Victor discusses passing down his culture, the current political climate, and his lifelong love for photography.
You're from Brazil. What was your journey like moving here to the United States?
I ended up moving here after my mom moved here. My mom moved here with my stepfather, and I came to visit about a year later in Atlanta when I was 14. About a year later before I finished high school in Brazil, I decided that I wanted to move. It wasn't just because she was here, but because I came, I loved it, and I wanted to learn English. I just wanted to get out of the place where I was. That was part of it. I was so frustrated with where I was and so worried that I wasn't going to get to see the world and meet other people. I saw it as a chance to just get out there and put myself in an uncomfortable place where I didn't know anyone. It was going to be an adventure.
Who were you staying with in Brazil?
I was staying with my grandmother and grandfather. The area was kind of the outskirts of the city. It was definitely not the fancy part of the city. It was kind of like where the poor class meets the lower-middle class. Some of the roads were still not paved. Houses were budded up one next to the other. There was crime. There was all the good stuff that happens in Brazil.
What was it like adjusting to life here. I know you were excited about it, but did you run into any unexpected challenges?
It was easy. I was so engulfed in American culture especially music that everything just felt right. My morals and code of honor were much more aligned with the American people than the Brazilian people. There was a kind of relief for me that people weren't trying to take advantage of me. They were truly being nice to me and trying to help me out. They weren't trying to trick and gain something from me. They were honest, and everybody worked and arrived on time. They did their work. That's what I wanted and didn't have in Brazil. There was this community where people weren't stabbing each other in the back. You know what I'm saying? I feel like Brazil is really built like that.
That's so interesting because I feel like there would be people here who would say that their communities are very similar to Brazil. I have family in Chicago, and I feel like they describe Chicago just like you describe Brazil.
I think that it's everywhere, but I think the contrast was so big that even if there were some, it was fine because I was used to so much corruption. You could only get something accomplished if you knew somebody that knew somebody. People could cut in front of you in lines. It was just not a whole lot of respect for each other and more like this rat race. You squish somebody to get somewhere. There is that here too, but it's just better than what it was in Brazil. The politics are way better. It's still fucked up, but at least they're not openly stealing money like, "Heyyy, I'm stealing moneyyy. You can't get me."
Do you go back often?
As often as I can. I was looking yesterday for tickets. They were between $2000 and $3000. It's so expensive. We always want to go at the most expensive times. So for four people, it's like $10,000 easily. We usually stay for a month. You're paying all this money, and you've got doctor's appointments. It just flies by and it kind of sucks too because we have so much family there that instead of traveling to a destination it's really just traveling back home to see everybody. Europe airfare is half the price we pay to go to Brazil. We could go to Rome, Spain, Berlin, and just get to know these places with half of the money. But then you'll just feel bad that you didn't go back to see your grandma and grandpa who are in their 80's and who might die and who ask for you every day. You just gotta go and see them.
How old are you?
Wow! You look really young, but I guess that it would make sense for you to be that age with the work you do and to have children.
Yea I've got an eight-year-old and a three-year-old. I had the oldest when I was 23. I feel old. I've got a house, a steady job, two kids, and I'm married. It just hit me.
So when did you meet your wife? She's from Brazil too, right?
So in the fifth grade, I met my best friend Ciro who is her brother. I started going to his house and hanging out. According to her, she always had this crush on me since the first time she saw me, but she was two years younger than me. Back then, I was really young, and she was even younger, and I never looked at her with those eyes. Then, as time went by, I guess like three or four years past, a friend of hers called me and told me that she liked me. This was on the cusp of where she was becoming a woman, growing up, and so was I. So I was like, "I got to talk to Ciro first. I don't want to throw our friendship away because somebody likes me." That's sort of how it started.
In the beginning, he cried and was like, "Well I guess I'd rather it be you than somebody that I don't know." We did that for like three or four months, and then I moved here. So basically we've known each other since she was eight years old and I was ten or eleven.
I moved here in 2002 and then in 2006 she came over to visit and stay for like seven months. That's really when we hit it off. She came here for school to start her psychology program. It was a really great school. Sometimes life is just like that. So we just hung out and I think back then what really mattered was making sure that she had her education. I wasn't sure what I was doing. When she came here, I'd dropped out of computer science.
