tvstaticI’ve always loved the work of critical theorists. True and in-depth critical thinking is perhaps the most important thing that I’ve learned in the many years that I was a university student. Critical race and gender studies were absolutely formative to the person that I have become over time. And I like this person, more and more all the time. I cannot possibly describe how incredibly satisfying it is to be able to develop original thought, based on the works of people who didn’t teach you what to think, but how to think.  How to look at situations from another perspective and to imagine different possible outcomes if certain elements had been different. To think, simply and purely. To reflect and to not take what you’re fed day in and day out for granted is the greatest gift that my education could have ever given me. It’s the key to intellectual pursuits, but it’s also the ultimate form of resistance. Non-acceptance of normative ideas just because they’re ‘normal’ is a beautiful transgression to live with. It’s empowering.

And yet, at times, it is a burden. Take it too far and you not only lose your innocence, but also your ability to look at the world without judgment. And that is the last thing that I want. When I scan through a glossy magazine in a waiting room, or when I watch a nineties video clip on YouTube, and even when I see supposedly cerebral TV documentaries, I am no longer able to take them simply for what they are. It seems every cultural manifestation has meaning embedded in systems of prejudice, stereotyping, and sexism. For someone who questions everything, consuming popular culture can be a draining experience.  And while that’s good in the sense that someone oughtta be bothered by this kind of thing, it’s also, admittedly, rather tiring. To be constantly stuck in a state of revolt about the injustices of the world and the ecosystem of media bullshit that sustains it is exhausting. But again, necessary. Because someone sure as hell should be angry.

But I don’t consciously seek out ‘fights’, if you will. My views are ever changing on the basis of new evidence and I try to stay open. I sometimes read things that I would normally find detrimental to human development and I watch crap television and I enjoy 90s songs with clearly misogynist messages – big butts anyone? I am full of contradictions like everyone else, so who I am to claim some sort of moral superiority? I can’t idly sit back and condone all that I see around me and I obviously don’t, but I don’t hatefully reject every manifestation that isn’t absolutely perfectly ethical and respectful because that would make my life an absolute living hell. I am also open to the lesser-of-two evils phenomenon, whereby something that’s a little better than mainstream thought is actually kind of – dare I say it? – nice. I can be honestly happy about the little victories. Better than nothing, glass half full kind of thing. Frozen’s central true love story being about sisterly love and not ‘prince charming’, even though the necks of the two sisters were as wide as their waistline? I can appreciate that victory nonetheless.

I try to maintain this attitude in spite of knowing that society is pretty messed up because I would never want to fight judgment from the world with judgment of the world. It just wouldn’t be an effective battle. My husband always says some of the most closed-minded people he met in his life were hippies trying to impose their views on others. And I take that kind of thing to heart. Change takes time. And sometimes cultural paradigms shift for the better, only to then have old shitty ideas temporarily gain traction again. So I remain alert to bullshit, but I try to never lose sight of the fact that small changes, like the pop feminism that has female actresses questioning why they need to be scrutinized about their appearance so much all the time. That’s a form of resistance that does have an effect on the bigger picture. No matter how minute, no matter how much it is possibly a strategy for popularity among an increasingly critical mass, I can be truly happy that such a ‘critical mass’ even exists at all. The fact is that we’re now seeing discussions about gender, race and sexuality in spaces that were previously very oppressive. I could have been freed from bullshit much earlier in life if the world was in my childhood how it is now – and can I just say how much I love the internet for that?

But of course I know that these baby steps aren’t anywhere near enough. It’d be patronizing to people’s very real struggles if we could all call it quits on fighting sexism and racism simply because some Hollywood celebrity refused to put her hand in the ‘manicure cam’ at the Grammy’s, or because of the world’s outrage over bigoted CEOs. But these are wins nonetheless. The good kind. As much trolling as there is out there – see 90% of all internet comments – there has never been a tougher time to be a backwards, racist, sexist, homophobic bigot. And that is a huge thing for democracy. The people have spoken and they are questioning your crap! En masse. It remains very important to continue to think critically and question people’s motives and all that jazz, but for goodness’ sake, can being ‘critical’ please stop meaning being cynical?

More exhausting than mindless zombies perpetuating stereotypes is all the people who only add negativity to every discussion. Yes, by all means, be as fucking critical as you can. But if you nitpick at every single cultural manifestation that isn’t up to your fucking standards, how is the world ever going to take more pressing issues seriously? Last year a picture of the royal baby was plastered all over the internet claiming it had been Photoshopped by some tabloid, only when you actually clicked the link it was simply color-corrected.

Picture A of the royal baby looked like it was taken by me on my crappy old iPhone on a grey Tuesday. Meanwhile, Picture B of the royal baby looked publishable. There is such a thing as aesthetics, you know? Who would buy a magazine with dull-as poor quality photos? This kind of attitude borders on censorship and is so detrimental to real struggles! When a model who is absolutely gorgeous with 3% body fat gets Photoshopped to look skinnier, or when the only average-sized woman of color to make it to a given magazine’s cover that year is also the only one who only gets a close-up shot of her face instead of a full-body picture, please, world, critique it. Tear that shit apart! But when a photographer does his/her job, spare us the time and embarrassment of calling it social critique. It’s just not.

I see intelligent people commenting online sometimes, with all of this self-professed importance and cynicism about anything that isn’t ideal and I think to myself:  please universe, won’t you save me from becoming a cynical, nitpicking know-it-all too? It’s a slippery slope that makes it very easy for us all to be ignored. It’s all just white noise after a while. I say it’s time we start thinking very critically at how and when to critique things. Pick your battles and all that.

