Now In his mid-20s, Caio came to this country from Brazil with his parents when he was four years old. Although he has siblings still in Brazil, he hasn’t met them. Even though with the help of technology, he has grown up with them, it is not the same. Caio is a Dreamer—a very accomplished, educated, inner-directed young man with lofty goals yet with his feet planted firmly on the ground of reality. Mature beyond his years, he has had to live with uncertainty about his future status. Ever anxious about his parents’ welfare, over the years, he has assumed the role of interpreter, legal counsel, and financial advisor for them. Despite shouldering so much weight and responsibility, Caio is an optimist with an excellent sense of humor who puts anyone at ease.
Now in his mid-20s, Caio came to this country from Brazil with his parents when he was four years old. Although he has siblings still in Brazil, he hasn’t met them. Even though, with the help of technology, he has grown up with them, it is not the same. Caio is a Dreamer—a very accomplished, educated, inner-directed young man with lofty goals yet with his feet planted firmly on the ground of reality. Mature beyond his years, he has had to live with uncertainty about his future status. Ever anxious about his parents’ welfare, over the years, he assumed the role of interpreter, legal counsel, and financial advisor for them. Despite shouldering so much weight and responsibility, Caio is an optimist with an excellent sense of humor who puts anyone at ease.
Coming to the U.S. as a Toddler/01:55
Deborah: All right. So my guest is Caio and he is a Dreamer. So Caio how old were you when you came to this country?
Caio: Hi, Deborah. I was four years old when I arrived with both of my folks.
Deborah: And were they fleeing? Was the country war-torn? This was Brazil, right?
Caio: This was Brazil. Yeah. We were fortunate enough to leave a country that didn’t have any physical problems, a crisis due to violence like other war-torn countries might’ve been, but it wasn’t performing so well financially. So we sought a better opportunity. And that was to come to the United States.
Deborah: Do you have any memories? Four years old. It’s pretty young.
Caio: Yeah, definitely. Most of my vivid memories are from family events and I believe that’s because the family members that are most clear and my memories are the ones that I still have a connection with nowadays. So that sort of linkage is well maintained, but very few memories of things outside of family life. A couple of environments and scenarios I might’ve been in often, but beyond that not much.
Deborah: Do you have any photos from that period when the whole family was together?
Caio: I do have some photos of specifically that folks from Brazil sent over WhatsApp or by email. And when I see some of those, sometimes I may get a flashback, but it’s very, it’s very faint. And the ones that we do have in our possession nowadays are not too many. So not as many references as I would like to have.
Deborah: Maybe you’ll send me one. If you’ve got a picture of actually when you were four from Brazil. If you’ve got something I’d love to have a copy of it. That would be terrific.
Caio: Sure, yeah. I have some from even younger, a couple of birthday parties that I’ve actually seen. So those are fun. I enjoy looking at those.
Caio the Polyglot/03:55
Deborah: So tell me, are you bilingual? I’m assuming that you are bilingual and if so, how has that helped you to straddle the two cultures?
Caio: I am. I’m actually fortunate enough to know a few more than just two. So I do speak Portuguese and English fluently, but I’ve also picked up Spanish and Italian as well. I guess what I can say is language to me is very important and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to add on more than just my native tongue and the tongue of the nation that we migrated to. I think that it’s really the best key to unlocking both cultures. It’s realistically the closest thing, the thing keeping me the closest to my home culture. You know, when I go to a store or a business that speaks Portuguese, I will always use my Brazilian Portuguese to interact with folks at the place of business. When I’m being introduced to someone who is from another country, I might try to find a connection in my base language with their base language. So not only does it keep me really tied in with my culture, it helps me connect with folks from another culture who might not have English so strongly in their domain.
Deborah: When did you learn Italian?
Caio: I actually picked it up in college. So that was the most recent one.
Deborah: Yeah, I speak Italian a little bit. I studied painting many years ago in Florence and it stayed with me. My son Aaron speaks Portuguese, Spanish, English, a little bit of Japanese, a little bit of Greek.
