I’m lucid dreaming. I’m on a street at dusk. I’m a curious passerby trying to peek behind the curtain of a strange house, only to find somebody familiar inside staring back. She’s me. Or a copy of me, somebody who looks like me but isn’t, a tear in my universe, a slight of hand, a slip.

The feeling is in the step patterns and the opening of hips. On these Salvador sidewalks, the women dance the same samba I learned from my mother, our feet against white kitchen tiles or muffled shuffling across the living room carpet. But I think in my foreign language— worse, I don’t speak their native one, not well enough to pass. I make mistakes, stumble, reveal an accent. My mother used to skip school for these beaches, but I know more about farm-to-market roads and the history of the Big Tex statue.

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And yet I also know that avocados are a fruit meant to be eaten sweet, and that beans and rice taste better with a side of farofa. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is some of the best literary comfort food out there, and when the radio announces music from the 60’s the only musicians I need are Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. 

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The strange house feeling— I don’t think I have to be a child of an immigrant to understand it. I think it might be like speaking to my grandmother and realizing I have the same shape to my chin but different memories. It’s looking into my parents’ pasts, seeing the similarities alongside the differences that validate my individuality, independence and origin. There’s no word for that. But like God in Genesis, like Scheherazade, troubadours, and wedding vows, the words are essential. I use what I can find to describe it. I tell it. I speak and create and exist.

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