It Takes a Village to be a Brazilian Woman

I have a nail lady. One specific lady who knows my name and knows that I like my nails cut really short. So short that it almost hurts. Oh, and I have a standing appointment with my nail lady. Every other week. Thursday at 4pm. I’m a little behind on this whole commitment to nail ladies, so I don’t have a prime time like Friday afternoons or Saturday mornings. Those are all taken. My sister goes every other Saturday at 1pm. My mother takes the alternate Saturdays.

I currently don’t have a waxing lady because she moved. But my mom, sister and I have had a lady who waxes us from eyebrow to armpit to ankle since I was….ten? Eleven?

While others have a car guy and an air conditioning guy and a repair guy—we have nail women. Waxing women. Hair women. My cousins in Brazil did the permanent makeup thing where you tattoo(?) eyeliner on. Some women do the same for their lips, some staining that lasts months.

My aunt gets her nails and her hair done every Saturday morning. Her nail person goes to her house and, after clipping and polishing and painting, she stays for lunch. Then my aunt goes to the hair salon after lunch. Her whole day is gone.

You guys. It’s a lot.

And I can go into how ridiculous it is. I call it The Tax On Women. Not just the money we pay for all these services and products, but the time. The time it takes to put on makeup before work. The time it takes to make sure your hair looks presentable. To hide the blemishes men are fine being seen with. And just the time it takes to put a bra on, you guys. It’s usually fine, but when you’re half asleep and you get the clasp wrong the first time, it’ll take at least 2 more tries to get it right. That’s what happens with me, anyway. Get it wrong once? Doomed.

But I won’t. I won’t go into that. Instead, I’ll talk about the comradeship that happens when you have a woman who sees you every other week and sits across from you holding your hand in hers. She will get married and invite you. Or she will get married and it’s too late to invite you because you just started going to see her, but she would have invited you if it hadn’t been too late.

Regardless, you will see pictures. She will tell you how she met her now-husband. How her father is now in Brazil because he was deported and how he didn’t get to walk her down the aisle. She will show you pictures of her sister. And pictures of the new litter of puppies her dog just gave birth to. She will say she’s only selling the puppies to people she trusts—and she will offer to sell one to you at a better price because she knows your current dog is 14 years old. So, obviously, you know what you’re doing dog-wise.

She will help you pick out your nail color, suggesting you stray away from the usual dark colors you prefer. How about pink this time? Red? She will ask you if your thyroid deficiency is better and say she thinks you need to find a specialist. She might poke your thumb too hard and you say you’re going to tell on her to your mom and she laughs because she knows your mom and you’re both grown women. She will listen to you rant about how the Brazilian novela that’s supposed to be set in India is the most ridiculous and racist thing you’ve ever seen. She tells you her sister has an Indian friend whom she asked if the caste system was still a thing and the friend had said no. So she knows the novela is a lie.

She will ask you if sometimes you doubt God exists. You will tentatively say yes. Yes, you do doubt. But you’ll say it carefully, because even though you’re all about knocking over weak things, you don’t want to push too hard with her. You try to explain C.S. Lewis to her in Portuguese. You apologize because your Portuguese is elementary. She says you speak it well.

She says it’s her dream to go to college and be an engineer. You say you can help her understand the process and that she can ask you any question she has.

You say you’re going to have a Harry Potter party and she says she loves Harry Potter. You make a mental note to invite her and her new husband.

And you know, The Woman Tax, the extra time and money spent, it’s all kind of worth it. My nail lady has a steady payment from me. She hustles. And I contribute. But not only that, there’s a special connection you build with the women who are invested in your look. I’m not sure how to explain it. It’s worth it.

That One Boyfriend I Had

I dated a Brazilian. My one boyfriend. So I guess that’s my disclaimer: I’ve only had one boyfriend. And he was 6 years older than me, which usually shocks Americans. But, trust me, it’s a cultural thing. We went out for 3 years. That said, you’d think dating a Brazilian immigrant would be the way to go, right? We were even from the same state, Goiás. But Max was older when he moved from Brazil.

He would refuse to speak English around me because I was better at it than him. So I ordered the food. He’d give me the money and I’d buy the movie tickets. We only spoke in Portuguese with one another.

There’s a division in Brazilian immigrants: those who are Americanized and those who aren’t. Mara and I are part of the ones who are. But how could we help ourselves? When you live here since 2nd grade and never go back, you start to adapt. But the other group thinks we’re snobs for speaking English. Posers. Traitors? I don’t know. They’re usually part of the group who come here older—in high school or after.

I first experienced the difference in 9th grade when I was excluded from the Brazilian group because I was no longer in ESL and spoke English so well.

Max was a part of the non-Americanized. But we didn’t mind.

Then the Shrek movies started coming out. We’d go to the movies to watch them. But he wouldn’t laugh when everyone else did. And he’d ask me to explain what was funny. I then realized the jokes in Shrek were culturally exclusive. That was when I started noticing the biggest difference between us.

Whenever I tried to talk to him about it, he just didn’t understand my struggle with two cultures and two identities. Max is a Brazilian who lives in the United States. It’s not a back and forth with him. I think it’s one of the reasons I broke up with him.

I think I was jealous of how easy being Brazilian came to him. He didn’t question it, didn’t try to be anything else. He didn’t even try to be Brazilian. He just was. I’m not saying he fit stereotypes, either. Trust me, if he had, we would not have been together. (He didn’t only wear brand names and he didn’t spend hours on his hair and he didn’t demand I cook for him or that I wear makeup or that I lose weight.)

But there wasn’t one part of Max that rejected being Brazilian. I envy that.