When someone asks, “where are you from?”, I understand that the real question behind it is, “what substance are you made of”? It’s almost as if they’re trying to read the fine print with my list of ingredients to get an idea of the historical baggage I carry with me, of the temperature of my memories, or to decode the shape and the taste of my sounds, or simply to find a common repertoire that could be used as a bridge.
The answer, of course, depends on where I am. Outside my homeland, it is enough to say “Brazil”. What follows is an instant smile, for I’ve used a magic word. I can almost see the rainforest arising in the mind of the person in front of me, although it’s a landscape equally unknown to me. No, my friend, I come from Cerrado, a place where even a drop of humidity in the air is a true luxury.
It’s not easier to answer the same question when the one who asks is also Brazilian. What do they really want to know? The place I was born? The place where I grew up? The places I’ve lived? The impossibility to give a single answer always made me feel like I don’t belong anywhere. What can a place say about who we are, after all?
Places evoke images. When I lived in São Paulo, every time I introduced myself as someone who came from Brasília, people tended to think I must be rich, the daughter of some politician or diplomat. As if Brasília could be reduced to this single image, as if there was nothing else happening beyond the Square of the Three Powers.
You can easily feel like a foreigner in your own country. Now that I am far from home, I’m finally in the right place to have this feeling.
Colorful huge stones caught my attention in a museum in Germany. The label says they’re from Minas Gerais. Among those stunning tourmalines, amazonites, and diamonds, I suddenly notice I’m from the same land from which those minerals were ripped off. I look at the stones and ask them: “what are we doing here?”. They remain silent. Maybe this displacement is part of being Brazilian.
I read an article in a magazine that referred to me as a “mineira writer”. I got emotional. I’m not used to people getting my birthplace right. I don’t have any idea what images this description will evoke. I remember the precious stones and a multitude of words come into my mind. Beauty, brutality, sadness. But in the end, I can create the images I’d like to present for those who are peering through my windows for the first time. We are places ourselves.
With huge thanks to Henrique Pasti, for the proofreading
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