As I started writing this, I found myself wondering how to make people understand something that they have already made up their minds about. It’s so easy to stereotype a person or a place. America isn’t all fast food and violence and Brazil isn’t just made up of favelas. For those who don’t know, a favela is a city within a city, a separate world. The very name is synonymous with violence and poverty, and yet when I had an opportunity to visit one I found that it wasn’t that simple. On my visit to the favela I was able to see that people there don’t need much to live and even though they’re not living the lives they had always dreamed about, they’re living the only lives they know how to live. When I walked through the favela with my aunt it was quite exciting because I had never been there, and strangely I felt safer there than many other places because the men with guns who run the favelas and the drug trafficking look after the people who live there and keep them safe. That is why those people protect them in turn. And even though the main thing you see in the favelas are the guns and the gangs, in a way it’s more secure than being out in a regular place, as long as the cops don’t invade it. On the other hand, the cops are starting to act against the favelas and organized crime. They took over Favela do Alemão, and they have been doing a good job so far.

Brazil is a beautiful country with beautiful people and gorgeous places. After I moved back, I was able to go to one of the prettiest and most famous places down here: the beautiful statue of Christ of Redemption in Rio. Although I was not able to go and see it up close, I did see it from afar and it was amazing. Brazil has so many great stories, so many extraordinary cultures that are unknown to those who can’t open their mind to new things. Not only Brazil, but all of South America has so much energy, so much life that needs to be taken care of. Sometimes it feels like they’re screaming for help to feel alive again. I find it amazing how people who know nothing about a place judge it anyway. It occurs to me that people should realize that there’s a lot more to life and to places than they think. Why not experience new things? Why not visit Brazil and experience new cultures as I experienced yours?

I just finished my third month living here and nothing has changed but much has changed! What do I mean? I still see many kids on the streets begging for money, children eating from people’s trash, kids knowing how to use guns and not being afraid to fire them. Dilma, our president has been working on new facilities for drug addicts, street kids and other people who need help. I should say that I am Brazilian and proud, but I am also American and proud. Even though I live today in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, I embrace the one country that made me who I am today and taught me how to deal with many different situations.

When I moved to America, I was 12 years old and could speak no English. I will always remember holding tightly to my mother’s hand as we walked toward the school where I was to go. I was excited and terrified and thought if I could have just gone back to Brazil to live with my grandparents again, I would have been very happy. The strange thing about learning to live in America is that is that you become American in your mother country, while in America, I was Brazilian. I will never forget my bonding experience with other students who, like me, struggled to learn English as we sat in ESL classrooms trying to figure out why “cough” was pronounced “coff” but “though” was pronounced “tho.” In many ways it was like living in two worlds at the same time. It was not just learning the language, it was learning a whole way of life and understanding that in school it was one way, and at home it was another. I have heard other kids say it is like living a double life and I suppose that about describes it.

I honor America for all that it gave me. I am bilingual and that is a great asset in the modern world, but more than that, I came to understand that different things matter to different people. I had an opportunity to be educated and to work many jobs, to learn the American way of doing things. I was part of the Brazilian history class at the regional high school that traveled to Harvard one day. We are all made up of all the experiences that we have and the frightened little girl who feared going to school, the skills I learned in school and the relationships I made have all become a part of my soul and have shaped who I am. I am not little Ana any more but a young woman who carries it all with me, from the pain of losing my beloved grandfather while I was thousands of miles away from him to the loving friendships that I made in America. It’s all part of the fabric.

Ana Carolina Nascimento frequently contributed to the Gazette while a student at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Her reflections on returning to Brazil were edited by her mentor, Elaine Cawley Weintraub, history department chairman at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.