I bet it makes you grateful…

Sintra Nichols - Brazil


June 1, 2019

“I bet it makes you grateful to live in America!”


Why do people keep saying this to me? I’m constantly, and expectedly asked “How was Brazil?” to which I give whatever awkward, short, and unthought-out attempt to summarize my year comes out first. And then the adult, always the fully-grown adult, replies with some version of this phrase.

I can’t fully explain why, but it makes me feel… protective? Yes, protective of the country I called home for nearly a year. I feel the need to defend Brazil as a whole as though I’m sticking up for a sibling who I can make fun of but nobody else can. The most confusing part is that, in some ways, it really did make me grateful to live in the U.S.! But not in the way that an immediate, positive response to the question “Did it make you grateful to be American?” would imply…

Honestly, I like to think that after living there, traveling there, learning the language, learning the history, familiarizing myself with the political climate, and assimilating as well as I could to the culture, that I am at least a little more familiar with the positives and negatives of life in Brazil than the average American. I can discuss with my fellow Fellows our grievances about weird Portuguese pronunciation or the unexpected idiosyncrasies that make cultural assimilation sometimes nightmarish, but that’s because we were all at least trying to do it. We all saw the diversity of experience that exists in Brazil. Though we mostly lived with middle or upper-middle class families, we saw the richest of the rich on TV, and the poorest of the poor on the streets. The majority of us attempted to learn why certain people get where they are in Brazilian society, though none of us could ever be considered a right authority on the matter.

So, I won’t spend the rest of this blog trying to explain Brazil’s economic system or how it affects the incredibly diverse population of the country. Because even after living there and soaking up all the information I could, I’m still far from qualified to pretend like I know exactly what I’m talking about. 

I am, however, qualified to say that, yes, being born U.S. American has provided me with several privileges that I would not have had had I been born Brazilian. This, I am grateful for. I am also qualified to sat that MANY Americans have no clue of the immense privilege they are provided just for having been born where they were. In fact, many Americans wrongly believe that they have somehow earned their place in one of the richest nations in the world by some kind of birthright royalty, and are therefore awarded the ability to look down upon those who were not.

So you see, when I’m asked whether I’m grateful to be American by an adult who may or may not be aware of what it really means to be American, let alone Brazilian, I hesitate to agree. If I do to the wrong person, it may simply reinforce their individual belief that they are somehow better based on the location of their birth. I prefer not to be in the business of fostering unearned entitlement.

When I hear, “I bet you’re grateful to live in America!”, I often hear “See? Aren’t Americans so much better than those poor Brazilians? Can you remind me again how much better we are?”

Though this clearly isn’t the case for every person asking me an honest question, I must be careful. Brazil was my home for eight months. Brazilians were the ones who made it a home. I owe them accuracy and I owe them respect. So does everyone else.

Sintra Nichols