Let’s say you think to yourself: oh, wow, this article is nice but lacking information about different perspectives. Instead of tearing it apart about all the things it doesn’t address and considering its political agenda as well as some unquestionable malice behind it, stop and use that same critical thinking to reverse your cynicism. Step back and you may find that you can still enjoy something designed to trigger the thoughts of people who have never thought about these issues before. Or perhaps even appreciate that someone has managed to make a complex topic actually accessible to the masses. While you acknowledge its clearly imperfect attempt, you count it as a move in the right direction and remember they didn’t have a full-feature documentary, a lengthy New Yorker piece, or an 8,000 word article in a peer-reviewed journal to address all of its facets. Is that really so hard?

Skepticism is wonderful and so very powerful. Perhaps even the most powerful tool we get to have as individuals. But like many things in life, I really believe it loses effectiveness if over-used. With this mind, I invite you to try to focus your revolt.

Because imagine how just how powerful that criticism could be if it didn’t fall into the abyss of white noise that has become the complaints of intelligent skeptics regarding every single facet of cultural life. We may even manage to change the world.

forever youngFor the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out why, at the age of 27, on my wedding day, I felt so much like a child bride. Two months into my marriage, and no closer to feeling like a real adult, I think I finally get it. This has nothing to do with the maturity of my relationship or my actual and factual age, in like, years or numbers or whatever. This feeling is sooner a product of being part of the “forever young” generation. Commonly known as millennials – and other such trendy big media euphemisms for “kids who aren’t old enough to write for the NY Times so we’ll just talk about them in the third person like they’re not reading this” – this is a generation duped by economic change and crisis to the point of being somewhat stuck in perpetual adolescence.  Financial security? Unrealistic. A half-decent job you’re not way overqualified for without first being an under/unpaid intern for a while? Forget about it. Climbing up the corporate/academic/you name it ladder? Outside of the creative industries (where you’re basically mid-career by year 3): how cute that you think that’s possible before the first 40 years of your life have gone by. For all intents and purposes, my recently-graduated-and-in-between-jobs self was somewhat of a child bride.

Blaming “the economy” or “the job market” always felt like a major cop out to me, on a personal level. I graduated last year, lined up a ton of interviews and was one of the lucky few who managed to find (under)employment – the job paid just fine but was way oversold to me in terms of actual activities, and in the end the skills required to do it were absolutely minimal – fairly quickly. Within a month I was part of the working force. Temporarily. My CV was being complimented left, right and center. I was marketable. I felt like a million bucks. Everyone around me telling me horror stories about the job market and I was the exception to the rule. HA! But at that point, I was looking for temporary employment. Because I had more important things going on in my life: Christmas with my husband and his mother and my entire family in Brazil, the wedding, our trip following the wedding… Hey, temp employment for a big academic publisher for the four months until I left for my extended vacation sounded good enough to me! It’s not like I was stuck doing nothing or doing work that was entirely unrelated to my field. Academics, right? In a way?

Having managed to snag up a job so quickly after my master’s also meant that I could go home and put my family at ease. After all these years of being a student I was all grown up. With a job and a husband and stuff. But that wasn’t entirely true in the sense that I was not the exception. I was the fucking rule. Temp employment doing work I was overqualified for with no perspective of being hired? I may as well have been a headline about the dire situation of millennials. And my family knew it too. I couldn’t hide the facts. I was coming back to fuck all. No job, no immediate prospects, and no idea what I was going to do. Taking another temp position would be admitting failure and just delaying the inevitable truth that I needed to start taking career steps now – rather than just buying myself another few months while I figure shit out. Because you know what? Working fulltime means you have no time or real motivation to apply for better jobs. It’s the biggest trap of all. Take a shitty job right away out of desperation and chances are you’ll be pretty stuck there. So I was essentially back to square one. A recent grad. A post-student. A child bride.

And this is the exact situation I landed in since my KLM plane landed at Schiphol airport. I have been on a couple of interviews but, if I’m entirely honest with myself, nothing I really wanted to do. I have applied to a good FIFTY jobs since being back. About one third of them, jobs I really truly wanted. Not a single call-back for those. Every day I question my life choices. Why did I spend so much time studying something that is not a profession? Why didn’t I figure out that I wanted some practical experience sooner? Why didn’t I take the dozens of chances I had to specialize in policy? Why didn’t I do more internships? Why wasn’t I more calculating about my interests? Why did I stay in Holland when I have no intergenerational connections here at fucking all? Why, god, why? Okay, that last one was a tad dramatic. But it sums up how I feel a lot of the time now. To be putting so much energy into something that appears to be going nowhere is disheartening as fuck. And that’s not even half of it.

There’s this negative spiral that you get stuck in when you start to question every life decision you’ve ever made. Everything bad that happens suddenly feels so personal. It’s pathetic, really. Like the bills that appear at the beginning of every year and all of the sudden you’re thinking: why me? Or when our beloved cat got sick and we got stuck with a ridiculously high bill and I find myself talking about timing like there’s any good time for my little bundle of joy to fall ill. You begin to blame the “universe” for being out to get you. And I’m the least “cosmic” person I know! Yet I very seriously caught myself telling my dad the other day that I think I’m cursed! Cursed, you guys! All logic goes out the window when you feel miserable and see no way out. I blame the economy, politics, the universe, but most of all I blame myself. And it’s sad because when you’re feeling down and out you should be kind to yourself. But nothing makes more sense than self-hatred when you’re failing.

It’s an emotional rollercoaster. I have good days most days, if I’m honest. The bad days are just a little more memorable because they overwhelm your heart with fear. I have hopeful days, driven days, days where I feel like my hard work has to pay off at some point. And in between the negativity and forced positivity I have lucid days, like today. Where I know that, in the grand scheme of things, looking for work for all of six weeks is basically nothing. So I try to stay focused because that’s the only way this situation will ever change. I need to be on my A game all the time. It’s exhausting but, hey, that’s life. And I know that’s such a cliché but you never should forget the first time you realize that life owes you nothing. Nothing. You might fail. You can do everything you’re “supposed” to do and still get stuck. But, more often than not, that’s just one small chapter of your story.

