A Collection of Cultures: an Interview with Jay’s Brainstorms // Guest Post (Part One)

We aren’t voiceless, pass the mic.

I don’t know how other POC bloggers feel, but I’ve always felt that there is a shortage of stories and perspectives from people of colour… our stories are many and unique. So, towards the end of last year, I decided that I would begin sharing the stories of many talented, wonderful, diverse bloggers.

Today, we have Jay’s Brainstorms! I cannot stress enough what a joy it is read her blog posts, I’ve learnt so much from reading her posts, lessons that are consistently applicable to our daily lives; from her 30-minute shopping trip which she thoughtfully plans out, embracing her curls, and how she deals with depression when life gets hard (tip 5 is currently the most important thing I’m taking note of recently!). It was difficult to narrow the list down because her blog contains something for everyone!

There are so many wonderful things about Jay. She is so unabashedly open that she inspires me to not conceal who I am; she doesn’t allow anyone else to define her, she is forthright, a critical thinker, and sure of who she is. I love how, even though I’ve spent an enormous amount of time constructing my arguments for my Harry Potter posts, Jay will come through with a whole new angle that I hadn’t thought of and argue it so well that I find myself shifting my perspective (a herculean task in itself). I can’t wait to read more about what Jay has to, I’m sure I’ll be learning and laughing a whole lote more!

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What was your life like growing up in Brazil? Talk us through your education, cultural events, and [your] community. What are some things you loved about growing up in Brazil? 

I came from a modest family, and life wasn’t always easy. We had a tight budget, even though both my parents worked, because, since we didn’t have any support from his family (my mother’s family lived in another State), my parents had to pay someone to watch us while they were out working. Overall though, I was content with what I had, and we never wanted for the basic needs in life. My parents managed to put both myself and my brother in a private school – in here, sadly, public education is not very good – and I was fortunate enough to be able to go to college without going into debt.

I will be very honest and say that I’m not into the celebrations because I’m a homebody. But, still, I can talk about the major ones:

New Year’s Eve: I grew up in Rio de Janeiro, where many people from other States and countries went to for NYE. The fireworks are very famous, but I always ended up leaving the city, so I know as much as the people who never actually went there to see would know. I would mostly watch the fireworks on TV because I never really liked crowds and loud noises.

Carnaval/Mardi Gras: I’m also not the best person to talk about it, because again, crowds, noise and all that jazz. I would usually go to some street celebration where they sold food and had a band playing for people to listen. I never liked the big parties, and would usually just stay for a while and then retreat into my house for some (just a little) peace and quiet. Sadly, I don’t feel safe going outside during this time of year, since urban violence rises and a lot of people get mugged and even hurt.

St. John’s: June 24 is St. John’s Day, and a very traditional celebration here in Brazil. It’s definitely my favourite one. It’s during the winter, so the weather is more comfortable, and it revolves around food (yes, I love food). Since it coincides with the corn harvest, everything is made out of corn: cakes, popcorn, corn on the cob (boiled and roasted), pamonha (a sweet made with corn, milk, sugar, cinnamon and anise. It’s then rolled into a tube and wrapped in the corn leaves or banana leaves, and then cooked), curau (a sweet corn cream, served with sugar and cinnamon), canjica (white corn grains cooked with milk, condensed milk and sugar)… I can’t remember anything else right now. There’s also a lot of really delicious alcoholic drinks, but since I’m a non-drinker in general, I don’t have much to say about those. 

 

As for what I loved about growing up where I did, probably the fact that I had some nice freedoms children today don’t really have, like playing on the street, climbing trees, flying kites, playing soccer with the boys, getting involved in the occasional fight… I was much more adventurous as a child than I am now, but it was fun – even if I have a few scars to show for it.

Tell me about your family. How was your relationship with your family like growing up and how is it like now? How did culture play a role in your upbringing?

My family was basically my nuclear family growing up. My mother’s family lived across the country, and my father’s family didn’t really like us too much to the point where my grandmother told me to my face, when I was six, that I wasn’t her grandchild. I don’t know if that ever happened to my brother, I hope not. 

I was always very close to my dad (a daddy’s girl indeed), but my relationship with my mother was never easy. I don’t know what it was, but there was always this distance between us, and from a young age I could notice it. When I was about seven or eight, I was sure I was my dad’s child with someone else because that was the only way I could justify the distance in my mind.

Nowadays, I think it’s pretty much the same. Despite everything, I’m still close with my parents (we even live in the same apartment complex, though we don’t live in the same building). My brother, sister-in-law and niece live across the country, but we communicate often through text and video calls. I have moved closer to my mother’s family, and I try to keep in touch, though I’m a bit of a loner for no particular reason. I have nothing against them, but I do get overwhelmed when I have to interact a lot. 

As for culture, there is definitely an expected closeness regarding family. You may never have met someone, but if they’re a relative, and they need a place to crash or something, you’re expected to help if you can. That means we had a lot of people stay in our home growing up that we didn’t really know in advance. But in true Brazilian fashion, everyone got along as soon as we shared a meal, and the crowded space didn’t bother anyone that much.

