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OHAYO Bom dia

Chapter 16: I Am A “Sampa Kid”

I was born in São Paulo Hospital on Frei Caneca Road, in the heart of the city of São Paulo.

About 2 years old, in front of her house

As a child, my mother often took me for a walk to Ipiranga Park. Local Brazilians, seeing me in a pink dress with a Japanese sunshade, used to refer to me as the “Walking Japanese Doll”.

I always enjoyed going to Casa Nakaya, which used to be in the João Mendes Plaza. Back then I used to enjoy riding the “camarão”—a tram resembling a shrimp—to get to the plaza. Moreover, Casa Nakaya was a large store of imported Japanese goods that gave off an extravagant feel, almost as if it were a house owned by nobility. The items on display were very elegant, and I was fascinated.

The first time I left São Paulo was when I went to Parana. I was 12, and I went to a town called Londrina, where my grandmother lived.

It was about a 10-hour journey for my mother and I in my uncle’s car. It was midnight when we arrived. In our first ever encounter, my grandma hugged me with tears in her eyes. A number of aunts and uncles followed, one after another, as I received a warm reception in the dark entrance of the house.

It was in the middle of the summer and I was tired from the long trip, so I fell asleep right away. But suddenly, the lights turned on and I could hear the whisper of children around me. By the time I realized, “Oh, these are my cousins,” they were chattering aloud about me. Being a shy introvert, I pulled the covers completely over my head and pretended to be asleep. Apparently, this helped me actually sleep soundly through the rest of the night, and when I finally woke up I heard the lively voices coming from the kitchen.

After getting changed, I walked down the hall when one of my cousins stopped to tell me, “Hold on, you have to put on sandals to go in the kitchen,” and showed me to the entrance where all of the zori and sandals were scattered.

Grandma’s house was home to a big family. There was grandpa and grandma; their son, his wife and six grandchildren; three more single sons and daughters; and two more grand children. A total of 15 people! I was an only child, so at my home there was always just the three of us. There were so many of us during my two-week stay there, it was almost dizzying.

First grader at São Jose Elementary School

One day, my cousins asked me to show them the bottom of my feet. When I showed them they came closer, gently touched them, and discovered that they were “So soft!”  My cousins grew up on the farms, running around bare-foot on the red dirt, so the bottoms of their feet were hardened. We had a good laugh as we compared each other’s feet.

In middle school, I started to identify myself as a “Sampa Kid” more and more. This was because many of the Nikkei students came from the countryside, attending school from their relatives’ homes during the school year, and returning back to their hometowns during breaks. Back in the day, São Paulo was known as “Foggy São Paulo”, as the sun never beat down too hard on us. Therefore, I was on the pale side—I’d burn easily at the beach, never able to get that golden-brown skin tone. My classmates would return after spending the summer in the country and getting nice, tanned skin that I adored. I also loved their fashion, with bright colored, summery dresses and sandals to compliment their golden brown skin. “I wish it was hotter here,” I thought, as I dreamed of one day living in a warmer area.

Several years later, I moved to a city much hotter than São Paulo. After living there for 6 years, I realized something: due to Global Warming, the days were actually starting to become too hot. I thought about how things might be 10 years from now. “Will it be safe for the elderly to be living in such a hot place? I want to go back to my cool hometown…”

So after 7 years away, I returned to São Paulo. As opposed to most people, I plan to live comfortably, peacefully, right in the middle of this city. I am a “Sampa Kid”.

Ipiranga Park

Ochanomizu-bashi in São Paulo

Note: “Sampa ” is the title of a song about the city of São Paulo, by Brazilian singer/song-writer Caetano Veloso.

© 2011 Laura Honda-Hasegawa

Brazil Parana sampa sao paulo

About this series

My grandfather immigrated to Brazil from Japan about 100 years ago, and I was born in Brazil. That is why I strive to become a ‘bridge’ between Brazil and Japan. I treasure the ‘Japan’ rooted deep in my heart, and I want to keep that part of me protected in my homeland of Brazil. This series was composed with those feelings in mind. (“Bom Dia” is “Good morning” in Portuguese)