Portuguese and Proud

4 April 2019

“So if you’re Puerto Rican, why do you look so white?” Ryan blurted out.
“She’s so not Puerto Rican. Her last name is Russian!”
My Spanish teacher turned bright red, and all eyes locked on me, waiting for an answer. She started to speak, but I stood up out of my chair, opening my mouth and lineage to a full classroom on my first day. “I’m not Puerto Rican, I’m Portuguese. And I’m not Russian either, I was adopted.”
Ryan stared at the Spanish book in front of us intently, as if he could somehow read my heritage through its worn, fiesta-themed cover. “Oh.”
I grinned and sank back into my seat. “Don’t worry about it. I couldn’t even spell my last name for six months.”
I was adopted at twelve by my step-father: a large, Russian man whose last name translates to “butcher”. He roamed about the house only at night, like a vampire, speaking in quick, sharp, syllables and phrases. His mannerisms and accent were so mesmerizing to me that I wrote a novel about vampires one year after my adoption. I never knew my biological father, but I idolized my step-father as any child would a parent and referred to him as “daddy”-with the occasional “Count Dracula”, of course. But why did my mother marry someone named Stanislav after a guy named Pete?
My curiosity sparked once I realized how little I knew about my biological father. I began to bombard my mother with questions: Was Pete from Portugal? Did he have dark hair and fair skin like me? Did he play guitar? Did he like cold pizza and popcorn, too?
I never learned very much substantial information about my biological father, but that hasn’t stopped me from exploring my Portuguese heritage. I joined my school’s international club in hopes of learning more about the Portuguese culture, and each fact I ascertained furthered my inquisitiveness. Since Portuguese was not a language offered at my school, I opted for one year of Latin and three of Spanish so that I can survive in Portugal when I visit. I’ve traveled overseas to England, Scotland, and Italy to expand my knowledge of European culture, and I plan on traversing Portugal next to learn about my lineage.
I haven’t used my heritage to define who I am; rather, I have used it to discover my curiosity and determination when faced with a seemingly dead end. By exploring the Portuguese culture I realized I wasn’t searching to find myself, I was searching in order to create myself. Learning about my Portuguese heritage has helped me to look in a mirror and identify the girl grinning back. I have my father’s obsidian eyes, my mother’s curiosity, and my daddy’s smile-and maybe his maniacal laughter, too.

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