Hell, if I’m part of the forever young generation, I may as well embrace it and use that to hold on to a youthful outlook on life. One that tells you can always grow and develop from every situation and that you should hold on tight because the ride has just begun. Eventually you’ll be on top.

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A little while back I decided to start randomly submitting my resume to relatively unappealing part time work, so that I wouldn’t find myself in the post-graduation black hole that so many of my friends seemed to have landed in. I scoured the internet for extremely part-time retail jobs, café work: all the student-type jobs I could think of that could give my life some kind of continuation so I wouldn’t be left staring into the abyss of nothingness that life after a massive milestone often feels like. I submitted some fifteen-odd applications. I received approximately five rejections. One that stuck with me was for a natural food shop where they stated that they were ‘charmed’ by my enthusiasm, but decided to go with someone that had “food retail experience” – and while I’m inclined to believe that’s a real thing, I just can’t imagine how hard it is to stock vegan cheese. For the remainder of the jobs I applied for, I heard a whole lot of nothing. I was horrified.

I know we are in kind of a recession right now but when you suddenly need retail-specific experience to get asked for an interview for a job that entails scanning tofu and bean sprouts things are looking pretty fucking grim. And graduation felt dangerously close.

I eventually gave up on this ‘random applications’ strategy. I figured staring at the abyss of nothingness was a little less depressing than getting standardized rejection letters from jobs I didn’t want in the first place – or worse: not even a polite rejection, just nothing at all. I stopped wasting time on this pointless quest and decided to put all my undivided attention and energy into the big picture stuff. The thesis that demanded all my love and attention, the graduation that would mean I was actually available to pursue my career and not some rando, underpaid, on-the-side distraction, that kind of stuff.

And then I did finish. On time. Which was particularly beautiful because there were many moments of despair when I thought to myself: there isn’t a single chance in hell I’ll get around to processing all this data, then analyzing it with any sort of precision and then also writing thousands upon thousands of coherent words. But I did it. I finished on time, I got a very nice – nothing like I had secretly hoped for, but I have recently learned to be more humble about this kind of thing so it’s fine – grade and now I had the time to apply for all of the dream jobs and ‘now’ jobs, and everything in between because, world, this master of science is fucking ready for you.

But, as these things usually go, I haven’t quite figured out how to get hired yet. Much to my surprise – because I’m a humble motherfucker like that – I seem to be quite hirable. At least in theory. It’s probably more accurate to say I’m ‘interviewable’, at this point. I have good credentials, international work and research experience, I speak languages, bla bla bla. And yet here I am: one and a half months’ worth of interviews and niente. The first interview was a disaster. The job looked amazing on paper and would literally solve all of my current problems: Finding a research-related job, tick! Attain work experience in an international nonprofit, tick! Great benefits, tick! It was like my to-do list would be done in one go. So I was pretty excited and moderately nervous. ‘Moderately’ is probably an understatement, to be honest.

I bought a blouse for this interview. I rehearsed how I would explain my education and work experience. I tried to use all the tips I’d read on multiple websites and specifically stuck to the idea that one should think of interviews simply as “meetings” so you don’t feel so nervous. By the time I left my house – ridiculously early, of course – I felt ready. Ish.

So I’m sitting across this very odd and clearly stressed out man who would be my direct boss – who also seems convinced that his mission in life is to make me run for the door glad I didn’t have to work in this place. His own boss is also there and she varies between smiling and seriousness in a way that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. As I’m answering the millionth question about how well I deal with pressure and stress – like I said, they were working hard to make me hate this job – I start thinking how funny it is that I had just spent two years interviewing people for my research and now I’m the one being interviewed and observed for the nuances in my answers.

I get caught up in the irony of the situation until I realize, pretty much mid-sentence, that not only had I continued talking while thinking of something else, but I have also completely forgotten what I was saying. I start sweating. I have been blabbing for about a minute about god knows what and I have no idea how to end it. They’re staring at me like I’m weird. “Fuck, fuck, fuck”, I think. But it’s too late. So I say something like “yeah, so, you know, that’s it” and smile. They look at one another and then at me with a forgiving face and decide to move on to more of their favorite activity: making the job sound awful. I would have felt like an immediate failure if it weren’t for the fact that I rocked the remainder of the interview questions – let’s just say I stopped building fucking hypotheses in my head because unlike my sociological research, I wasn’t recording this interview for analysis purposes later, this shit was live and entirely once-off.

I didn’t get the job and the recruiter who was supposed to break the news to me left me hanging on for days and then lied about having been on vacation – I called her office and they said she was in a meeting twice. Absolutely the worst. Just as I was feeling discouraged I went on a quick Eurocation to the South of France where we could stay with family and soak up some sunshine. My second day there, another recruiter I’d been in contact with before about a proofreading job calls me. She got me an interview for a completely different job as an analyst in something called “executive search”. I asked her what it was and immediately regretted it because I was paying roaming costs and recruiters, although generally really nice people, are the kind of people that read job descriptions all day and explain positions in the exact same way that they are written down on paper. Two minutes alone with the job description and I would have understood. But anyway, things were looking up.

This was research-related. It paid well (again, ‘ish’), it was really international and involved a lot of my skills. It didn’t exactly fit the criteria of “I left academia to change the world” seeing as it was corporate as fuck, but it was money and as I was spending euros I didn’t exactly have in France, it seemed attractive enough. I returned to Amsterdam and soon after went for the interview. This one went much better. This one went ‘bullied the other one on the playground’ better. For one, I wasn’t glowing from sweat or forgetting what I was saying mid-sentence. But also because the office looked really nice, the women interviewing me were smart, kind and interesting and I actually started really wanting this job. They gave me a case-study after the interview which showed that the position was actually skill-based. I wasn’t exactly challenged seeing as it was search-engine based and years in sociology have taught me to read and summarize shit at the speed of light, but this looked kind of exciting. Rather than running for the door I felt comfortable. In a corporate setting, which was kind of a mind-fuck. But it looked enjoyable and like a good first post-grad job.

