I am the immigrant you hate

I was born in Brazil in 1982. Until 2005, I had never considered the idea of moving out of Brazil in any serious manner. When I got contacted by a Google recruiter in 2005, things changed for me in a meaningful way: for the first time I was considering leaving the country where I was born to live in a society where I did not understand the rules, the cultural context or the language.

As the interviews went through and I got to the next stage, things started getting more serious. When the recruiter told me there was just one decision left to be made I took it lightly. When she called me to give me the details of my offer, she asked me whether I understood that I was accepting a job offer to go live in Zurich, Switzerland. I said yes, even though looking back I had no idea how that would change me forever.

Moving to Europe was one of the most brave and most life changing experiences I could have lived. Not only for me, but for my family as well. They now would start traveling across the ocean to visit their daughter, now living in Europe. Surprisingly, not only my parents but also my aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. I became preferred international destination to a lot of people who were important in my life, and this is how things are until now.

Fast forwarding, I have now been living outside Brazil for almost 14 years. I lived in Switzerland, Ireland, United Stated, United Kingdom, and am now back in Switzerland. My siblings both live with their families in Europe, and my parents made the brave move to follow their kids after a couple robbery incidents in Brazil. I learned I had the right for Italian Citizenship, so now I have lifelong right to live in the "Old Continent" if I decide to do so. So far, I am sold. I feel at home in Europe and even though my Italian is broken and basic and I feel embarrassed of being spotted (hey, impostor syndrome), I love the cultural diversity of Europe, and the nature is absolutely gorgeous. I have family and friends in Europe and I want to be closer to them.

In Europe, one thing that I heard a lot when I told people that I am from Brazil is that I do not look Brazilian in a playful, light way. I never made much of that sentence, until I started getting older and realizing that there's a lot of prejudice hidden in that sentence.

In my years in Switzerland, I've witnessed a lot of SVP campaigns (extreme right wing party) against immigrants, and when I saw their posters everywhere, I did not feel welcome. People would comfort me saying "they are not talking about people like you".

With the years moving along in my immigrant journey, I saw the war in Syria make that country a place people flee from, and with that, the largest immigrant crisis since the Second World War happening in Europe. I can relate with how hard it must be for people to have to flee the place they call home to go elsewhere. I actually witness how hard it is on my parents, who ended up moving because they no longer felt safe back in Porto Alegre.

My mom tells me that she feels she has always been immigrant, and will always be. Growing up in Brazil in an Italian family, they were always called "the Italians". Now she is living in Italy, and she is "the Brazilian" or sometimes "the Portuguese".

What was my motivation to leave the country where I was born? To be honest, a perspective of a better future. I was struggling financially and did not see the situation changing much. I felt I would spend the rest of my life working paycheck to paycheck, and perhaps working for a company such as Google would give me a better future. I was only 23 years old and felt I had my whole life ahead of me.

So in the end, what makes me different than those folks in Syria or Africa, who are fleeing for a better life opportunity? From my perspective, nothing. We are all people trying to have a better life, trying to help the ones we love, and in order to do that you need to be alive and you need to have money. When I first moved to Europe, people did think some of my manners were "different". Obviously they were, as I grew up in a completely different cultural setting, and some things considered fine back in Brazil are not fine by European standards and vice-versa. The way I was welcomed and embraced by most of those I met in Europe allowed me learn about the cultural differences and learned to tweak some of my ways of being and thinking to integrate better. That integration allowed me to learn language better, to learn the system better, to continue pursuing better opportunities and to become a successful professional, and more compassionate person.

Some people might fool themselves thinking then that the immigration crisis isn't about people like me. It is absolutely about people like me. So next time you hate on an immigrant, think about what makes me the immigrant you hate, or what makes me not be that immigrant, and perhaps you'll find a path out of prejudice and into a life of more compassion.


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