What’s in a Name?

Closing out Sunday with: Deli, Delícia, Delizia, & Delichia… 

This week’s blog post comes with many personal reflections on how I move through spaces in Brazil, more specifically Lavras. I came to Brazil with an open mind and ready to experience other people’s doubt regarding my identity, given the stereotypical ways in which “Americans” are viewed globally.

I expected to get stares and squints regarding my hair color not being the typical blonde or blue eyed “Anglo” U.S. Born archetype of identity. Those encounters do happen from time and time and people guess that I am either from Bolivia, Colombia, or even Japan. It’s interesting to hear what people come up with when I ask them to take a guess. I thought I would have to explain why I was not blonde or blue-eyed yet STILL “American”.

On the contrary, instead of my physical features being the center of conversation, it’s actually my name. When I first arrived in Sao Paulo people were curious about my name and why I was named Delicia because in Brazil this has a different meaning. Everytime I introduce myself people don’t believe me. I literally take out my license or CPF document and show them identification. I understand why they would think it’s not a typical name in Brazil.  I am not going to go into how Delicia is used in Brazil – urban dictionary can show you that. It opens up a conversation about Taboos in Latin America and the world. How some topics are still taboo to discuss among individuals.

One of the greatest perks is that in Brazil they spell my name the way it was given to me and they pronounce it correctly, which is a huge plus. In Brazil there is also an accent on the first “i” = Delícia. Yet, there is stigma and taboo attached to it – from the lens through which they use language and the context of the word in their sentences. I hope to bring new meaning to the word that for them is learned as an Adjective. That when they meet me, Delicia, also carries personhood. Not only to describe food, people, and places. I have also learned that there is butter named Delicia and many pastry shops that carry my name.

A few anecdotes to provide a glimpse into daily interactions with Brazilians. This week I started the intensive Portuguese 1 Course and when we went around introducing ourselves the Portuguese professor said “here you’re just an adjective”. This statement jolted me back into the realm of the “other” and that I am in fact a Foreigner or Outsider in this new space.

This statement made me reflect on how teachers, professors and facilitators who work with students have tremendous power. Their word choice is incredibly important. In this sentence she in a way undermined my personhood. Reflecting on this moment I realize it could be a language and or cultural barrier in terms of communication since English is her second or third language. Yet for a split second I felt my 5-year old self shed some tears.

Another encounter this week that shook me to my core was when a student met me for the first time and laughed when I said my name. He then turned bright red and kept shaking his head in disbelief, like “THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS YOUR NAME”. He demanded I show him my Identification, as if I needed to prove my existence to him. He proceeded to say, “Oh no, you can not have that name here in Brazil. It means something totally different. You need a nickname!” Granted, he means well and was eager to practice his English with me. So, I softly reminded him, that I was proud of my name and would like to be called Delicia, no nicknames. If my name causes some discomfort in someone, I believe that is their journey and they need to process that for themselves – for me I am happy with my name. Thank you Mami & Papi for picking my name to be Delicia – it has brought me great joy, new lessons, and even greater reflections.

For those who may not know, my sweet dear Abuela is named Delicia and I walk through the world with great pride in being named after such a strong and independent woman! She has taught our family, especially my cousins and I that we can accomplish our dreams with hard work and dedication. She is the first born of 4 siblings and graduated as a Elementary School teacher. Her lessons on perseverance and determination are fierce characteristics to be reckoned with. When I introduce myself as Delicia I not only represent myself, I also in a way carry her legacy as well.

Thus, my identity as a Latina with parents from Paraguay doesn’t really phase the Brazilians I have met in Lavras. Instead, a 7 letter word carries greater meaning for them. In a way when Brazilians meet me for the first time, my name disrupts their archetypes of words, meanings, and communication. When we discuss my name and the history of “WHY” I am named Delicia, I can see their paradigm shift. These moments are true intercultural exchanges and reminds me as to why I am in Brazil and “WHY” Fulbright. To “turn Nation’s into People’s.” Who would’ve thought that a U.S. Born Citizen would be named “Delicia” since for them the word is an adjective. It is used to describe food and a state of being. I see my relationships with Brazilians take on a new meaning when I explain the history of my name and it becomes part of the thread through which we communicate as we continue to build working relationships and friendships. 

A month later in Brazil I also reflect on how Professors and students were worried about people bullying me regarding my name. I appreciate their concern and it has prepared to know what to say and how to respond if the situation arises.

The Silver lining has got to be meeting people in the Repúblicas this past weekend. They are similar to Sororities and Fraternities in the United States. When I hung out with them this weekend when I introduced myself, the reactions were different.  They were really excited about my name and instantly played Michel Teló “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”. Dancing to this song became a way to break the ice and show how we are connected through language and dance.

There was no prolonged pause or squints, in fact they hugged me twice when they found out that was my name. Responding with, “Nossa, Que Legal” – (Wow, how cool!).

Through our conversations, one girl made a bold statement: that by the end of this I will like Lavras more than New York City. That is a huge undertaking for Lavras because anyone I know – knows how much I love NYC! However, in these moments I felt part of Lavras and grateful that they want to include me in this community. Rather than being projected as the “other” I was embraced as part of this community. I also found someone who was from Paraguay – which made me grin from ear to ear. He could understand another intersection of my identity and share that collective love for the Paraguayan Heritage. We instantly spoke Spanish together and discussed parts of Paraguay and where our families were from.

Thus, the Silver Lining of this week was connecting with students outside of the realm of a structural classroom and rather in a more social and informal setting. Language and cultural exchange flowed through our conversations where I learned new words in Portuguese and they in English. In fact, I think I learned more about Brazil, Language, and Culture in these few hours than in the intensive Portuguese classroom a few days ago. I was affirmed in my personhood, embraced in the community, and began new friendships. These individuals were patient with me while trying to express myself in Portuguese. These are the small wins that I am grateful for when days are tough and I really miss my Venti Hazelnut Starbucks Iced Coffees. I am excited to see where these new friendships lead and how we continue to learn from each other!

I leave this week and enter this new week with these reflections in mind:

  1. These encounters are Exercises in reflecting on whether or not I project meaning onto people. Thus asking myself, how do I also project meaning and identity onto people? From what schemas do I operate? How do I rely less on those schemas and listen to people I meet and hear what they actually say versus listening to respond.
  2. My name is a family name and I am proud of being named “Delicia” even though in Brazil I have been called cake or you’re just an adjective in our language – can we just give you a nickname.
  3. How people alter and want to shift your expressions or modes of thinking and speaking toward their own schemas of understanding.

Stay tuned for other stories I will have from this upcoming week regarding my name. We will be introducing ourselves to all of the Letras students in a general assembly with over 300 students. We also start official programming this week where my Co and I will meet new faces and interact with new people! New adventures and encounters with students. 

Até a próxima vez! 




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