Caio: He has to leave some for the rest of us!
Maintaining Brazilian Roots/05:36
Deborah: In what ways do you feel connected to the country of your birth and to your siblings and extended family there?
Caio: I maintain a strong connection through things like social media and technology. In my home life, I speak Portuguese at home instead of English so I don’t lose that connection. Our culture at home is still very rooted in our Brazilian culture but integrated with certain parts of American culture as well. I watch Brazilian TV. I stay up to date on Brazilian news. Being someone who’s always interested in current events, there’s a lot in Brazil right now, so it’s not too hard to keep up with. But, you know, having the connection through social media and through a lot of apps on my phone that I can communicate with my family, being able to connect with them through video and ways such as FaceTime or just calling makes things so much easier to maintain that connection and to be able to keep up with how everyone’s currently doing.
Deborah: Yeah. Brazil’s having a pretty tough time with coronavirus right now.
Caio: We are, yeah.
Deborah: Has it impacted any of your extended family members?
Caio: I do have a family member who works in the medical field and her daughter contracted COVID. And that was a tricky time period to navigate, but luckily she’s recovered and my cousin is doing great as well. And everyone’s healthy, so I’m very, very glad.
Dreamer Status — Obstacles & Assets/07:14
Deborah: Oh, that’s good. In what ways has your status as a Dreamer been an obstacle on one hand and an asset on the other hand?
Caio: So I would say the obstacles of being a dreamer are the most obvious ones. Certainly travel being restricted has impacted my life in many ways. I’m someone who enjoys traveling and I try to do it as much domestically as possible. But having so many friends that also enjoy traveling really limits how much I’m able to do beyond the country, which is none at all. Attending college also came with a lot of sacrifice because loans are very limited for Dreamers. When I was in high school getting ready to transition to university, navigating the FAFSA process was basically non-existent, and finding scholarships was terribly difficult. I was actually very lucky to actually be in my, going into my senior year the same summer that President Obama created the DACA program. And so because of that, I was able to go to school and Governor Patrick at the time signed into law for in-state students. If you attended a state university, you could pay the same in-state fee. And so for that reason, I was able to go to school for that fee and actually get my college education. But some of the other obstacles are accounted for in the fact that I’m responsible for most of my family’s legal presence. I’m the administrator, the lawyer, the representative, the security guard to my parents. So, you know, you do have to give up a little bit and limit your dreams to a much slower schedule than you would envision just to yourself. But it’s definitely something that I do with love and care and give back in a way that they gave to me so much and they’ve sacrificed to come here for a better life for all of us. And I guess that sort of transitions me into some of the assets because from one of the things I see as the biggest positive is that I had to mature at a much younger age than most of my friends did. I understood business working with insurance companies, providing for myself much sooner than my other friends had to. I mean some of them until today struggle with some of the things that I had to pick up when I was 15 or 16. So I think the biggest asset of all is you learn to become very resourceful. Because you have to seek out any and all opportunities that you have access to because you start off at a place when you have so little compared to everyone else.
Educational Goals Defy Limitations/09:56
Deborah: When did you become aware? How old were you—obviously as a teenager, you had to take on these responsibilities—but how old were you when you first became aware of the difference between yourself and other kids in school? In what ways did you become aware, your earliest memory of it?
Caio: I think the first instance where it really impacted my life was when I turned 16 and I couldn’t go for my driver’s license like everyone else. Everyone was out getting their permits and I had to just accept the fact that the same scenario wouldn’t make itself present for me. I learned to be very good at calling shotgun and asking my friends for rides without becoming annoying. But so that was, that was definitely the first time that I noticed that there was a major difference in between how available things were going to be for me, the older I became. And the bigger impact, I would say, would be during the college application process because neither my guidance counselor at school nor I really had a really good idea of what my opportunities were. And I sort of just navigated through what made itself available. And luckily that led me to an experience that I was really fortunate to be proud of and fond of the school I ended up at.
