By Harold Emert
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Our current perplexing age of an increasing number of persecuted persons fleeing their native countries for new lands and opportunities is producing one positive effect: new interesting writers.
They include natives of Brazil living in the USA and other nations and those “gringos” from not only the United States and Britain, but also other distant lands and cultures writing about being “displaced” persons.
Their novels, poems or essays are about new “strange” lands and cultures, trying to speak “foreign” languages which are not their native tongue as they try to adapt to the subtle habits and new customs of new cultures.
In addition, whether they are from Sudan or Somalia, New York or London, these new authors join the ranks of great writers: Polish-born Josef Conrad and former Russian aristocrat Nabokov are among the new immigrants who became outstanding writers, often in the language of their new culture.
Due to an economic crisis among other factors which send them to new pastures abroad, Brazilians are now among those expats writing their novels and other literary works in Europe and the USA.
However, knowing Cariocas after so many years residing here, this observer doubts whether after life near the beaches, football, chopp (draft beer), usual kindness, and good humor of the natives of what was once Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), Cariocas will easily adapt to life abroad.
Here in Rio de Janeiro, The Rio Times recently encountered Brazilian Elizabeth Columa who resided nineteen years in Los Angeles and five years in New York City before returning “home”. However, where is home? As one of Elizabeth’s poems reads, “You can’t wade in the same river twice.” On the other hand, can you?
The Rio Times (TRT): In your poetry, you write, “You can’t wade two times in the same river?” Living 19 years in Los Angeles and five years in NYC and now 12 years (since 1997) in your native city of Rio de Janeiro, what has been your personal experience to write this?
Elizabeth Columa (EC): I could write a book to fully answer your question. Besides, I’m not sure poets are always aware of the mechanisms that guide them through the act of composing and their poetry.
I am currently writing my American memoirs from the cultural perspective of a native Brazilian. The literature abounds with stories of expatriates and their struggles to thrive in a foreign land.
Narratives of immigrants from all corners of the world are still popular in America today (despite the current political antagonism towards immigration by those in power); some have become best-sellers and were translated to a number of languages.
Not to mention American writers who became themselves, prominent expatriates, like Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot – whose lives and long-lived experiences abroad have affected and colored their writing in a most unique and vigorous way.
As I spent a great deal of time in an academic environment, that perhaps helped me think about some existential issues and the culture shock I experienced at the time.
I was away from home for such a long time that my cultural identity has naturally changed; that certainly happens to most expatriates, I imagine, whether they are aware of it or not.
And regardless of where they come from. That also explains, in my opinion, our inability (or impossibility) “to swim in a river twice, when we do, we can’t come back”: Life overseas enables us to acquire an outsider’s perspective – and yet we may often feel like an insider. It’s a life-changing experience.
Not only do we seem to change, but also people and the local surroundings seem to do the same as well — except that we don’t notice it much. So it is like a new beginning. When we return to our native land, it feels as though we are being somehow introduced to people and places for the first time. We’re a kind of special guest, I’d say! At least for a while…
TRT: Due to an economic crisis which never seems to end, many Brazilians are packing their bags or considering leaving their native cities, friends, and family. What advice would you give them, based on your experience?
EC: Fortunately, in the past, I never had to “pack my bag” due to an economic crisis in Brazil. When I first moved to LA, I had the privilege to receive a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics at USC.
But based on the experience of others I had met over the years, it all depends on the circumstances involving one’s choice: financial, emotional, personal (one’s curiosity and sense of cultural adjustment).
TRT: Your first marriage to a Brazilian maestro ended in the USA. Was being far away from your native land the factor that complicated the marriage.
EC: We were young and immature when we first got married. I’ve seen many couples leading a happy life together overseas.
Actually, I believe the expatriate experience may, for a number of reasons, bring couples closer together. Or else, it makes or breaks it!
TRT: Can you talk a little about your “literary work” in general? You’ve written two books of poetry and one of short stories. How do they differ with regard to style and themes?
EC: My first book, “Reminiscences,” is about New York City and Rio de Janeiro (hence the title). Two cities where I’ve lived and of which I have very fond and significant memories.
The second book, “Antes Do Entrelaço Dos Braços”, consists of love poems as
well as a variety of other poems. I also have a book of fifteen short stories titled “Virtual Girl”, which is still to be translated into English. I’m promising myself to have it done by the end of next year!
To end this interview in a poetic note, I’d like to transcribe below one love poem from my second book, written originally in English:
Love in the New Millennium
First, you would.
Then, you must.
Should he ask:
“Do you love me?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Will you always?”
“Now, at least…”
It’s all a question of the proper usage of the English modal in the New Millenium.