At the very end of August, Gustavo and I moved from Philadelphia, back to my home state of New Jersey. Of course, Philadelphia and New Jersey are not so far and, in fact, you could literally see New Jersey from the window of our old place in Philly. But if anything has become clear to me over these past few years, it’s that I actually really, really (really) like New Jersey.
Deciding to move was hard. Our lease in Philadelphia ended in the summer and, in the midst of 2020, we were trying to figure out if we should resolve ourselves to living there for the next few years or just take a chance now while restrictions temporarily lightened. Since we knew we wanted to move eventually, we decided to take a calculated risk and check out a few places.
The most interesting part of the process was figuring out what our priorities were. I like old houses; Gustavo likes new. If there were no sidewalks, it was a no from me. If there was no air conditioning (or, at least, no easy way to install it), it was a no from Gustavo. Yet one unique thing that we were looking for was that it needed to be in or near a Brazilian or Portuguese community.
And this is why I love New Jersey.
New Jersey has the third largest population of foreign-born residents in the United States, in spite of being the fourth smallest state. Conveniently, that means it’s also home to a large Brazilian community and one of the oldest and largest Portuguese communities in the United States, the Ironbound.
One of the things I missed most while living in Philadelphia was having a large Brazilian community. Likewise, when we lived in Rio, I really missed having that cultural diversity. The US is a country of hyphens, and I love it. Especially when I was trying to insert my own hyphenated identity into a place where that’s not a big part of the culture.
After a few months of search, we finally found the place that we wanted to call home. It was close to Newark, so we knew there was a relatively visible Brazilian community where we would be living. But it was also where my paternal grandfather grew up, and close to where the rest of my Italian-American family lived since they moved from Italy. In other words, it was a perfect balance between our two cultures. (Bonus: after we moved in and met our neighbors, we found out they were from Portugal and we’ve chatted a few times in Portuguese.)
On our first day in, we ordered dinner from a Brazilian restaurant. When asked, Gustavo will almost never say he misses Brazil. He loves living here. He loves the conveniences and ease that exist in the US. He loves English (for real). But when our order came, his eyes lit up. Even the rice they’d used for the rice and beans included in his dish was a specific rice that he’d only seen in Brazil. And while it might not be something he consciously misses, there’s a warmth and joy that comes from that direct contact with home, even when you’re thousands of miles away.
For me, too, though I’m not Brazilian, I recognize that my time in Brazil has played a big part in my life and that, together, our family is Brazilian. (Brazilian-Italian-American, I should say.) Sometimes I miss the things that brought us together in his home country, and I also crave that direct contact. Just like, when we were in Rio, I missed the foods, slang, music, attitudes specific to my own cultural identity.
So while it’s a beautiful, heartwarming thing for us to be starting new, again, in another new city, it’s made even more special by the way the place in which we’re living already ties into our own personal and familiar histories. I imagine, one day, when Gustavo’s parents are able to visit us here, the ease and joy of being able to communicate with our neighbors in Portuguese. I imagine being able to share with our friends and family both of our cultures, and vice versa. I imagine allowing that diversity to influence and drive our lives here together, and I love it.