Deborah: Where did you go?
Caio: I went to UMass Boston. And UMass Boston at the time when I did make my option, was one of the only realistic schools that provided me an opportunity. I won’t lie when I say that there were other schools I had more of an intention to study at and tried everything possible from getting in touch with alumni networks, showing up personally to admissions offices to speak directly to people, counselors at the schools about any opportunity I could have to find a scholarship to make it less of a financial burden from my family to attend because I had really set plans to attend some of these institutions, but the way things worked out, I ended up at a state school. And at first, I was, you know, I butt heads with that idea in the beginning and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life because it just took the experiences that I had at having to be resourceful at a young age and put me in touch with the community of people that was very diverse and had come from similar experiences. So we could all share in the fact that we’ve had those difficulties, we’ve overcome them, and to continue to help each other grow.
Deborah: Well, that’s terrific. I’ve had some experience with UMass Boston. I took a writer’s workshop at the Joyner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences. I don’t know if they’re still running that workshop in the summer, but it was phenomenal. And I was very, very impressed by the student body there. And I felt like it was a place where people really could change family karma in a way that other privileged institutions weren’t offering that kind of a transformational experience somehow. First-generation people kind of things.
Caio: Absolutely. One of the most gratifying things about being there was you could see, you could see hope as you walked around and as you attended classes, you could see people from all different walks of life, first-generation students, students who were legacy students—everyone just being at an institution that allows you to be a commuter, but, because you’re a commuter at a school like UMass Boston, you learn how to manage your work life, your social life, and your student life so much more than someone who is away at college, away from a town, not having to focus on anything other than their studies would. So I think it gives us a really big leg up on that and just prepares you for life at a much faster rate than you might have at another institution.
Deborah: It sounds like you’ve made the most of it for sure.
Caio: I had to! Yeah.
Deborah: What does a “legacy” student mean? Could you define that?
Caio: A student whose parents or grandparents might’ve attended the same university. I don’t know if I might’ve used the wrong term there, but, if you had a family member who also attended the same school, and now you attended as well.
Deborah: Oh, okay. So it seems like you’ve put some thought into these questions here. You’re very articulate. I appreciate it. Do you have early memories from the country and I’ve already asked you that a little bit. But how old were you when you realized that your status as a Dreamer was going to have an effect on your life and your future? And I asked that earlier and you answered it as when you turned 16, but what about when you were maybe 10? I mean, did you notice that your parents maybe were more careful avoiding, I don’t know, police, or that there was an element of fear in the household about being deported or something like that? Was that a cloud of that over the family that you were able to perceive as a youngster?
Caio: Yeah. So when I think about how that sort of impact had always been present when I was being brought up, it wasn’t something that ever stood out to me when I was young because the only thing I was focused on was hanging out with friends, playing sports and going to school. But the older I became, the more I stopped to analyze and look back on some of the experiences that we had when I was younger, that’s when the sort of the glass ceiling broke and I noticed all of the ways our household was different than the friends I would go visit after school, which is my parents always instilled this idea that we had to be very careful on the road so that we didn’t get pulled over for any reason. Just making sure that you didn’t do anything when you’re outside of the home that would attract negative attention. It wasn’t something that I really understood as fear. But the older I got and the more I realized that my age would put me in a situation where I could face a consequence for taking an action or not being as careful as my parents warned me to be when I was younger that then I would be put in a in a precarious situation, that’s when it really started hitting me. So when I went off to college was definitely the concerns from my mom about staying out or attending an event after school, or just doing anything was, “Remember, your friends don’t have the same consequences if you do something incorrect and have to answer to that.” And, because of that, there’s always anxiety and it definitely plays a major role in everyday life. The older I got, the more that anxiety transitioned, not as much into my life, but my parents.
