In Brazil, I grew up in a social environment where being a Person of Colour never changed how I was treated or even the opportunities I would have throughout my life. Even though, especially during my childhood and teenage years, I struggled because I did not see people that look like me represented in the media, I still did not identify as being Black.
I remember that as a child, choosing a character that I identified with was a struggle, I had a hard time choosing the themes for my birthday parties because no matter which one I chose, I would not look like the character because I was too dark. This frustrated me a lot. But that was the extent of it — the lack of representation. However, things changed when I moved to Ireland. As soon as I arrived, I realised that society here sees me as part of a community I had never seen myself as part of before. And things are not as simple as saying: “I was part of X and now I am part of Y, let’s move on.”
This changed the way I saw myself in society, and I started questioning many things. The main thing I found myself asking was: why was I placed in two different positions in society?
Before I started writing this article, I discussed the topic with some friends who are also both Brazilians and People of Colour. While some identified themselves as part of the Black community, others did not. We agreed that such a dissonance might be related to the person’s experience with racism and that racism in Brazil could be closely related to how dark the person is and/or their socio-economic status. This means that people with darker skin might be more likely to suffer some discrimination.
Such an explanation would explain why I did not recognise myself as part of the Black community as a child. I am a relatively light skinned Black person, and I always studied in private schools – racism was not something I had to worry about.
However, in Ireland, such nuances do not exist. So, I had to navigate those labels and figure out how each of them fit into my life. Here, I am a Black foreign woman, and I have to pave my way and prove to myself and to others that I am worth being where I am.
A few years ago, while I was doing my Undergraduate degree, one of my professors said to me that I would not be able to get first-class honours because I was not born here and my English did not make sense, even though I had great grades and had been living in Ireland for years. In the end, I did get my first-class honours, not to prove them wrong but to prove to myself that I should not let those kinds of ‘opinions’ dictate my life.
Still, last year, while doing my Masters degree, I found myself struggling with representation again. But this time, the lack of Latinx representation in the media caught my attention, resulting in most of my work being focused on the topic. When existent, most Latinx representation is extremely stereotyped, resulting in a share of society perceiving such stereotypes as real assets. And, on personal experience, I can say that this is true. The number of people who perceive the Latinx community as ‘hot’ and ‘exotic’ is insane.
This has made my dating life even trickier because it is not uncommon for me to hear comments like “Brazilians are so sexy” when I tell someone where I am from.
While dealing with all that stuff is a constant challenge, it is also a process that teaches me a lot about myself and makes me feel seen and more represented.
And after realising that I am not remotely close to finding out who I am and how all those labels fit into my life, the only thing I am sure of is that if by exploring all those things, I make it easier for other Black Brazilian women who live abroad, it’s enough.
So, I hope one day, a girl can see herself represented in me and feel inspired to be her authentic self. When that happens, I will breathe, relieved that it was all worth it.
The portrait of Leticia was taken by Guilherme Possa.