This morning I received two childhood pictures from a friend that left me with an avalanche of feelings. Both were taken in a house that belonged to my parents’ friends, Betânia and Santiago, located in Peruíbe, a coastal city in the state of São Paulo. In the first one, I’m riding my bike in the front yard. In the second, I’m sitting with my mother in the living room.
It is a life coincidence that I obtained these the day after I watched the movie “Belfast”, which depicts the anguish of those who leave their homes without ever being able to feel unattached to it. I know this anguish a little too well.
The pictures show a house whose construction was barely finished. For as long as I can remember Betânia and Santiago’s house stayed like that because (I think) there was no money to finalize the construction process. Some of my best childhood memories come from their house. While now it looks small, I perceived the front yard as immense at that time. I had so many adventures by myself or with Cida (who sent me the pictures) and Patricia (Betânia and Santiago’s daughter) there. I also remember the food that my mom and Betânia cooked for us. I can even taste the bolognese spaghetti on the glass plate they prepared after a long morning at the beach.
My big smile in the first picture is a testament to how special that time was for me. At the end of the movie “Belfast”, a grandmother watches her family leave the city as she stays behind. She says, “leave now and never look back”. I wish it was that simple, but as an immigrant looking back is all I have. As I face a culture that is strikingly different from mine on a daily basis, my past memories put me in touch with who I actually am. That is the self I never want to disappear in me because it is able to feel happiness in daring conditions. For immigrants, looking back is a survival mechanism.
Beatriz Rey is a political scientist and a writer based in Washington, D.C.