Being a Dreamer and having access to documents from DACA, what I’m able to do is I’m able to work without worry. I’m able to drive with a driver’s license. So I can pretty much go about my average daily life without ever worrying about anything. But every day I leave the house, I always think about what could happen to my parents. What should happen if someone should get pulled over? What should happen if they’re a part of a situation as a consequence and have to answer to authorities. What are they going to do without me present? Because I’m someone who likes to be very articulate and to have answers ready. And my parents, I worry, would not be able to communicate in a moment like that. But, you know, with all of that being said, one of the things I’m grateful for is living in a state like Massachusetts and being in a city like Boston that has so many protections for immigrants. And that makes it definitely a little bit easier on my mind when I leave every day, knowing that should anything happen, there are all these legal networks set up to look out for my parents.
Law & Politics/18:22
Deborah: It sounds like from our earlier conversation with you that you or your career has led you into some of those organizations. Or did I mishear you when we spoke earlier? The professional work, in fact, that’s actually one of the questions I have here is how have your educational choices and career path been influenced by your status as a Dreamer?
Caio: Yeah. So, my mother, I’d say my father too, but mostly my mother has come from a background in law and politics. And I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because it just happened to be what I was interested in as well. And when I went to school, I went to study political science. And I also had minors in international relations and anthropology. So, working with that gave me many great chances to intern at places like the statehouse for Governor Patrick at Senator Warren’s office. I interned with the United Nations Association of Greater Boston. And so the more I experienced through my internships and through my classwork, I realized that the passion was there for the same field. And outside of the classroom I was a part of student government and worked with organizations that would help students who didn’t have the same opportunities as some of the other students might have. And it led me to where I am today, which is a company that prioritizes clients that have similar missions in mind, which are progressive values and advancing those.
Deborah: That’s a pretty complete answer and it is very impressive places where you’ve done internships and you’ve met these people like Elizabeth Warren and Governor Patrick right, right, right in the middle of the action.
Caio: Yes. There was a very important quote I learned from one of my first political science classes in college, which was, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” So I took that to heart. I took that to heart.
Deborah: That is a great quote.
Deborah: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Who said that?
Caio: My professor in my Intro to Public Policy class.
Deborah: Wow. It sounds like you live by that philosophy.
Caio: It’s true. Especially someone in my situation growing up, you avoid letting anyone know your status as much as humanly possible. So taking advantage of internships that I wouldn’t be able to have as a career, someone who isn’t a U.S. citizen can’t work for a senator or a federal government position, like an aide to a federal elected official. So I had to take advantage of these positions as an intern and learn as much from them as I could so that I could not only diversify my curriculum but be able to impact the community in that position as well as I could from the position of an intern, giving back to the Commonwealth to helping fellow citizens of the community.
Deborah: Yeah. You’re definitely an insider. Wow. So aside from the typical American dream, what human dream have you had for yourself and your life? You’re pretty young, 25, but still, mature for your age, for sure. Have you accomplished it and what are your dreams today?
Caio: One of my dreams actually—I’m very inspired by film and acting and entertainment so that passion has brought me to a lot of different acting opportunities in school. I always got involved in theater and acting classes as much as I could with other things that I had going on. And I’ve accomplished some really fun experiences. I’ve been an extra in several productions. This past fall I was one of the principal cast for a small film shot up in New Hampshire. And really in the past year, I’ve expanded a lot on the acting work I’ve done and sort of taken that plunge on exploring this dream and seeing how far it takes me without feeling like it might be something I regret later on in life if I let it slip by now.
Deborah: That you’d regret that not following through on that passion?
Deborah: So how do you balance that with political science?
Caio: It’s a balance with that.
Deborah: You’re preparing your speech at the Academy Awards.
Caio: Can you tell I’ve always enjoyed public speaking?
Deborah: Well, as soon as I heard your voice on the telephone, I was like, oh my God, it’s very professional sounding. Wonderful. Is the word timbre, yeah?
Caio: Thank you very much.
