Feature: Growing up an immigrant

As an eight-year-old girl Renata Aragao thought coming to America meant a big house, with a white picket fence, her own room, and unlimited amounts of ice cream. Instead the family moved into a small apartment where she would share a room with her sister. Slowly her dreams were crushed. Her family, speaking no English, were treated as second class citizens. 

Renata Aragao (right) (Photo: Facebook)

 For Renata assimilating into American society was difficult. Coming from the small island of Sao Miguel and speaking only Portuguese set her back and she became the butt of jokes and taunts throughout school. “I was a part of the bilingual program at school, so when we would go between classes in the hallways we’d speak Portuguese to each other, that would usually bring out taunts from others,” said Renata. The treatment she received was something she never understood. “They would tell us to go back to our own country and due to how we dressed they would tell us to go back on the boat,” said Renata.

Dressing in her worn, outdated, plaid dresses and home sewn shirts, compared to of her classmates’ denim jeans and store-bought outfits. While trying to fit in Renata found herself distancing herself from her Portuguese culture which included changing the way she dressed and attempting to adopt English as her primary language. “I felt guilty because my parents were still very rooted in our culture, but as a young person in America I couldn’t help but gravitate towards the new culture,” said Renata.

As she grew up the racial taunts continued. She was called a green horn, a derogatory term meaning stupid, and “portage,” another derogatory term towards Portuguese people. Despite being one of the smarter students in her class despite language struggles teachers would constantly put her on the spot if she was having trouble. “I remember struggling to pronounce something in class correctly, I had the right answer but couldn’t say it. Instead of helping teachers would press me into repeating the same broken word over and over,” said Renata.

The scrutiny of being an immigrant comes regardless of the origin country. “If you sound different, look different or come off as different people would let you know,” she said. However, she wouldn’t let ignorance stop her.

 Graduating Durfee High School she continued her education at Bridgewater State College. She would graduate college with a 3.2 GPA and a bachelor of science in psychology. Since graduating she has risen to a supervisor’s position for the Department of Developmental Service (DDS) in New Bedford Massachusetts.

 Renata and her family faced a multitude of challenges as immigrants, growing up presented its usual and unusual struggles yet she never felt fazed by the treatment she got. “I would always try and bridge the gap and just unite people. Some people weren’t for inclusion but the people I surrounded myself with accepted it and that’s what counted to me,” said Renata.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Music electives expand individuality

“We could find a role for anybody, even if someone is just playing cow bells,” said Bunk.