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'Saudade': a Brazilian word for longing

Mateus Campos Felipe

“Anunciacao” sung by Brazilian musician Anderson Safre is an example of the kind of music you think of when you think of Brazil. What words do you think of when you think of Brazil? Samba? Carnival? Acai? Many people think of the word “saudade.” 

Professor Marcus Brasileiro: Oh, what is saudade?


The Portuguese word “saudade” is defined as “a feeling of longing or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Brazilian temperament.” Marcus Brasileiro, a Portuguese professor at Utah State University, is what you could call a resident expert on saudade. He argues that even though saudade is a Portuguese word, it simply describes a universal feeling.  


Brasileiro says, “First of all, people say that saudade is a word that is just in Portuguese. It might be, I don't believe [it is]. But what is important is the feeling is not a privilege of the Portuguese language, the feeling of longing for something, of missing something. It's not a privilege of any culture. It's part of who we are as human beings. So saudade is the feeling of longing, feeling of missing something that you lost. So, we have a word for it. In English we have, we might have a sentence for it, but it's the same.”


So, in short, saudade is a melancholy feeling of missing something or someone. This is a sharp contrast to the enthusiastic energy that often stereotypes the Brazilian culture. Jessymara Clark is a Brazilian native who now lives in Cache Valley. Her friends would describe her as funny, outgoing, and loving. However, she felt out of place and homesick after moving to Utah, and missed her family and culture. To her, saudade was something that hurt deeply. 


Jessymara Clark said, “The word saudade for me is related to something that hurts, and something you can’t have. It is a little complicated because you have a lot of things here that are like Brazilian things, but at the same time it's not exactly what you want. So for me, it is a painful feeling to not have something in the same way that you have always had it.”


Jessy did not see her family for over three years, but was finally able to visit them last Spring. She explains that missing her family in Brazil was difficult, but so was communicating with her new family in Utah. She said, “The language difference sometimes gets in the way as well, because you want to express love to someone who doesn’t speak Portuguese, my mother-in-law or father-in-law for example, but I feel like I can’t express myself in the way that I want.”


Even with these difficulties, Jessy says that her community has been very welcoming for Brazilian culture. 


Jessy said, “I see people who live in Cache Valley who really take advantage of the Brazilian culture that we have here. Everytime there is a get together I see so many people. For example, there is a food truck here that sells Brazilian food. I’ve gone several times and it is always busy, not just with Brazilians, but with other Americans, other local people.”


That food truck that Jessy mentioned is Sissa’s Brazilian Kitchen, run by the one and only Sissa Ihnen. Sissa is a local legend in Cache Valley. She works hard to connect the Brazilian community and share Brazilian culture through the best way possible -- food. However, even after over 20 years of living in Utah, Sissa remembers the sadness she felt when she left Brazil. 


Sissa said, “This word means so much, it has a lot of meaning in Portuguese. We can’t even find a word in English that has the same meaning. When I think about saudade, I especially think about when you just arrive here in the is such a huge pain in the heart, especially when you have never left your family and you are living completely in a strange land with people you don't know and the culture is completely different and everything else. It is the saudade of your family, saudade of your own culture. 

“I can't complain, everyone has always treated me very well. There was the church in the background to help me and everything else. But everything was still so different, so different than when you were in your own land. So for sure one thing that happens when a person leaves Brazil and comes here, and doesn’t plan for homesickness - it hurts. It really hurts until you take it and start building your life here.”


Remember Anderson from earlier? Anderson came to Cache Valley to study abroad for his PhD, and he loved sharing his culture through music during his time in Utah. It was hard for him to describe saudade, but not hard for him to remember his own personal saudades. 


He said, “Well, it’s difficult to explain, it's something that you feel more than you can explain. To feel like you are missing something that you need, the same way that I missed my family and my friends, it's something that...until you are able to see them or hug them again, the saudade doesn’t end.”


Each individual Brazilian brings their own taste of culture, food, music, and warmth. However, often hidden behind the happy facade are deep feelings of homesickness, and feelings of sadness for the life they left behind. This nostalgia is not reserved for Brazilians, but as Professor Brasileiro concludes, it makes us more human. 


Brasileiro said, “We can be a little bit more generous with someone who is different, someone who is not me, someone who comes from a different background. So if we understand how we are constituted and if we are self aware in some instance, self critical about it. We can be a little bit more kind, a bit more human in real life, to those who are different, to the other.”