How has your family and culture played a role in shaping who you are today? What are some things you’ve learnt and kept and what teachings have you rejected?

Brazilian people are extremely talkative and friendly, so even though I am quite shy, I tend to always talk to people wherever I am. If I’m waiting for the bus, getting a cab, visiting a customer to fix something, it doesn’t matter, I’ll talk to people and try to put them at ease and get to know them a little. This is so ingrained in me I have made friends while riding the bus more times than I can count. It is a trait I try to hold on to as it can’t hurt to be nice.

There’s also the fact that our socialization is very closely connected to food. If someone goes to your house, you’ll offer at least some coffee, and it is kind of offensive to refuse everything you’re offered. And if you’re going out with a friend, you can be sure that your outing will involve eating something. Well, I love food, so I’m not complaining, and I love feeding people, no matter whether they came to my home by surprise or we have planned it in advance.

The one thing I have rejected was the ‘yes’ culture we have. So many times I was forced to say yes to things I didn’t want – going to a place, seeing someone, giving someone a hug, giving up something I owned for someone, eating something I couldn’t eat or really hated, etc, etc – that I’ve shifted towards almost the opposite end of the spectrum, and become much more comfortable with saying ‘no’ to things.

You’ve spoken about mental health on your blog and you’ve advocated [for] openness. How has culture, family and community played a role in how you approach your mental health and advocating [for] mental health? 

To be honest, mental health is still not discussed at all here out of medical circles or some very narrow niches online. I remember the first time I told my mother I was depressed. Her reaction was along the lines of ‘what do you have to be depressed about?’ I believe people are becoming more open to the discussion nowadays, but it’s still hard to start the conversation with people who are not mentally ill. This is why I make such a strong point of advocating for openness because, while I didn’t have support at home, I had access to medical treatment, and it still wasn’t easy. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for people who have neither, so I want to help as much as I can in the endeavour of breaking the stigma.

You recently spoke about your autism diagnosis. Talk me through your journey, at what point did you suspect that you might have autism? How has diagnosis affected you so far? 

I’ll be honest, while I had read about autism and even babysat an autistic little boy, I never thought I could be autistic until I met other autistic adults. Those were a girlfriend (now ex) and a good (male) friend. I started noticing how much we had in common when it came to our quirkiness. Things that bothered them also bothered me, and I started reading about autistic adults and how they acted, how they coped in a world that wasn’t built with them in mind, etc. As I read, a lot of things started falling into place, but I sort of didn’t do anything about it.

Then, recently, on Facebook, someone talked to me when I was commenting back and forth with a friend about things like texture and sound sensitivity, sticking to a rigid structure, getting easily overwhelmed when around people, and other things or the sort. This gentleman who talked to me works with autistic teenagers and he mentioned that he would like me to take an online test he uses as a support tool (meaning he can’t diagnose based on the test, but it supports a diagnosis he already has enough information to suspect), and my answers hit several traits for what used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome or high-functioning autism. 

After that, he gave me a lot of reading materials so I can better understand myself and cope with life without causing myself too much stress for not ‘acting normal’, and also helped me by answering a few questions I had. I’m still learning a lot, but I have to admit that knowing what is ‘wrong’ with me – or different about me, I think I should say – has not upset me at all. It has actually been a huge relief, as I can tailor my approach to life better and stop being so hard on myself about things I can’t control. I don’t think I’ll be accessing any resources at this moment, but I can definitely make changes that will make life easier and/or less overwhelming.

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Check out Jay’s Brainstorms blog and Twitter

 

Are you a diverse blogger who has a story to share? If so, my blog is now open for not only for ‘A Collection of Cultures’ interview series, but for all other guest posts too. Going forward, topics will be expanding to anything of interest including mental health, life experiences, culture, community, employment, education, environmental issues, and much more. Please contact me if you would like to feature as a guest on my blog.

Sophia Ismaa

Connect with me:

-Let’s talk all things books on Goodreads
-Talk politics, books, TV shows, blogging and life with me on Twitter

 

 

8 Comments

  1. Excellent interview!

    I worked with a girl from Brazil a couple of years back and talkative and friendly well-describes her. I was exceedingly jealous of her ability to be open and put people at ease never knew how much of it was just her or a cultural things? (Maybe I can’t entirely separate the two?) But I definitely hope to visit the country one day! Anyway thanks for the link to Jay’s blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s beautiful to see how different cultures have a different approach, and it seems that the Brazilian people we know are full of such warmth, openness and hospitality. I don’t even feel like I’m particularly British in my manners, I would say I’m a little more straightforward like Americans (more so a New Yorker) and perhaps a little too idealistic for a Bengali. That’s such a great point though, I wonder if you, as an American, have a similar approach or of it varies from state to state or individual to individual? I feel like you come across as American in your interests and British in your speech.

      Liked by 1 person

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