So you have two children, what are the ways that you try to share and pass down your Brazilian culture to your sons?
A lot of music. I play a lot of Brazilian music. Of course, we speak Portuguese with them, and I guess bits of culture are just ingrained in them. I feel like I don't even know that I'm teaching them our culture, but I am. For example, the way that we hang out. We like to grill. We like to be outside, and so I guess they're learning from us that this is kind of how Brazilians are. We laugh. We like hot weather. So all of our activities revolve around that. That's who we are. We are very Brazilian. I guess I've been more Americanized than my wife has, but she's also still very Brazilian.
So food, for example, you know, it's always rice and beans. It's in the Caribbean. It's in Jamaica. It's a staple. You gotta have your rice. You gotta have your beans, and then you think about what you can do differently. So that's kind of how it is in my house. Food, music, and just lifestyle are the biggest influences that I think I have on them.
Having grown up seeing so much corruption in Brazil, how has that affect the way that you view politics now? Do you think that it has made you more of an activist or at least outspoken?
I wish that I was more of an activist. I'm outspoken. I'm on social media and talking to my friends. I'm really outspoken about what I like and don't like. It made me furious back then. I was very, very angry. I was listening to Rage Against the Machine, wanting to take the system down, and believing there was no solution. Then, as I grew older and started understanding all of the mechanisms a little better I got a little calmer, but still get furious about the way people get treated and our politicians who run this country or Brazil.
Brazil, for example, is a shit show. It's a circus. It's right in your face. It's a damn shame because nothing seems to work and everyone seems to be affected by corruption and seduced by power. I've never had much power in my hands, but I can imagine that it is a challenge when it's handed over to you. I guess a lot of people let it grown on them, and then they become corrupt. They trade things and are not really looking out for us, and that really makes me mad. I feel like we should all be looking out for everyone. I see police brutality, and that tickles my nerves so bad because they're supposed to serve us. They're not supposed to judge us or profile us, you know? All of that makes me really angry.
I took a two-week break from politics because I was so angry. No discussions with my friends about it because I've got this friend who moved to Ireland and he's Brazilian. When he lived here, he was liberal like I was, but then he moved back to Brazil and became this conservative.
I wonder how that happens.
I don't know, I mean, we were jamming to Rage Against the Machine together! Now he's like, "I can't believe that I liked all of that stuff." I'm like, "You're like them!" We are really good friends, and usually, we can have a consensus and pull good things from both sides to make it work. I think it only works because we're really good friends otherwise we would both get really offended and angry. I think it's healthy for me to have that in my life and not live in a bubble.
In bringing up that topic of living in a bubble, my friend Maya who I used to work with in New York was discussing the shock post-election when seeing people that she grew up with and some that she considered friends turned out to have completely different ideological viewpoints than she did. She brought up the same point of realizing that she needed to step outside of her own bubble.
Yea, it's so polarized now, you know. Everyone is wanting to put you in a box and put a label on it.
And it's also really personal too, you know? I feel like that also plays a part. Everything that is in the discussion is related to identity. If you're an immigrant, you're going to take particular policies personally. If you're Black, you're going to take another view very personally because that's your identity and you can't really separate it.
And sometimes, I feel like I don't understand what they're talking about and then I get angry. I think, "No! That's wrong. You can't do that." But then you start getting into it. It's like that guy who was on a college campus playing piano, and he said he wouldn't stop unless the love of his life came back. The feminists were outraged about it, and at first, I didn't understand why they were angry with him. Then, I started reading and got it. It's like the "macho man" in me didn't understand it at first. He was putting her in a situation where even I probably wouldn't want to be. Then people on campus might approach her and say that she's a douche bag for dumping him.
Ohhhhh! See I didn't even think of it that way, but you're right.
Yea! Then in the video, he called her Rapunzel. And I'm like okay so that's a mythical creature that was held captive. So it's all the parts put together, and then I finally saw it. He's a douchebag. Like could you not just write a love letter or call her? The thing is that is was like a four-month relationship. So things like that I like to get into because it just shapes your view a little better than it was before and you become more aware.
