Brazilian Figa

Relationship: Child of im/migrant

My mother was born to American parents and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My childhood was full of Jorge Ben records, feijoada dinners, stories about rainforest butterflies as big as my head. When my uncle would visit our house in Arizona from Niterói, he would bring a small velvet pouch full of shiny stone amulets called figas, and my sister and I would get to pick our favorites. Those evenings, we would lie on our stomachs and admire our growing collections while we listened to my mother and uncle reminisce in cheerful, nostalgic Portuguese in the kitchen.  The figa has its roots in ancient Etruscan Italy. In the ensuing millennia, it has been used to symbolize fertility, to invoke various goddesses, to protect against evil. During colonization in the 17th century, it washed up on the shores of South America and became a symbol of good luck in Brazil and Peru. Like my mother, the figa traveled a long, circuitous distance to get to our home in northern Arizona.
For my sister and I, wearing our figas was mandatory on days when my mother decided we needed good luck – plane rides or auditions for the school play. The last time I was home, I found this delicate gold figa in an old jewelry box of my mother’s. She told me to take it and wear it every day. “In New York,” she said, “you can always use the extra luck.”

Place(s): Brazil,Arizona

– Julia Z.

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant