From Sao Paulo to Phoenix?!?! - Crossing The Valley Interview by Leo Lopez

Jacqueline Daniela Penna

When I was fifteen years old I moved from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Phoenix, Arizona.  It was mother’s day of 1996 and mother and her two friends took my brothers and me to the airport.  Her friends came so that they could keep my mother company on the way home.  It was both a very happy and a very sad day for me, I was leaving my mother on Mother’s day of all days but at the same time I was going to go see my father whom I had not seen in years.  Finally, after waiting for what seemed forever it was our turn to get on to the plane.  We said goodbye to my mother and her friends, told them that we loved them and got on the plane. 

            I kept crying, I tried not to but there was nothing I could do.  The airplane took off, it was a long flight and my mind was going crazy.  I was tired but I could not sleep because I kept thinking about my future, also because I was so sad and so excited at the same time.  I had a million questions floating around in my head.  How was the city going to be?  How is the food going to taste?  How are the kids at school going to be?  Will I make new friends?  How is the school going to be?  How am I going to learn English?  Most importantly how is my new family going to be, how is my father going to be and what is my new stepmother like etc…etc…etc…

            The reason why I moved from Brazil to Phoenix is because my father came to America first in 1986.  I was five years old, the Brazilian economy was horrendous and my father was having a bad time making ends meet.  My father always wanted to travel and learn different languages so he took the opportunity to come to America.  He came with a passport and then stayed in the US when he found work.  He eventually married an American woman and became a citizen.  That is how my brother’s and I were able to come to America.  We had it lucky, we just got off the plane and we were legal.  There are a lot of people who have died trying to come to America, but because of our father we did not have to suffer like some people have and I really appreciate that. 

            My parents separated when I was young, they had me at a very young age.  They were both nineteen years old when I was born and that is why they got married.  Unfortunately the marriage did not last.  That was when my father finally decided to make the jump and come to America.  He could not afford to bring us with him so my brothers and I had to wait in Brazil for our father to return. 

            When we first came to the US, we landed at LAX and we were greeted by immigration officers.  We had to sign a bunch of papers that made us legal citizens and we immediately received our Social Security Cards.  Finally we were allowed to see our father.  That was a very happy moment for me because I had been away from my father for so long.  As a matter of fact I felt kind of angry at my father for staying away too long.  From Los Angeles we took a flight to Phoenix, Arizona.  When we were landing I got really disappointed, as I looked outside the airplane window I was shocked to see that I could count all the buildings on my hands.  I thought “where in the hell am I?”  Everything in Phoenix is so spread out, and so brown, I saw more cacti than buildings.  That is when I realized that this city is nothing like Sao Paulo.  Thankfully it did not take me long to get used to it.  I thought English was going to be difficult to learn but I was surprised to see that it was actually quite easy. 

            I spoke absolutely no English when I got here, so my first year of high school was difficult.  Fortunately I learned it very fast because my father would teach us English everyday.  He would only speak to us in English and we would watch TV in English.  My father is a great teacher, he made it very fun and I was always trying to speak with the few words that I knew.  My father now speaks five languages; he even has a degree in foreign languages from ASU.  I believe that the only way to really learn a foreign language is to live in another country. 

            To this day I keep in contact with my mother.  My brothers and I make home movies that we send to her.  I also talk to my mother on the phone at least once a month.  I also like to write her letters.  I think it is fun to write to her and then wait for her to write me back.  My brothers and I send picture and small presents.  I send my mother money every month so that she can live comfortably.  I try to go back every summer but sometimes I can’t.

            I am able to keep my fluidity in Portuguese by speaking with my father and my brothers.  I also have a Brazilian friend that moved here about three years ago.  We met at work and now we are good friends.  When we hang out together we talk about life back home and we like to listen to Brazilian music.  I also read books that my mother sends me from Brazil so that I don’t forget how to read in Portuguese.  Another great thing is that my mother sends us cookies and chocolates that we can not find here in the US.

            I adjusted pretty quickly to life in America.  It took about a year or so to get used to everything.  Although I did notice that our eating habits really changed.  Back home my mother would cook every meal for us.  They were healthy, home cooked meals.  We were not allowed to snack on things between meals.  When we got here our American stepmother did not know how to cook so we ate out a lot.  In Brazil we would go out to eat at Pizza Hut or McDonalds about twice a year.  Here we went out all the time, because of that my brothers and I developed really unhealthy eating habits. 