Immediately after I left the building I realized that although the interview had gone smoothly, there was one question that I had answered kind of disastrously: “Laura, what motivated you to apply for this job?” Real answer? “Money, yo.” But I couldn’t say that and I couldn’t lie either because I’m an idiot with integrity so I said something about how international the company was, how well the job matched my skills and how I wanted to sample something completely different after so many years in the academic bubble. Basically, nothing that indicated that I gave two shits about it or had any intention of staying put. And the thing about entry-level jobs at corporations is that they see you as an ‘investment’. If you have no intention of sticking around you’re basically a bad one. That’s pretty much when I realized I had bombed yet another interview. I was pretty bummed out too because I did actually start to want this job a little bit. So why couldn’t I embellish my feelings about it?

The recruiter called me a few days later with the inevitable news that I hadn’t gotten the position. She said they thought I showed myself as really intelligent and capable, that I had done extremely well in the case-study but that I didn’t seem all that interested in the position itself. They said it didn’t seem like I would be happy in a corporate setting. And while, in all honesty, that was pretty fucking perceptive of them, rejection still hurts. So ouch, failure again. Just as I was licking my wounds from this latest fiasco, interview number three rolled around. It was a job I never would have had the guts to apply for were I not on a mailing list for students and recent grads and already so used to applying for anything that I felt remotely interested in or capable of because seriously, guys, MONEY.

It was in my area! Or sort of. Kind of more planning related than sociology, but still: infrastructures, how they affect livability in cities and all of that. I was playing a home game. But it was in Dutch. And I never really felt too much for urban planning as an exclusively top-down thing. I was stoked to be asked for the interview but I proceeded to obsess about it. I refused to do any ‘internetting’ in English or Portuguese for the 2 days leading up to the interview, read and watched only Dutch news and rehearsed all my anecdotes in Dutch. I decided I would just roll my r’s – I do this thing in Dutch when I get nervous where I start speaking in an accent that I don’t have and then things get weird – and that I would listen as much as possible and not rush to speak.

The interview went amazing. I was so comfortable. So confident. I didn’t stumble, I wasn’t lost for words, I was truly calm. Turns out I’ve been living in Holland forever and my Dutch is fine. Who would have guessed it? So I was like: this is it. This is the one I’m going to get and it’s perfect because it will destroy some of my self-doubt and the experience will be right where I want it: urban, policy-oriented and government-based. And then I got that goddamned call again. The one where I’m great, but “no, sorry”. Every time it happens it feels less genuine. To be fair, they did give the job to an internal candidate, meaning that because this was a public job they had to interview outside candidates yet they probably had already chosen the other guy before my moment supreme. But this time there was an added insult: the fuckers had the nerve to say I was “too sweet and a little on the introverted side.” What kind of feedback is that? If it ain’t constructive, you may keep that shit to yourself. Not to mention this is some sexist bullshit. Too sweet? Ugh.

Seriously, though, how hard can this be? All sorts of weird, awkward, incompetent, uncharming, uninteresting people seem to have jobs. I’ve heard plenty of consoling advice. There’s your “it’s a numbers game so keep trying”, your “better luck next time”, your “their loss” and my personal favorite (which I do think is true) “this is all practice for your dream job interview”.

I was rusty as hell when this started and, if I really think about it, I’ve been on a serious learning curve. I have another interview lined up next week. Who knows, maybe this will be the one. But to all you recent grads out there on the job market looking for a little love, don’t despair. We spent the longest time learning skills that were important to our academic endeavors and some of these will translate and others won’t, but regardless of that, look at this as yet another skill to pick up. I’m convinced that getting good at interviews is just another competency and learning is the one thing we’re currently really good at!

Right now I’d give myself a solid C on this “Interviewing for a job 101” module, but I started at F and I’m convinced that with a little perseverance, studying, critical thinking and self-analysis, that glorious A+ is just around the corner.

1994 Romario, the 1994When the 2014 World Cup started, so did the same old questions that I get asked every four years: “Who will you support?”, “Well, you’re Dutch now so will you support Holland?” and my personal favorite – for its undeniable dramatic appeal – “What will you do if there’s a Holland-Brazil final?” The easy answer is that I, like practically every other kid born in Brazil, grew up supporting our national team – the much beloved seleção.

I was seven years old when Brazil won the World Cup in 1994 and fifteen when Brazil won it in 2002. I cried when we lost to France in the 1998 final and, much prior to knowing my mother and I were ever going to move to the Netherlands, I celebrated our extremely nerve-wracking win from the Dutch team in the semi-final of that same competition. My football jerseys were only ever of the Brazil team. I never really had any time for smaller leagues – although my Italian heritage essentially meant I was “genetically predetermined” to support Palmeiras, whose games I did occasionally watch with my father and sister – but I’d always watch any Brazil game that was on with much greater enthusiasm.

I can’t explain exactly why my levels of excitement shoot up so high when Brazil plays. I will gladly celebrate another team’s win – provided they are not playing Brazil, of course – and an exciting match is always a fun experience. But a Brazil win is an adrenaline rush that makes the agonizing 90 to 120 minutes of vein-popping stress of a decisive match totally worth it. And half way through summer – or winter, depending on which hemisphere I find myself in at the time – every four years, the FIFA World Cup shaped hole that is left behind in my life once the tournament is over is absolutely heartbreaking. Whether we win on lose – although winning is pretty awesome, I definitely recommend it.

Yet there is one thing that has changed immensely and undeniably for me since my days as a Brazil-supporting child: I no longer associate the Brazilian team with a sense of national pride. Moreover, I feel pretty uncomfortable in the notion that many – if not most – people don’t make that separation. The anthem that has dominated the World Cup matches this year “Eu sou brasileiro com muito orgulho, com muito amor”, about how proud of being Brazilian people are, makes my fucking skin crawl. I really have some sort of understanding for this perspective having felt such national pride myself when I was younger. But I just cannot relate to feelings of pride over what are, to me, such arbitrary and often cruel boundaries.

