Note: this letter was originally written for my cousin, a first-generation immigrant who was born the same week the UK voted to leave the EU. In light of recent events, I’ve decided to publish it for all first-generation immigrants, everywhere.
To my dear cousin,
I spent years hating the fact I was Brazilian. Growing up, as a first-generation immigrant in a white suburban town, I was embarrassed. At a time when all you want to do is fit in, I was unmistakably different. So I wasted my youth wanting to be lighter, whiter, blonder… the same.
When my mother spoke in Brazilian Portuguese, I would tell her to stop. I was ashamed of where I came from because my peers were properly “British”. Today, that shame is the thing I regret the most.
I may have been a child then, but I’m an adult now and this is what I know for sure: my differences, our differences, are the best things about us.
The colour of our skin, the texture of our hair and the sound of our language tells a story so intricately woven with bravery, hard work and wonder.
You see, we’re the descendants of slaves. We don’t give up. When life gets hard, which it will, we keep going. In the face of adversity, we get better.
Whenever anything seems to be impossible, I think of our great grandmother, a slave taken from Angola to Brazil and the courage that must have took. Or our grandmother, an indigenous Brazilian who moved to the overwhelming city of São Paulo in search of a better life.
And I think of my mother who came to the UK in the 1970s, when ethnic minorities were rarer and racism was more commonplace. She made her life here, contributing to the economy and, as a psychotherapist, changing the lives of hundreds of British people for the better. The UK gave her an opportunity, and she repaid it tenfold.
But, above all, I think of you.
Our family’s stories are our stories and they make us who we are.
The truth is, you can be British and Brazilian or anything in between. You can cheer for Brazil and for England. Being a citizen of the world means belonging wherever you want to be. The world is yours for the taking.
Keep your head up. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and everything to be proud of. Make no apologies, ever.
Prove the doubters wrong.