While sitting down with practically complete strangers and asking them to share intimate details about their life story makes me a bit anxious, as I found out this weekend it does have its perks. This week I conducted my first interview with Maria Helena, a Brazilian woman raised in Rio de Janeiro who moved to Miami and was back in Brazil for a month to visit her family. The interview took place on a Sunday, a prime barbeque day, which meant my work was rewarded by a delicious meal and warm hospitality.
I had the luck of meeting Maria Helena’s sister, Eunice, while filming in the favela Morro dos Prazeres. Eunice works at a kiosk at the favela with her husband and through casual conversation over a café media I discovered that Eunice had a sister living in the United States and that her sister would be coming to visit in only a few days. Immediately I asked if Eunice thought her sister would be willing to partake in an interview and Eunice agreed to meet with me a few days later to take me to interview her sister.
While I was not expecting to be treated to lunch, I did anticipate many of Maria Helena’s answers during the interview, which generally coincided with informal conversations I have had with Brazilian immigrants prior to coming to Brazil. Maria Helena, a fifty four year-old mother of two, originally went to the United States to visit a friend in Miami, where she fell in love with the city and vowed to return one day. After thieves robbed her of everything she had in her shop in Rio she decided to fulfill her self-made promise and move to the United States. While she did not plan on staying in Miami forever, Maria Helena met a man originally from Mexico who had acquired a green card and was working with horses. She eventually married him and thus was also able to attain a green card as well, unlike the majority of Brazilian immigrants in the United States (see “Little Brazil” by Maxine Margolis).
The house where the family met for the barbeque and where I gave the interview was a house Maria Helena is slowly building, sending money from her job as a social worker back to Brazil. After living in the United States for over a decade now, Maria Helena is not planning on moving back to Brazil for good, but rather is building a home for when she comes back to visit her family. During the interview she complained about the roads, pollution, and corruption in Brazil, but lamented that in the United States there were fewer activities in which to partake than when she was in Brazil.
Overall the interview went smoothly with all of my prepared questions answered. It was also helpful to have the chance to visit Maria Helena’s home and converse with other family members about life in Brazil and their perception of immigration to the United States. One part of the interview that stuck out technically was that Maria Helen spoke in a mixture of Portuguese, English, and Spanish. As a Brazilian married to a Mexican man and living in the United States it makes sense that she would be able to communicate in all three languages, however, I wonder how language plays a role in Brazilian immigrant identity. As I continue interviewing I hope that each interview will bring out more questions I have not thought of yet, such as this.
Posted by Rebecca Bintrim – MA Candidate at CLACS