Life as an immigrant has really humbled me in that sense. It completely changed my view on the value of the nation state imaginary. In particular as I no longer feel represented or included in a single one. The notion of “our country” rarely includes me. As a first-generation naturalized immigrant, I never quite feel like I am accounted for when one speaks of “the Dutch people”. Nederlanders are a somewhat statically-defined cultural group and I am implicitly – and sometimes actually explicitly – “the other”. As an emigrant, even prior to “losing” my nationality, I also stopped feeling included in the cultural group of my country of birth. “We, the Brazilians” no longer describes my habitus or day-to-day reality either.

So while it makes complete sense for me to support the team I grew up loving, it makes little sense for me to shift that allegiance as I change passports. When I wear orange and cheer Holland on – most of the time, provided they’re not playing Brazil – I am also following up on years of watching them play and participating in collective celebrations that involved their victories. It has little to do with this all-mighty dark red booklet that defines my life chances and freedom to travel and live in so many places with no questions asked.

The questions that people somewhat innocently ask in trying to box my national loyalty in ways that are intelligible to them make absolutely no sense to me. Look, the World Cup has always been symbolic of national divides in an obvious way. And of course geopolitics plays into what team gets “underdog” status – for instance, it suffices to say Brazil garnered much more support back when people thought of it as a third-world country that only had this one thing. Perhaps no World Cup in my lifetime has been more politicized in the host country than the present one. But the fact of the matter is that my eyes glowed as a child watching World Cup games partially because I knew that, for that one month, people all over the planet that care about this sport – and there are so many of us – were connected.

I love the World Cup – in spite of all of its FIFA-related atrociousness – and support my beautiful seleção shamelessly not because I’m a politically-alienated closeted nationalist living with an identity crisis, but because I have always sought to be part of the world. And the truth is that while national teams are the focus of everyone’s devotion in this competition, the summers (and winters) in which I avidly followed the World Cup from a young age were incredibly formative to the international kid eventually became.

Little fluff pieces about how supporters from different countries did things differently on the news during the tournament, languages I never heard before, countries I never thought about, and names I couldn’t begin to imagine how to pronounce: it was like world-traveling from your own living room. The first few bonding conversations I had in the Netherlands with my peers, as an 11-year-old trying to fit in, were over Brazil’s 1998 performance. From the UK to Mexico, from Vietnam to South Africa and even the Philippines where football’s not that popular to begin with, Brazil’s football has always been a conversation starter, a common ground that forged connections in the unlikeliest of situations. World Cup football is enchanting, exciting, and devastating all at once. But most of all, in my life, it has been incredibly uniting. I’d say any sport that can trigger this kind of bonding between different peoples deserves due credit.

The way I look at it, seeing World Cup football merely as a display of national belonging and pride is not doing it any kind of justice.

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First things first: I have been shamelessly neglecting the girl without borders blog lately. I’ve missed the unstructured writing and pure freedom of expression enormously, I really have. But as if getting through the end of a two year, two-sited Master of Science program with some sort of cohesive thesis about undocumented migration wasn’t enough, my partner of five years proposed to me last month! In the world’s most romantic gesture, he decided that timing was shite and we’re totally student-style broke but it’s about time we celebrate this wonderful thing we have! And I couldn’t agree more. It took me completely by surprise – which, five years into living with the same man is a good sign that he continues to thrill me, I’d say – but it has been a great joy.

I never grew up thinking I wanted to get married, have a wedding day or be somebody’s wife. Practically everyone’s parents around me were either divorced or living through horribly unhappy marriages. I was a child of divorce and grew up with some pretty traumatizing step-people on both sides. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting the chance of ending up in that situation. Weddings are impractical and expensive, not to mention energy-consuming. The whole thing seemed like kind of too much of a big deal and, frankly, living together with someone for whatever reason is quite enough of a commitment.  I still feel that way about the latter. But what I realized in my early 20s is that breaking up a “cohabitation” situation is about as painful as any divorce. And, with that, the fear of separation disappeared. The only way to avoid it was to never let anyone in. And that didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.

And yet I just couldn’t see myself wanting to be someone’s wife. Why would anyone want that? As some kind of life-goal, that is. I never understood it and I still don’t. But along came this guy. This man who not only understands and supports my choices in life, but has always managed to grow with me. He makes me laugh and he challenges me all the time. We’ve seen the world together and put our relationship through many tests of distance and time, always coming out stronger and closer. I trust him with my life and my heart and I can’t imagine ever wanting to go through life without professing that in front of the people we love. Formalizing our “family” status, as I have experienced it over these last five years. We both live away from our relatives and have often been each other’s everything on many occasions. He taught me that I could be entirely me and still be loved. How would I not want to marry this guy? In his lovely and warm way, he made sure I knew he felt the same way that I did about us and our future together.

And so he proposed. We decided some practical things about the wedding almost instantly: we’re getting married in Brazil with close friends and family, and we’re doing it right after New Year’s which works out perfectly because we already had Brazil travel plans around then and it’s summer in the southern hemisphere.  My aunt owns a beautiful events venue, where my sister works so that was also resolved fairly quickly. And then came all the other stuff. I started looking at dresses, he started looking at suits. We decided to make our invitations DIY style and things started to move fairly quickly from there. We have international guests so that put a little pressure on organizing things but other than that we have been doing the wedding stuff part-time seeing as both of us are graduating before European summer.