I think that we do have to watch out about too much politically correctness. I think it is a problem, but it is a lot better than it was before when people just didn't care about anyone's feelings or who they are or where they came from. I think we need to be sensitive, but there's a limit. Like yes, they offended you, but it's their opinion, and they're not breaking the law. We can have a discussion about it, but it is what it is.
Yea I always think of society as being a pendulum. It's always hard to reach that middle place, and I feel like we are swaying to the other side. So I do wonder what it would look like to be more balanced and centered when it comes to being politically correct.
I think that's probably why Donald Trump was elected. A lot of people were tired of too much political correctness especially Christians and conservatives. People were standing up to them and say, "Your ideas are racist. Your ideas are discriminatory. Your ideas are weird," and they were like, "Oh that too much political correctness for me. I want that guy who says what he wants whenever he wants and that's it." I think partially we caused it by making everything so politically correct that we sort of fed the beast.
And also, when I think back to elementary school, we were taught how to speak to others specifically when we didn't agree. We were taught to be civil and I kind of feel like we've lost that in a way. When I thought back through the election, I believe some people were blatantly racist or whatever. I also think there were a lot of people who were probably put off by the way in which many progressives more so bashed the other side.
We were chasing each other's dirt! You have to take the higher ground, you know? If you really want people to see who you are.
How did you get into photography?
I've always loved photography. I was the member of the family who collected the momentos, the recipes, the knick-knacks, the pictures. I was always drawn a lot to pictures, especially my family, you know, those little 35mm boxes where you could look into the sky and see images. I loved all of that. I always took pictures just like anybody would, but I just had interest in it since I saw the first picture. It didn't really hit me that I could make a living with that until I moved here and after I dropped out of computer science. I bought myself a Sony camera which was kind of cool. Then I started taking pictures of my friends and nature. In the beginning, I thought I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer or something with biology because I loved nature so much.
I took some amateur classes at Showcase like Photography 101 or Composition 101 and got a film camera. I started shooting film and slide -- just really amateur stuff. Then, Rebeca came, and we had a really good time for like eight months, and she told me, "Hey! If you really like photography, why don't you go to school for it?" I was like, "That's a really good idea." So that's when I enrolled in school and started doing it. It was a process for me to find what I really wanted. I liked computers a lot and thought that was the future, and it was how I was going to support my family and make my momma proud, but it wasn't. *laughs*
I feel there's this stigma where people think that if you go into art, you're not going to make any money and you're going to be poor for the rest of your life. Did you run into any of those kinds of comments?
From my family, yes. I think they were more supportive, but they were like, "Are you sure? This is a hard, hard area. Everybody's a photographer." I can tell you all these people that I know who are photographers and they're struggling, but I knew I wanted to do something different. I knew that I wanted to find a niche and specialize. I felt like if I could specialize some more, then I could do it and make money. That's what drove me into photography knowing that one day I would strike that chord and make a living.
I was talking to someone about being very focused. Not in terms of meditation, but in the ability to focus on something in the midst of adversity and not knowing if things will work out well. With that being said, I really do admire you for that because I think a lot of times people have ideas for what they want to do in life, but in the sight of uncertainty, they choose more traditional paths.
Yea. I don't think I've ever been traditional. I was very curious. I always loved people. I always loved going out and being on the streets or outside walking. I wasn't meant to sit and talk to people in a language that people don't understand, you know? That wasn't happiness to me.
So what is happiness to you?
I think happiness to me right now is a balance of professional life and family. I think that mastering that is where happiness falls. It's so hard, and I feel like now I have so much more time for at least Rebeca and Isaach, and once Victor Filho comes over at the end of the year I think it's going to make me feel very complete.
Happiness is so subjective. Like in Brazil, I see people with absolutely nothing and they are the happiest people I've ever seen, and it's such a cliche, but they're happy as much as they can be. I admire that. Sometimes I'm not happy, and I wonder why. I have all these things. My family is here. Sometimes I think we just need perspective to make ourselves a little happier and more content.