Deborah: And it’s accent-free. And not that I would expect an accent from Brazil or anything, but just regionally, you don’t seem to have a regional accent.
Caio: We can turn that on if you’d like, I’ll accent the “r’s.”
Deborah: Give me, give me. Can you mimic something?
Caio: I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed.
Deborah: I’m asking because I have two sons. One is a professional musician that tours around with a group called Foreigner. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them.
Caio: I have, yeah.
Deborah: He plays keyboards and backup vocals. And my other son is a linguist, as I told you, but he does dialect coaching.
Caio: Ah, very cool.
Deborah: So, you know, you probably have an excellent ear for language, obviously, so do a little mimicry for me. We can take it out, but I’d love to hear you. Can you do a South Boston?
Caio: As a Southie accent. I mean, it’s just, it’s, it’s one of those things that you, that comes out when you’re with your friends and you’re watching a Pats game on a Sunday, you know, it’s naturally, it’s going to come out in some places more than another, but I mean, it’s, it’s not usually how I speak, but if I, if I need to talk to my friends a little bit shorter so we can, you know, sorta just, just get the language out a little bit quicker. It’s not that hard.
Deborah: I hear it.
Caio: Kind of something we joke around with because I mean, it’s, it’s not naturally mine. And so I don’t want to make it come off like it is, but being from Boston, it’s one of those things that everyone from around here plays with.
Deborah: Right, right.
Caio: But you did ask how I sort of balanced that with the other dreams. I guess to answer that, I think it’s really a balance of three things for me. One is balancing the creative dream, which is the one I think that inspires me the most in terms of motivating me to seek things that are not there. The second is the dream of working in the political and professional sphere and being able to grow in that field enough that I can help benefit other people who come from my background and other people. Personally to me, an area of interest is human rights and helping other folks who have been oppressed in other ways. So growing professionally in that sense that I can use those skills to help those others that are experiencing oppression as well. And then the third dream I would say is the dream of making sure that my parents are well cared for because, there’s no way for me, realistically, and without stress or anxiety to follow my principal dreams without worrying about them being taken care of. And so, like I mentioned earlier, the rates of velocity at which I can pursue my main dreams is definitely something that is slowed down a bit, because I don’t do much without making sure that my parents are cared for as if I were caring for myself. So, one thing that I worry about and that I strive to do is to help them grow their business so that they can be taken care of financially and that they can fend for themselves if I should leave Boston or leave Massachusetts to go pursue something else. I wouldn’t worry about them and needing to provide in that sense, if they’re well taken care of by their business.
Deborah: Yeah, well your dad has certainly spoken highly of you and how much you’ve helped him with websites and all kinds of things like that with his business.
Caio: He does all the work.
Deborah: He’s an incredible cook. Oh my God. He brought a few things to class that, you know, we just devoured.
Caio: It’s hard to stay in shape in this house. I’ll tell you that.
Staying in Balance/27:20
Deborah: I’m not surprised. Do you have any practices that keep you, that offset some of that anxiety, like meditation or running or something that kind of ever-present anxiety that you’ve had to grow up with basically, that’s there? I’m sure it’s there all the time. Certainly, the activism that you’ve practiced in your life—it’s like taking that and making something out of it, not being victimized by it. I just wondered if you have some practice or personal tool.
Caio: I think being able to speak with people about how you feel is the most important, a way to unload some of the stress and anxiety. So I have some friends that I’m very close with and they know my story and they’ve grown with me through similar struggles or they’ve grown with me through their own struggles, but both of us battling obstacles at the same time. And I’ve learned along the way that being open about how you might be struggling with an aspect of an obstacle created by your life, being in such a position is really important to being able to not let it hold you back and move on from it. But some of the other things, I mean, myself personally, watching films for me is a huge stress relief. Just a way to sort of turn my head. Uh, turn my brain off and allow my subconscious to really take everything in while not having to actively think about anything that might be work-related or another stressful, situation. I’m a very active person. So physical activity for me is another way that I can let go of some of that anxiety. I try to work out, even during this crisis we’re living through, at least, you know, four or five times a week, so that I’m keeping my mind focused.