All in all, the responses to our engagement and wedding plans have been overwhelmingly positive. But they’ve been odd at the same time. The more outspokenly conservative members of both our families have appeared particularly excited that we’re finally stepping out of fornication-land and into a wholesome union. Weird, to say the least. This is a celebration of what we already have, people. Relax. But okay, institutions like “marriage” have meanings to people that extend far beyond my individual definition of it. So fair enough, I accept that we are pleasing people for whatever reasons that they agree with. On the other hand, however, I have dealt with a strange resistance from the, shall we say, more “politicized” wing of my family. No one has straight out told me anything too negative, but I did hear about how “surprising” it was that I, of all people, would want to embark on this traditional institution and live out some Disney princess fantasy in a white dress.

Now, hang the fuck on for a minute! I can appreciate that I am a feminist and that I never dreamed of having some idealized wedding day so maybe it’s a little unexpected that I would all of the sudden want to do this. But who said anything about traditional and princess-like? I come from a long line of feminists who think women can make their own choices, whatever those choices may be. If those choices happen to fall within the realm of normative, then that should be fucking fine because human beings don’t have to live their lives being billboards for a fucking cause. And yes, I am also a sociologist who can appreciate that maybe some of these “choices” ain’t all that open, and are more the product of socialization and internalization of expectations in most cases. That being said, we’re giving people this huge party and expecting them to take flights and buses and long drives to see us profess our loves for one another. Isn’t it, like, kind of okay that we want to dress up for the occasion and make it nice? I buy Easter napkins, for goodness’ sake and I’m an atheist who’s been to church maybe once in my entire life.

I was a little bummed out by this whole thing. I felt so misunderstood. I’m not some lady getting married to some fellow I barely know because that’s “the right thing to do” in life. I’m me, getting married to the silliest and loveliest man I’ve ever met five years after we’ve been together and solidly facing the world. So for anyone to insinuate that we are traditional or living out some fantasy is pretty fucking insulting. This was week one of our engagement. It took a lot of explaining but the skeptics got on board. They understood and things moved on from there. But the conflicts didn’t stop. Only now they were internal ones.

The wedding industry actually is a pretty conservative and gender-normative pile of crap. I have to admit that half of what I read makes me want to buy a dress at H&M and get married in Havaianas flip-flops with a beer in my hand. But then I remember my life need not be a statement and I breathe. For instance, I emailed a vintage wedding dresses store in Amsterdam. I told the owner I wanted to make an appointment but didn’t really know how things worked so I asked what to wear and whether I could bring my friends or fiancé – seeing as my family isn’t in this country and all. She replied that I could bring X many people, what to wear and then commented that I “can bring whoever, but fiancés don’t usually come with”. So all she was really telling me was that she didn’t think I should. Not that I couldn’t, but that I shouldn’t. That people don’t do that.

She wasn’t the only one either. A bridal outlet a few towns away actually states clearly that only women can be part of a bride’s entourage. Are these people fucking serious? In 2014? I’m very sure that our wedding is going to be super sweet and a legendary fucking blast because it’s ours and no one else’s, but is it absolutely imperative that it be associated with something so exclusionary? “Ladies only” means I couldn’t try on dresses with my father, for instance. Or that if I was transgender maybe I wouldn’t be welcome in the store at all! Having wedding norms explained to you by a stranger is so incredibly inappropriate too. And every single time that I come across one of these absurdities, it becomes a little easier for me to understand and forgive the well-meaning women in my family who questioned our choice to have a “wedding”. Not because they were right – at the risk of overstating this and sounding super cheesy, I really cannot wait to marry him – but because wedding planning has opened a door to the dark side of societal expectations regarding marriage.

A door that apparently leads me back to another century where I sure as hell do not want to be.

ImageThe final semester of my master’s degree is upon us – or I should say “upon me”, because however weird that sounds I have no illusions about the fact that I am navigating this road to “nowhere in particular” all by my lonesome – and I have returned to Amsterdam. When I left, most of the master students ahead of me were wrapping up their theses. Some of my friends were applying to or finishing their own degrees and starting new jobs. Life seemed somewhat simpler for everyone around me.

Six months ago, I was scared but hopeful about treading new waters and experiencing a new kind of life. Six short months ago, I was day-dreaming about how much living in New York City was going to be a total game-changer for me, academically. Six exciting, amazing, inspiring months went by and being back feels a lot like being met with a cold rain shower. I seem to have returned to Amsterdam to find my age and/or life-phase counterparts in somewhat of a collective rut. Instead of that fuzzy and warm feeling of familiarity you get when you return home, I feel a little distraught by all the negativity in my surroundings. To be fair, I may just be noticing it more now. Maybe I lived in the land of positive-thinking for a little too long. Still, there’s something to be said for the harsh negativity I have encountered upon my return. And here’s why I worry.

The year I finished my bachelor’s degree I experienced somewhat of a panic. It was the year I turned twenty-five and apparently a “quarter life crisis” is a real thing now, one that is particularly salient since the economic down-turn that my generation inherited from the last. I realized, at the end of my bachelor’s, that I’d built up a little student loan debt – nothing of American proportions, mind you, but still sort of overwhelming when you have no idea where your post-university employment will come from – and that I had just bought myself two more years at university. I started questioning whether having chosen to loan money instead of working part-time so I could focus on my studies was the smartest of moves. I started worrying about job prospects post my two degrees and whether grad school was such a logical choice after all. But also whether working in academia, something I had started to be so sure I wanted by that point, was just a pipe dream. Not to mention my insecurities about my social life. I had recently –two to three years prior – reinvented myself as a dedicated student and generally mellow person who wasn’t in that whole “I’m twenty-one/two/three, let’s do shots” mode anymore. Was this new person really me or was I just a phony? It was a turbulent and contemplative few weeks.

Following the start of my “quarter-life crisis”, I finished my bachelor’s program with a thesis graded in the 90th percentile. I was beyond proud because that grade meant that everything was going to be just as planned and I had, once again, hope for the future. I had it all under control. But soon enough everything that seemed so positive about my life choices started suffocating me. I began to drown. And as I started my master’s things didn’t get any better. They actually got much worse. The pressure of wanting to succeed, but realizing that the program wasn’t exactly like I had expected, really brought me down.  I couldn’t bring myself to breathe normally anymore. Heart palpitations were a daily occurrence. I was angry, aggravated and frustrated all the time. I had one or two incredibly embarrassing rage outbursts in public, followed by frantic crying.

