Two years after completing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Brazil, I think back to the question my Fulbright Program Adviser asked me when I was first applying: how is Fulbright the next logical step on your personal and professional journey? Answering that question seemed like a tall order at the time, like it would require substantial creativity, but I see now how my Fulbright grant was actually an organic development, and how it has paved the path for all the steps thereafter.
While a student at the University of Hawai‘i, I had majored in English and Spanish and taken every Portuguese course I could, including an independent study of Brazilian cinema; I worked for several years at an international literary journal, Mānoa, that published writing from other countries, often in translation; my first time abroad was a summer program in Portugal’s Azorean archipelago, where I had taught English to locals; and I had been encouraged to submit an application by two academic mentors—my Portuguese instructor and favorite English professor—who had received Fulbright grants themselves. Fulbright was indeed the next logical step for me, and I toiled away at my application for weeks to ensure the idea was communicated clearly. Two months before graduating, in March 2015, I learned that I’d be departing for Brazil as a Fulbrighter early the following year.
As a first-generation college student and someone who had been born and raised on an island, I accepted my Fulbright grant with a deep appreciation for the many opportunities it afforded me. I arrived in my beautiful host city—Vitória, Espírito Santo—ready to plunge headfirst into my English-teaching responsibilities and all the thrilling adventures that awaited. My co-ETA and I worked closely to develop learning activities aimed at improvisational language use, often resulting in classroom hijinks and stronger camaraderie among our students. I immersed myself in both written and spoken Portuguese, insisting on speaking the local language in social situations, even as my Brazilian friends practiced their English. And I traveled to some of the most stunning locales I’ll ever visit: the baroque city of Ouro Preto, the thundering waterfalls of Iguaçu, and beach after glimmering beach along the Atlantic coast.
It was on one such trip to a place called Lençóis Maranhenses—a national park where bright blue pools of water gather in the valleys between vast white sand dunes—that I mentioned the side project I was dreaming up to a fellow Fulbrighter. Mānoa, the international literary journal I had worked for as a student, had given me permission to develop an issue dedicated to the writing of Brazil, and I was looking for a place to start. As we sat at the edge of the water, my friend recommended that I get into contact with a translator named Eric M. B. Becker—a Fulbright research grantee who was working on a translation project. I reached out to Eric upon returning to Vitória about editing an issue of Mānoa, and in so doing, I had taken my first step on the path I’ve been following for the past two years.
Our work over this period has resulted in a literary anthology entitled Becoming Brazil: New Fiction, Poetry, and Memoir, scheduled for publication in early 2019. Featuring over twenty pieces rendered into English by some of today’s finest translators from the Portuguese, the volume captures the richness and diversity of Brazil and its people. Selections include poetry about the caiçara fisherman of Rio de Janeiro, an autobiographical essay about the Japanese diaspora in Brazil, an excerpt from a novel set in the capital city of Brasília during the military dictatorship, and more.
Though Becoming Brazil began as a very personal undertaking in the spirit of cultural exchange, it has acquired new importance to the promotion of Brazilian culture in the wake of the September 2018 fire that destroyed the National Museum.
I visited this museum for the first and last time on a cloudy Saturday afternoon two years ago. I recall walking among the artifacts displayed in honor of the nation’s past, coming upon relic after relic of times and places I had read about. Brazil, I realized, had given me my first real glimpse of a world beyond my own, and I knew that the next logical step would be to try to give back.
For more information about Becoming Brazil, visit becomingbrazil.com or click here to support the project.