Brazilian in America : The Making Of An Artist / A Jornada De Um Artista

Brazilian in America

by Marcos Smyth on 04/13/16

Moving from Brazil to the USA was a a life changing experience.  Life in rural Jaguaquara was a far cry from Texas.  At the age of fifteen. I had good coping skills, but had no inkling of the culture change I would face.

Loud music, from the front of our house, woke me on a cold morning in 1971, before the sun rose.   I found my best friends on the front porch with a portable record player to wake me and give me a send off.  I was leaving with my parents and younger brother, Phil, for Rio de Janeiro to take my flight to the US and continue my education.  The farewells were emotional, irreplaceable friends I grew up with made it painful to leave.

We stopped the car at the top of the valley for one last look at my hometown.  The lowlands were covered with fog and the sun rose transforming the fog into a river of gold, characterizing this generous land that afforded me such a privileged life.

On the way to Rio, a two day drive, we enjoyed the scenery, the local foods, and each others company.   A conga drum, custom made of Rose wood, was one of the most important items in my luggage.  Maria Alves, a family friend with connections in a manual arts program at the state penitentiary, helped commission its fabrication with a python design carved in the wood.  The sound of conga drums, "atabaques," had lulled me to sleep on many nights, coming from below our hill.  This came from a part of town I was not allowed to go to as it was where the ""houses of ill repute" were.  The African beat of these drums, brought by slaves to Brazil, also filled the air on our island summer vacations, where "Candomble," an African cult, was practiced.   There, I would sneek out at night to participate in the "Samba" dances.   These rhythms were in my blood and the conga drum was my link to that black beat from the land I loved.  I also took gifts for family friends and relatives.  Rosita Dubois, the director of the Kate White Domestic School in Salvador, and her assistant Jane were artists we admired who had hand painted ceramics with lovely flower designs for us.  Their work was affordable and meaningful for us, as we had a long standing relationship with them.

In Rio we spent some time sightseeing and visiting friends.  The city was a marvel of monuments, parks, and beautiful beaches.  All too soon it was time for my departure.  We made one last drive to the airport where I embraced my parents and brother one last time before boarding my early flight.  Circling the city, gaining altitude, Rio was shrouded in fog with Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado standing watch.  At that point the sun rose bathing the city in pink, the final farewell kiss from my beloved Brazil.

When I left Jaguaquara, on my way to Rio, Amerentina, my neighbor, one of the girls in the group that woke me, gave me a letter do open on the plane.  It was a poetic letter remembering our childhood, playing house, making small mud bricks, formed in match boxes, to build a wood burning stove, and stories we imagined to entertain ourselves.  She also remembered our playful adolescence, trouble making in school, hidden loves, passing notes, and a friendship that transcended time.  So many memories of friendships and influences which shaped me, Amerentina's lovely prose opened the floodgate of private tears on a airplane above the clouds that hid the land I was leaving behind.

After thirteen hours of anticipation and tumultuous emotions, I arrived in Miami.  There I visited with retired missionaries Red White and his wife Kate.  For my brothers and me, they were our surrogate grandparents in Brazil.  I never tired of listening to their stories and wise advice.  Kate made magic in the kitchen while Red kept me laughing.  From there I took another flight to Texas, landing in Houston at night.  Having a few layover hours, I called Paul Oliver, a missionary kid I knew from Brazil.  He picked me up and we drove around Houston talking about home and new experiences in America.  Early in the morning I took another flight to Dallas where my brothers, Jot and Paul, awaited.  Jot and I had never been close, but he surprised me with his affection and attention.  Paul was always the older brother I looked up to and, along with this wife, welcomed me with great warmth.

My Brazil, Jaguaquara, my parents and little brother, my friends, were far away, as in a dream, while the reality and strangeness of being in this new land still made no sense.  Aware of my state of mind, my brothers did their best to distract me and be supportive.  I realized they had confronted the same confusing experience and treated me with great compassion,  After all, I was a Brazilian in America.

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