in my chosen home state and M came for a visit. From our late night ping pong games, he knew that I was disconnected from my siblings since our father died when I Was 7. he told me I should call him “Uncle M.”
There is so much more I could have said, so many more memories of my time there, but you get the point. I love telling stories and have to pause somewhere. I leave you with this sweet pic of M and my first born getting to know each other.
Maybe I am wrong about traveling. I mean this as no judgement on those who come to a different conclusion about international travel. I mean, even retelling this story, I can see that a lot of good came out of my trip…But at what cost? So, ya, I am still where I am in my relationship with seeing the world. I am not proud of my trip to Brazil, but I am grateful.