Deborah: Where are you doing that?
Caio: Well, right now I do it at home. Yeah. So I’ve, I’ve sort of built a little arsenal up of home gym equipment. And, I’ve made it work to my benefit as best I can, but I’d like to think that not too far in the future, I could go back to a gym, without the worry of touching any surfaces that might be infected.
Deborah: It’s a real challenge. I don’t think that what was normal before will ever be normal again. I mean, they’ll be a new normal, I believe.
Caio: Yeah. I mean with good cause too for everyone being preventative of some of the things that we should have always been.
Path to Citizenship/30:00
Deborah: Right. I’m curious about, you’re very proactive and you’re very positive and you’re aggressive in your passions obviously to help others and protect your parents and everything. But how do you see your personal path to citizenship? What does it look like for you right now in 2020?
Caio: You know, to be honest with you, I don’t have an answer to that. I think that coming from my position, the thing that’s gotten me by in the most positive way is just having faith that things will work out, not necessarily knowing how they will, especially because it is up to the administration in charge at the time, how easy your life is going to be as a Dreamer or not. And any day a different policy directive could be released that makes not anyone else’s life more difficult, but you as a Dreamer, that one little aspect change could make everything in your life more difficult. So I think that if you don’t maintain that focus and the faith that not knowing necessarily how, but knowing that things will one day be as you had always hoped they would have been, is the thing that gets you through it. As it stands, there’s really only a certain number of ways that my status would be fixed. And that’s either through marriage or that’s through a new law that is passed by Congress or some other kind of miracle that would facilitate that happening. So, without having tangible things we can really look forward to, it’s about making the most of what you have today and tomorrow and focusing on not letting your fears get the best of you.
Deborah: Well said. Well, Caio, this has been just wonderful talking with you and I’m sure that when we put this podcast together and have people listening, you’ll be inspiring them as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me tonight.
Caio: Thank you for the opportunity. It was a pleasure.
Deborah: Oh, good. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Is there anything else that you want to say about anything, maybe that the questions didn’t tap into or something?
Caio: No, I think you touched on a really important aspect, which was, despite and I mean, I see this with a lot of other activists who have a Dreamer background as well. Despite the fact that we try to be very positive and work towards advancing these goals, what we all live with is a constant anxiety that you can’t really fix. And when you asked me the question that allowed me to answer that I think that’s really important to highlight because I know that other Dreamers out there are facing the same things and, some days are harder than others, some nights before going to sleep, I get a little paranoid and I might think, what if tomorrow when I leave for work and my parents can’t come back because they might’ve been pulled over and a cop wasn’t understanding because they were in a town that they took a wrong turn in and now they’re dealing with an immigration judge. We did come over with a tourist visa, we came over through a plane. So I understand that deportation from my family is nothing like it is for many other families out there. So, I mean, while that is something that brings me a little bit of comfort in knowing that the safeguards are a little different for us, I know that there are still a lot of things that keep me up at night or make me a little hesitant before walking out the door that a lot of other Dreamers are experiencing as well. And just hoping that they remember that everything’s going to be all right because in life, anything that’s ever made you question or feel upset or make you believe that you might not overcome it, you’re here today and you overcame it. So it’s going to be the same situation.
Deborah: Sound philosophy for sure. Wow, you’re going to go far, Caio, for sure.
Caio: Thank you.
Deborah: We need you. We need you that’s for sure. Thank you so much. This was delightful. Thanks.
Anyone listening to this interview can hear Caio’s mix of confidence, humility, intelligence, and passion. Whether he pursues a career as an actor or he is someone who will someday hold a political office, he will continue to be a person of influence with a voice for many who cannot speak for themselves. Yes, he is a Dreamer as one of the recipients of the DACA program, but he is anything but a dreamer in terms of what it takes to build a meaningful life grounded in reality.