            I have encountered several misunderstandings because of culture and because of language barriers.  For example, the first time I heard someone say to me that they will “see me later” I asked them when they would be back.  I did not understand that it was a figure of speech because in Portuguese we never say something like that.  If you say that you will see someone later, that means that you will return soon.  Thankfully, I have never really experienced any discrimination while I have been in the US.  Although everyone assumed that I was Mexican and they would try to talk to me in Spanish. 

My first few months of being in the US were pretty rough for me.  Because I did not speak English no one would talk to me at school except for the adults.  So for the longest time I had no friends, I was by myself everyday at lunch.  I learned how to say “chicken sandwich please’ so at least I could order for myself.  I was not allowed to go out by myself like to get ice cream or anything like that at least not for the first nine months or so.  My father was afraid that I would get lost or something.  I only left the house with my father so all my brothers and I would do is watch TV all day.  In turn this actually helped us learn English even faster.  Also, I began to read a lot even if I only understood a few words out of every page.  To this day I read a lot more than the average person.  Everything that I knew in English I would repeat out loud over and over and over.  I would do it in the shower, in front of a mirror, everywhere.  If I could not do it out loud I would do it in my head.  I would constantly be thinking in English. Basically I was studying English the whole time I was awake.  Actually I even began to dream about the English language.

            One of my biggest expectations of the US was that I expected Phoenix to be a bigger city than it is.  I expected it to be HUGE like Sao Paulo.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica the Sao Paulo metropolitan area has a population of 18,390,800.  Compared to that Phoenix looks like a shanty town.  Sao Paulo has never ending sky scrapers and air planes that almost hit the buildings as they fly by.

To me Phoenix was just a small town with a couple big buildings and a lot of cacti. 

I was a big city girl, I was used to seeing people walking everywhere, buses, trains, metros and REAL traffic jams at all hours of the day.  Sao Paulo is busy 24 hours a day.  At five am everybody is already up and going to work or school.  Phoenix to me is too calm, too spread out; we have to drive everywhere here.  In Sao Paulo you don’t even need a car, there are so many forms of transportation and everything is close by. 

            Eventually though I got used to living in Phoenix, I don’t mind living her now.  It’s a pretty cool little city most of the times I even forget that I am from somewhere else.  I have been able to adapt very well to American life, I have learned English, I have a car now that I drive everywhere and I have even acquired debt like the average American. 

            The worst experience has been being away from my mother for so long.  Meeting my boyfriend and getting a puppy have been the best experiences. 

            Brazil is a true melting pot.  We have people from all over the world living there.  We don’t have very much racism; if we do it is very low.  I never heard of any in my entire time spent there.  Brazilians treat everybody the same, no matter what country you are from.  In fact we love learning about other cultures and other languages, we are more European that way.  I have found that only Americans do not like to learn about other peoples or other languages.  They claim that they do in order to be politically correct but when it comes down to it they don’t make an honest effort to learn about other people’s points of view. 

            For example when I was a little girl my family and I would go to this yearly party called Festas Das Nacoes, in English it means Party of the Nations.  Every year people from several countries would cook their traditional dishes and dress in their traditional clothes and play their traditional music.  We would all walk down this street that was sectioned off just for the party and we would visit different tents that were set up by each country.  We would try their food and beverages, talk different people, watch them dance and at the end of the party the tent that put on the best party would get an award.  This big multicultural party is one of my favorite memories of Brazil.  That is when I decided that I would speak several languages.  I learned that all people should be treated equally no matter where they are from and what languages they speak. 

            Because I moved to another country I believe that I appreciate life more than other people.  I appreciate my family more because I have seen a lot of bad things as a kid while I lived in Brazil.  It really made me open my eyes to the real world. 

            I try to go back to Brazil as much as possible.  My mother is still there and she just had a baby boy so I have a little brother there now that I have to go see.  He is a year old now and he is adorable.  I also love to travel and there is a lot about my home country that I have did not get to see and learn about when I lived there.  I know that for now my future is in the US but I might retire in Brazil when I am old and tired.   


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