I was convinced I had made the wrong choice of program, but I wasn’t about to back down. I was doing very well and I figured my program still sounded good on paper. I did choose to stick with it, but it took a lot out of me to come out of that rut. To carve out my own little space at university and to fly off to New York feeling hopeful and optimistic again. And in spite of many doubts and hiccups it has been an invigorating, absolutely priceless year and a half. But my point is that thanks to these experiences of despair – that I wish upon no one – I know a thing or two about freaking out and feeling hopeless. Even flirting with mild depression. I never thought I would fall victim to the kind of deep-rooted pessimism some people are forced to live their lives with, but alas. I was lucky enough to get over it with some minor steps that made a big impact on my well-being. Nonetheless, I have a hell of a lot more understanding and compassion for those faced with this kind of heavy negativity brought on by contemporary living. It’s also made me very wary of the structural conditions that drive young people into these downward spirals in the first place.

The number one structural factor behind the collective rut that I see in the Amsterdam youth today is the economic depression caused by the market crash of 2008. The Euro zone’s rapid decline has resulted in unemployment figures that disproportionately affect the young and provide us with much bleaker futures than the one we had hoped for. Coming back from the so-called land of opportunity, characterized especially by its culturally positive outlook on setting high goals for oneself as to achieve that good ol’ American Dream, the overall negativity of my peers back home has been the biggest culture shock that I have experienced so far.

I came back energized, excited, and ambitious, open to opportunities that I may not have thought of before but also with much more capacity to cope with drawbacks – god knows New York’s rough around the edges ways made me humble. I guess I just never expected to find my Amsterdam folk so down and out. In absolute, material terms we’re probably in exactly the same position. And yet I refuse to buy into this pessimism. This acceptance that things are shit and therefore giving up before even trying. Speaking of my wants and wishes to any and everyone has been a real downer. Multiple people warned me not to get my hopes up about any job/PhD/traineeship applications, telling me story upon story of young people they know to have failed at whatever I am interested in doing.

It’s a little annoying but, in all honesty, it is also kind of worrisome that it seems to be so widespread. Not for me and my future – I seem to have tamed that little monster, for now at least – but for young people’s collective well-being and coping capacity through these undeniably though times. I do understand the panic because it used to be that if one’s dream job wasn’t at arm’s reach, all one had to do was wave their resume outside and jobs would come flying in through the window – this might be a slight exaggeration, but even as an inexperienced high-school educated 18 year old in 2005, I had jobs that I shared with 30-somethings without really having to try all that hard to get them. And now thousands of educated young people apply for entry-level jobs and get rejected every single day. So I get it, I do. It’s simply not the world that we grew up in and it’s also not the world we were in many ways promised at the beginning of our long list of life-choices which, had we been able to predict the future, may have been a little more pragmatic. I say “we” – and please add a little nervous laugh to the sentiment expressed in these sentences – because that, too, has been my reality. So what makes my perspective on these dark times more positive than most, you ask?

Maybe the difference is that I look at this situation from the perspective of someone who has seen far worse. But also witnessed progress and change in terms of the labor market of other countries where the situation was, frankly, much direr. I believe that the current fatalism of my fellow Amsterdam youth is perhaps most likely the fruit of unquestioned privilege. Life has been so incredibly prosperous for this country and continent for all of our young lives that it’s hard to imagine anything else. For most of my generation’s life, the livin’ was easy, the fish were jumping and the cotton was high. But those days are, at least for the foreseeable future, pretty much over. And what now?

The way I see it, this may be a scary and, perhaps most of all, very different time for young Amsterdammers. But it’s not terrible. The job market may currently not be great, but it’s only really terrible in relative terms. And it’s also very good in relative terms – for instance in comparison to other Euro zone countries. It’s all a matter of perspective at this point. This doesn’t mean that the hardship that young people are going through should be down-played at all. It’s just that it helps to stay positive and ambitious and to remember that hardship makes for better success stories once it’s been overcome. (Cue to cheesy, positive speech, American movie music) Think of the stories your own parents or grandparents told you. Which stand out? The ones where everything worked out, or the ones where they worked their asses off and made it out alive? Hardship has been known to breed creativity too. Privilege is a hard thing to give up and I really should know. But pessimism, fear and constant re-telling of sad tales of overwhelming failure just cannot be the solution to our problems.

Young people of the world: I urge you to put your lives and hardships into perspective. Don’t let the pressure get to you and come to terms with the new reality that we’ve been presented with. Many more of us are capable and educated than ever before. Competition for scarce jobs is awful and rejection is humiliating, but right now it’s kind of inevitable. And most of all, remember this is not your fault. You didn’t design the system that failed you, but it is up to you to be part of the generation that rebuilds it.

 If we are, in fact, an entire generation of over-qualified brats, then I have no doubt in my mind that can certainly do it.

ImageI remember sitting in that classroom some three years ago now, in tears. I was embarrassed to be having such an irrational reaction to that moment, but as I sat there listening to this small-framed, soft-spoken woman spell out everything I had not been able to express or even understand about my life in the Netherlands until that point, I couldn’t help but let the tears stream down my cheeks. This class was called “Experiencing Differences”, and was part of a minor in Gender, Sexuality and Politics that I did at the University of Amsterdam in my undergrad. The whole minor was great, but this class… This class was about diversity. Race, ethnicity, sexuality, social class, prejudice, exclusion, pain, privilege, all wrapped into one delicious box of assorted intellectual chocolate truffles of sorts which I got to savor week after week. And every week again my mind would be blown.

