There are a few places that I’ve traveled to where I felt an immediate bond. The first time I went to Paris as a teenager, I remember standing on the Seine, in a very romantic and cliché manner, thinking, “I’ll be back.” And each time I’ve left Italy, I’ve kicked and whined all the way to the airport saying that I belonged there, I liked life better there, I wanted to stay. I almost did, after all.
Just about two years ago, I sat on the beach in Rio de Janeiro with my good friend and coworker and announced, “I know my plan is to move to Italy, but I think it would be cool to live here for a year or something. I just like it.”
I toyed with the idea a lot, even looked into various visas, but ultimately landed on going forward with my plan to move to Italy. Which, also ultimately, ended with me staying in the United States.
Then I got a boyfriend. From Rio. Which, in turn, meant that I would go to Rio. A lot.
The first time, I stayed for a few weeks, and it was fun, but the difficulty of everyday life started to set in. Just around the edges.
The second time, I stayed a little longer. I started getting angry at everything. I was complaining. A lot. Everything seemed wrong, everyone seemed wrong, and nothing seemed to work. Not to mention it even seemed impossible to leave.
This final time, I stayed even longer, with the intention of applying for a permanent visa. With my current visa, I was able to stay for up to 90 days, and renew for another 90 days. But the numbers were complicated and I could never — still haven’t — get a precise answer on what constituted 90 days. 90 consecutive days? 90 days per year? 90 days from January 1st or from when I entered the country? How would I know that they would let me in? Just show up and hope for the best? No thanks.
My assimilation into Rio has not been graceful or quick. I don’t understand the obsession with appearance. I don’t understand why everything takes so long. I don’t understand how paperwork can be not legal enough. I don’t understand why I need to authenticate everything, or why it’s so hard to find the food I want in such a large city, or why people insist on asking the native speakers around me if I understand them rather than just directly asking me in Portuguese like a full-grown human. And as a Jersey girl, I have the innate capacity to rant and complain until I literally run out of steam, or my voice.
One day before my trip back to NJ this time, we managed to get my permanent visa. It seemed like it wouldn’t happen, after all the trips back and forth from the Policia Federal (immigration authority), the endless questions of what papers we needed, what needed to be authenticated, translated, so on and so forth. Yet, we did it.
Gustavo and I talked a lot about how my perception of immigration is so different from his. In the US, I view immigration as the authority that tries to keep people out of the country, with no regard for familial connections, lives built here, the desire to live in the country of your choice. If you’re out, you’re out. For Gustavo, it’s more relaxed. If there’s a problem, it’ll be fixed. It’s designed to control, but not restrict. Plus, the fees are beneficial. (And boy are there fees.)
Nevertheless, I have a stamp in my passport now that says I have permanent residency in Brazil, and soon I’ll have an actual ID card proclaiming the same. For me, it wasn’t just a legal question, but an emotional one. Can I belong here? Will I be admitted, accepted?
As I handed my passport to the border patrol agent on my way out, he asked, “Are you a tourist?”
“No,” I said. “I have permanent residency.” Stamped.
The crossing felt so much more peaceful. I’m excited to go home because I know I can return. Despite our differences, I feel like Rio and I have come to accept one another. We disagree on many things, but we’ve learned to respect how one another works.
Walking through the terminal, I saw an advertisement. Alegria sem igual. Orgulho do Rio.
I smiled. Finally, after seeing the sticky, confusing, chaotic, bureaucratic side of the city, I’m finally able to see through the shadows and appreciate the good parts. So, Rio, I will be coming back. And I’ll be glad to see you next time.