Sou brasileira-americana. I need to be my hyphenated
me. My Brazilian family does not know me
me. For them I’m one of those Americans who
have forgotten how to enjoy life.
family does not know me or understand me either.
I cannot reconcile myself
just my American me or
just my Brazilian me.
I need to be
my hyphenated me-
In order to grow
into the essence
of the true me.
A common sentiment among Brazilian-Americans is to feel a longing and a loneliness for Brazilthe land of their birth,
the land of their coração, the land where they have left behind a piece of themselves as they sought their dreams and tried
to create a place for themselves in this new country,
nesta terra estranha.
As a Brazilian-American, I often find myself wondering who I am and where do I belong. Not a Brazilian, having left
my home land years ago, as a child to come to the United states, but not quite an American, having ways, values, norms
and sentiments that set me apart from the mainstream. I have always known I was a little bit different, but just how
different has been hard to say. I have many American friends, many friends in the mainstream, but I seem to better connect with
my Latin friends, or those who are also living a hyphenated lifenot really from here, but no longer from there.
Searching for who I can become and who I have become, has led me on a poetic journey of discovery. Through poetry,
I have begun to discover who I am and how the hyphen affects the norms, values and beliefs that I hold. It has been
a journey of finding the way as I hear the voices of my ancestors calling to me and showing me just how to become one in
a land that demands me to choose where I want to belong. In the following poem, my realization of the role of my
ancestors in forming who I am today becomes apparent:
In the hearts of my ancestors
I find the seedlings of my
Dreams, hopes, wishes, and ambitions
In the minds of my ancestors
I find the source of my
Knowledge, personality, thoughts, and energy
In the souls of my ancestors
I find the foundation of my
Spirit, essence, character, and individuality
My ancestors hold the key to how to act, behave and work in a world that makes its own demands on me, my time,
my dreams, and my wishes. I have come to understand that I cannot just give up my homeland values, culture and
language and adopt my new country’s values and culture, I have to necessarily forge a bond between both, trying to
connect where I have come from and where I am going.
It is not always an easy process, and at times, I have been pained by an existence that neither accepts the essence of
who I am, nor portrays the hopes, dreams, and strengths of my people. This next poem expresses the pain of knowing I
will never be knownexcept by those who deeply understand the truth of the hyphen.
It pains me
that others cannot
understand me, hear me
or appreciate who I am.
It pains me
to silence my voice
to never know
the place of privilege
to never hear
my own ideas reflected as normal.
It pains me
hear the voice
of my ancestors
echoed in my own space
and my own mind.
It pains me
that the hyphenated me
is not heard
appreciated or affirmed
by the mainstream.
For it truly pains me to know that I will never be affirmed, never be truly accepted by either of my people. My
Brazilian family does not know me or understand me. They see me as an American, one of them-those Americans who are so
busy living life, they have forgotten how to enjoy it. My American family does not know me or understand me either. They
see me as an outsider, someone who is not a part of the mainstream, someone who makes choices and decisions that
feel foreign and different, especially those relating to family and familial responsibility.
At times, I feel like such an outsider within both cultures, only to be given insider status if I shun one over the other.
I have to give up who I am or who I have become to gain acceptance. I am forever negotiating the insider/outsider
role-trying to decide who I am, where I belongas reflected in the following:
An insider and an outsider both
Some days it is hard to know
Who I really am
Who I crave to be
Who I can be
Some days it is hard to know
What I want to be
What I desire to accomplish
What I wish to be known for
Some days it is hard to know if
I am an insider
or an outsider
As an insider, I must have certain norms, values and ways of being and knowing. As an insider, sometimes I feel as if
I need to give up the essence of me, the essence of who I am, the essence of where I belong and who I belong to in order
to be accepted. I have come to realize that as an insider, I can only be one side of the hyphen, forced to choose between
the halvesonly to increase my emotional and cognitive dissonance whenever I choose.
It is hard to be an outsider. Someone who craves to belong and wants to find a way, but the way requires giving up
so much of who I am, that I am often left to be an outsiderfor being an insider requires me to be someone who I am not.
It is a difficult position to be in, but one that requires me to know who I am and who I wish to be and work toward making
it happen. As an insider and outsider both, I am neither from here or from there, knowing both, belonging to
neither. However, forging my own space defined by neither them or they.
In the essence of creating a dual identity, those of us who live as hyphenated Americans, are often left feeling as if
we have no where to go, no where to hide. That we will forever be in this time and space that does not allow us to tell
our stories, to be whole, to fill in the missing pieces. If hyphenated Americans have anything in common, it is this feeling
that we are constantly working at cross purposes with the very essence of our lives. We are living in the worlds of the
past, present, and future simultaneously. As we honor our past, forge our future, and live the present, we are often caught up
in trying to please and understand all aspects of our selves. We need to start celebrating both halves to realize the
potential of the whole.
We are the wealth of our
We are the riches of our
We are the value of our
We are the accumulation of our
Past-present- & future
The way we have chosen is not easy, for we are the wealth of our experiences and we must tell the story of our past
in order to honor our ancestors. We cannot forget from whence we came, for in the forgetting, a little bit of us dies each
day and we cannot be whole. We are necessarily tormented, not willing to give up who we are, but knowing we have to forge
a new way of being if we are to realize our dreams. Our lives are told in the stories that we live for we are truly a
bicultural being who is neither from here nor from there.
We are truly developing a new culture, constantly shifting from where we came and where we belong. We are the gifts
our ancestors give to the world, we are the legacies of our fathers. We transcend all bordersborders of the mind, body,
spirit and soul. We cross cultural and linguistic borders, often redefining both. Just note the hybrid languages, religions,
art forms, and ways of understanding that are commonplace when two cultures meet and influence each other. We are
the transborder nationals that define what is to come.
It is the hyphenated American that will forge a new way of being, a new life, an acceptance of diversity. As we learn to
live and thrive in our second homes, we also learn to influence and affect those homes as well. America is a wonderful
place due to the influence of the hyphens who have not given up on who they are, but have not rejected their new lands
either. Instead they have forged a life that is filled with the richness of both cultures. We are strong and we thrive for what
we choose to do and who we choose to be. We realize we are in a constant state of improving life as we craft the best of
us that we can beby honoring our past and creating our future.
is an ongoing process
of getting to know
Who I am,
Who I want to be
Who I can be
Crafting the best ME
I can be
Zulmara Cline was born in Brazil and moved to the United States when she was two years old. She is an assistant
professor at California State University, San Marcos, in the area of Literacy. She has worked as a K-12 educator specializing
in early childhood education programs, early and family literacy, and administration.
Dr. Cline completed her Ph.D. at
the University of California, Santa Barbara, on the effects of socialization on school administrators. She is currently a
scholar practitioner, writing extensively in the areas of literacy, diversity, English Language Learners, and multicultural
education. She is also a poet and has worked extensively to inspire biculturals to get in touch with their sense of soul and
rhythm through poetry. She lives with her family in San Marcos, California, and can be reached at