Clara  |  She/Her

Exotic Beings

Oeiras, Portugal  |  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests
Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub

Session 4: January 30, 2023

I’m Clara. I’m currently living in Portugal, but I’m from Brazil. And my story is a bit about that. So I’ve had this conundrum of colonization and exotic species in my head for a long time. When I was younger and people asked me to introduce myself, my nationality was never part of my answer, not because I’m ashamed of being Brazilian, but just because I don’t think that this says who I am. A nationality, for me, doesn’t encompass my traits, my aspirations, my accomplishments.

But moving from Brazil to Portugal, it was inevitable that my nationality was put on the table every time that I opened my mouth, because my Brazilian Portuguese accent is self-explanatory. Moving to Portugal was the first time that I started receiving glances of “you don’t belong here.” It’s unsaid. It’s not something that the person needs to say. I just feel it, and I had fortunately never experienced that before in my life.

But that didn’t make me sad, and it still doesn’t. Every time I’m in a situation like this, it just leads me to reflect on something else: what is this thing about belonging? For me, it’s an idealistic thing about belonging to a site. Because my ancestors came from the Atlantic rainforest in Rio de Janeiro, from the Black Forest in Germany, from the savannah in Angola, from the scrublands in Portugal. I think that I’m from nature. I’m not from one country on its own. Yet, my passport says that I’m from one country. I’m very grateful for the fact that I grew up in beautiful, tropical Brazil, but I feel like my heart knows no boundaries.

I don’t deny the fact that I was born and raised in the global South. That’s the worldview that I have and that I carry with me. But I also dare to say that the global North is also my home.
I don’t take sides with one or the other. I take the side of Earth—you know, the tiny blue dot, floating around the galaxy, which we all care so much about. The one we’re all here on behalf of today.

But that also doesn’t mean that I forget the past, this act of colonization. I don’t know if you’re aware, but the name “Brazil” derives from a plant. The pau-brasil was a plant which was extracted until it nearly went extinct in Brazil. The country carries the name of its colonial roots, and the word brasileiros, which is how we say “Brazilians” in Portuguese, were those who extracted the pau-brasil, the tree. So every time I think of the name of the country I am from and the name of my nationality, I think of that.

When I was a kid, I would cry or be sad at home after history classes, when we learned about human slavery in Brazil, and I didn’t understand how that could have happened. And it still happens in some places. I also still cry about the slavery that our nature lives under—this forced appropriation or removal of something from its original place.

This is another part of the conundrum, because even though plants can be exotic in one environment—the pau-brasil is totally an exotic plant here in Europe—is the idea of “exotic humans” also a thing? I don’t think so. I feel like I’m an adaptable being. I feel like I’m able to find parts of myself that I can identify with in every environment I go to. In some, if I were to be a seed, I might be planted and flourish more easily. In others, I might take longer to grow fruit (especially in colder environments), but for me, nature is nature, and I can find ways to thrive in different habitats.

So why do human beings keep fragmenting each other by territory, then nationality, then pieces of paper? I’ve been trying to find my place in the world for a while, trying to understand if there’s a place I belong or not. But I guess the world is my place, so that’s why I fight for it as a whole.

That’s what I wanted to say today.

Clara‘s activism for the past seven years ranges from directing short documentaries in Brazil to representing youth in several international conferences. She holds a master’s in International Development and Public Policy and a bachelor’s in Business and Creative Economy, having researched about deep sea mining and education for sustainable development.