Blending In

Danielle Katz - Brazil


March 6, 2019

I wrote this blog in October, never posting it, wanting to know where my
observations would go:

“Two men frantically yelling ‘Mattheus’ and ‘Lucas’ up and down the street
stop me while I’m walking to the bus. They explain that they have a meeting
with these two others, but don’t have an exact address, hoping I can point
them to the correct home. To their dismay, I don’t know these neighbors.
After apologizing profusely, they continue with their initial strategy.
Downtown the next day, a woman and her husband ask if I know where the
shopping mall is. From my accent, they realize I’m not from here, apologize
in the same manner, and continue to search for the mall, before I can tell
them that it’s a federal holiday and that’s why downtown Florianópolis is a
ghost town.

Strip away your foreign posture, lack of direction, and apprehension of
which bus to board, and, from face alone, Brazil’s diversity makes it
impossible to spot a foreigner. To my surprise, Brazilians still tell me I
look Brazilian, and, as proven in the above cases, truly believe I am at
first glance, though there is no face that truly represents Brazil. They
even compare me to other Brazilians, claiming that I blend in more. I
always wonder how this is this possible. Yes, the history of immigration
and colonization in Latin America calls for a quite-white population blends
my European-mutt face into the streets of Florianópolis.

Nevertheless, the Brazilians I encounter here seem to be obsessed with
defining the Brazilian face. I wonder how community members, who are so
knowledgeable of Brazilian cultural context, can be so fixated upon
something so unrealistic as finding the Brazilian face. I’m curious to
question the foundations of this continual dialogue surrounding the
Brazilian ‘look.’ Obviously, fitting in is a universal quest and can’t be
isolated to a Brazilian quest. My interest lies more in finding how this
universal truth of wanting to look the part and fit in plays a part in this
beautifully diverse country filled with unapologetically expressive people
and rich history.”

Though I can not say that I have gotten to the bottom of what I originally
sought out to explore and understand, I have noticed that the fixation on
American culture here makes it ever such an interesting reveal for me to
tell people that I am from the United States, and I’ve been able to more
actively participate in opening dialogue with colleagues, strangers on the
bus, and extended host family. Through independent travel, I noticed that
the focus on this “Brazilian look” hits mostly in the South where I am.
Talking to people from other locations with generally smaller populations
of people from European descent, would tell me more what isn’t a “Brazilian
look,” rather than what is. Though it might take me a decade more to
research everything behind this complex idea, and I don’t yet have the most
formulated ideas on it, but I wanted to share what I hadn’t before. Then
again, I could definitely see myself returning here to learn everything
there is to know about this incredible place.

Danielle Katz