Even feminist values I had carried with me were put into question – I was taught, for instance, to question sex work, for the first time ever, from a labor rights perspective that acknowledged sex worker agency over their bodies and their work. I cannot stress enough how important this class was to my development as a human being and my academic interest forever more. The literature we were given on racism in the Netherlands touched me like no other. I always say the social sciences are somewhat personal to me. Things I personally identify with resonate more, are absorbed better and trigger the type of interest and curiosity that make for my best research. So when I finally read something that put into words the unsettling non-belonging I have experienced in my life as an immigrant in the Netherlands, I was moved.

I had been picturing what the class discussion would look like, preparing arguments in my head. Some of our discussions became quite heated as a small group of students often refused to acknowledge that there was anything to be upset about in terms of ethnic relations in the Netherlands. I often wondered how in the world they had ended up in that class. In any case, the author of the chapters assigned to that week cancelled the class. I was quite disappointed, but she offered the opportunity to meet her in a seminar-style meeting the following day. I had another class at around that time but just I had to see her. I’ve seldom felt this drawn to an individual author. She got me and my struggle. I’d never felt that so strongly from a professor at my home university before. Only a handful of people made it to the seminar, so we had her full attention. As I listened to this professor’s strong opinions and delicate voice, I felt something I had never felt before: a call for action. I asked her, my voice trembling, “What can we do about this?” I needed to know how you form alliances between ethnicities – including the many educated, amazing, white Dutch people I’ve met in my life – and solve this problem.

She started by asking where I was from. The first tear rolled down my cheek. “Even she is questioning where I’m from”, I thought. In her defense the class was taught in English and I don’t have the easiest-to-place accent in the world. I told her I was born and raised in Brazil and moved to the Netherlands as a child. She looked into my eyes and said: “It must have been very hard for you. As someone who participates in constructions of whiteness in Brazil, to move to a place where you will never be white.” What she said to me then, so elegantly, so simply: she really got me. I wasn’t born to prejudice. I was born to privilege, to “whiteness”, whatever that may be. Not because of the color of my skin alone, but because my family is educated and middle-class and in Brazil that is privilege. And privilege is whiteness. I had to learn to be the other. And it was hard and unsettling. It was painful and yet hard to place. Because until that moment, I had not realized that I had been on both sides of that coin. Not that being unrightfully privileged due to class and some idea of whiteness isn’t unsettling – more on this topic in a moment – but being “white” means not having to think about privilege until your face is rubbed in it. And I had forgotten that I once was privileged in that way. If I felt any deep-rooted outrage about my condition before I understood it, it was because I had a hard time accepting this unsettling non-privilege.

As I write this, I am sitting my house in central Brooklyn, in New York. A predominantly Afro-Caribbean and African American part of the borough, where once again the coin has flipped. I figured coming to America, as a Brazilian-born woman, I would fall under the broad albeit arguably meaningless category of “Latina”. Instead, living in Crown Heights, I am the “white, privileged, middle class, and highly-educated yuppie gentrifier” who came to break up the neighborhood. Let me explain. I am taking a class on immigrant participation in city politics in New York and it seemed appropriate for me to research Afro-Caribbeans in Crown Heights, seeing as I was living among this population and my primary group of interest –undocumented immigrants – doesn’t vote. I heard many variations of the argument that “you (the imagined “me” and “others like me”) are moving into our communities and displacing folks who have lived here their whole likes and you lead individualistic lives and you’re only buying up brownstones in Crown Heights because you can’t afford one in Park Slope.” While that may be true for some of the “white” population living in Crown Heights, I cannot so much as afford to buy a bicycle at the moment, never mind a building. Hearing a graduate student in social sciences being called a yuppie is borderline comical. But the point is that these interviews reveal, aside from the clear racial tensions that still exist in the neighborhood, that even though every one of my respondents knew I was from Brazil, I might be “white” in America.

The research I am doing for my thesis was also somewhat hindered by my perceived “whiteness”. The first event I went to organized by one of the groups I am researching, a young man of color free-style rapping about “Stop and Frisk” turned to me and said: “I mean no disrespect, but we both know if I was walking behind you, you would hold your purse tight”. Unfair as that was, following this first uneasy attack, I experienced many other instances where I was boxed in as “white” and the latter came with a mountain of assumptions about me. After a particularly tense interview last week with an Afro-Caribbean community leader I spoke to my boyfriend about what I had been experiencing. I told him I always looked at race from an intersectional perspective whereby race + class + gender = privilege or not. I never before had felt so clearly that above all else, the color of my skin could be translated into privilege. The people I was interviewing are middle class, educated, professional people. They could afford to buy a brownstone in Brooklyn. I couldn’t afford to buy lunch. My boyfriend, I should explain, is South African, of European descent. He tried, as best as he could, to not undermine what I was feeling. But it still sounded that way when the words came out of his mouth. He said: “Really? Okay, because growing up in South Africa, regardless of anything else, I always knew that my skin color meant I had some undeserved privilege”.

Now, the thing is that he had hit the nail right on the head. When it comes down to it, America has its own history of apartheid. And the civil rights movement was just yesterday. And just like I had to learn to be the “other”, and to lose my “whiteness” in the Netherlands, in America I have to learn to be “white” and privileged by definition. It’s been anything but easy. Because you don’t just unlearn your racial identity and mine had become whatever I made of it that couldn’t possibly ever be white – Latina, Brazilian, person of the Global South minus Australia? It took me twelve years to get to that classroom and have an illuminating discussion about my place in the racial spectrum of the society I had lived in for all those years. There’s simply no chance that the same kind of enlightenment will come after just four weirdly racially charged months in New York City. I suppose what I can conclude, from anecdotal evidence that is empiric nonetheless, is that “whiteness” is a social construct that clearly doesn’t navigate well from one society to the next.

On a rational level, I can analyze and contextualize these experiences and even come to understand them. Having race imposed upon you is probably part of the human condition. But when it comes to a category as problematic and socially constructed as race, those of us who navigate between societies will probably always, to some degree, feel a little lost in translation.