Today, I’m happy to share with you my first narrative essay. I love writing and this year I’ve decided to put more effort into learning English writing skills. With the help of my amazing teacher, I finally finished this story. I have a podcast in Portuguese called Let’s Talk New York, to talk about the pains and joys of living abroad and sharing stories from Brazilians around the world. Thanks to my podcast, I was able to connect with people with amazing and sometimes unbelievable stories. Marcelle’s story is one of them. I’ve decided to take everything from our conversation and writing this essay. I hope you guys like it!
– It’s here. – the taxi driver said, with that New York City attitude.
He was in such a bad mood. I had heard that New Yorkers were not always the happiest people on earth, especially the taxi drivers.
Well, now I already know. Welcome to New York, Marcelle. – I thought to myself. I looked at my phone: 11:17 pm. It was a Wednesday night, in the beginning of January 2017. I looked through the window. A winter storm had just hit the city and the snow was everywhere. Then, I quickly recognized a building I had previously seen on Google Maps.
– Yep, it’s here. – I answered the taxi driver, who at this time was impatiently waiting for me to leave the yellow cab. He had already opened the trunk of the car and, of course, he didn’t help to get my luggage. I had two huge suitcases and a backpack. I didn’t even bother having my life packed in some bags. I’m a model – and I’ve lived in 23 countries over the last 15 years – and this has taught me not to be afraid of new beginnings. I got my stuff and I took a deep breath before entering the building.
Welcome to New York, Marcelle.
You are probably thinking: A model. Oh well. She is so lucky. A dream job.
Truth to be told, I’ve never dreamed about being a model. My mom was the one who pushed me. I mean, I’m super tall – 6.1 – blond, white, slim. Maybe all parents would push a daughter like this to be a model. Or an actress. Any job where how you look matters a lot, you know.
I was 16 years old when I left Brazil for the first time to work as a model. My mom would join me for a while, but, when I was 18, I left my country for good. As someone who didn’t want to be a model, I kinda figured out that being independent was amazing – especially when you are so young. I didn’t have anyone around to tell me what to eat, or to study, or even to work out. I had my job, I had my money, and I had the chance to explore a lot of different countries.
Of course, my life was not a fairy tale. Having the opportunity to travel to so many different places and to live in so many different countries was a unique experience. But it has a price. I never had deep connections with people, because I was always moving. Of course I made good friends, but it is not the same thing when you live far away. Also, being separated from your family is hard. You miss weddings, birthdays, parties, Sunday lunches with your parents, happy hours with your friends – and all the small things from the daily routine. You have to adapt quickly, find yourself around a new place, deal with other languages – and I’m old enough to say that smartphones and the internet were not always a thing in our lives.
Besides that, I know that working as a model seems glamorous, but remember that not all models are “Giseles.“ At the end of the day, I was never a famous model. I had a good career and I got great jobs, but don’t ever think that I was walking around with paparazzi following me or brands sending me free stuff or money. When you are a model, you usually have an agency that finds jobs for you, you go to castings and the client needs to like you. You need to be a great fit. Trust me, being tall, blond and beautiful doesn’t prevent you from hearing many “nos.“ Another thing that is a little bizarre is how young you are when you are already “too old” to be a model. After your 30’s, you need to think about retirement and your next steps because it doesn’t matter how hard you try, the market will always welcome new 18 year old girls.
I was in Mexico for 4 years when I started to think about the end of my career. I have lived in China, Hong Kong, Germany and so many other countries. But there was one place on my list to be filled: New York City. I always thought that it would be good to end my career in the “Big Apple.“ New York is one of the most important cities in the world and it is no different for fashion. But when I told my agent that I wanted to try something different, and maybe go to Miami – I didn’t even mention New York – he gave me no hope.
– You are not Miami style. And don’t even think about New York. –
See. I told you. Not everything is easy or how you expect it to be, just because you are a model.
As luck would have it, destiny didn’t want me to end my career in Mexico. One day after a runway show, I was approached by another agent, Miguel, who was by coincidence, also Brazilian.
– I really want to work with you. Let’s do this. Let’s go to New York City. –
I didn’t have anything to lose. As I mentioned, I was never afraid of moving and New York was the place I wanted to be. First, I came for three months, as a test. The agency wanted to work with me for a while, to see if I was a fit for them – and for the market. I came to the US with a tourist visa and I couldn’t even get the money I earned. For those who don’t know, you can’t be legally paid in the US on a tourist visa. Well, at least everything worked out. This short season in New York was awesome: I was able to get a lot of jobs and the agency decided that I was a good fit for their permanent cast. It was official: I would move to New York City for good.
Of course, things don’t happen that fast. Moving and working legally in the US is a process that involves a lot of effort, paperwork, money, time, and patience. I moved to the country under the O Visa. This is a nonimmigrant visa is for the individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements. A lot of people can get an O Visa, from scientists to athletes, from actors to models. Basically, you need a huge file with a lot of proof of your work in order to fill your application. At that time, I was working a lot, so it was not that hard to put all the “evidence” together. It took a while, but I finally moved to New York officially in 2017 — on that freezing winter night.
My true beginning in New York was not as promising as those first 3 months, but I made it. I mean, this is New York; if you work hard, if you are open to the opportunities, if you don’t give up, things are gonna happen for you. Right? Yeah… and no. Things were hard with the agency.
– Your profile is not easy to promote. –
That’s the way they found me to tell me I was ultimately not a good fit. Also, my booker had left the company, so things became a little complicated. To be honest, it was frustrating. I came from a 4 year stay in Mexico. I knew everybody there, from photographers to brands. I barely had to go to castings. In New York, I had to start from scratch. In modeling – and let’s face, in all jobs – it is about networking. You have to know everybody. Either way, I had been able to manage. Until December 2019, when two things happened that could change my entire future in New York.
– It’s not working, Marcelle. We think it’s best to let you go.
That was the “cute” way the agency fired me. Ok, it wouldn’t be a big deal, since I had been living in New York for two years and, at that time, I already knew other agencies. But remember I just said that two things happened, right?
Yep. The other thing was worse: my visa had expired.
The life of an immigrant is complicated if you start to think about it. It is not easy or comfortable relying on a visa (or not even having a document). One thing is deciding to leave the place where you live because you are not happy anymore, or because you want to pursue new dreams, or for any other reason. What I mean is: you are the one in control. You are the one who decides. It happens like that for a lot of immigrants that choose to leave their countries because of a job, a love, or a dream – I’m not talking about people like refugees, who don’t have a choice.
I had a choice when I moved to the US. I chose to come here because I wanted to have the opportunity to work as a model in NYC. And since just wanting something is not enough in this case, I went through the process to get a visa. It was not easy, but it worked out. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. You can get a visa for 1 year or even for 3 years, and then you go about your life, you build your relationships, you create habits. Suddenly, you will realize you have a favorite coffee shop, a favorite store. Then, you enroll on a course, you choose a gym, you know your neighbors. Basically, you live. As an immigrant, you learn how to transform that foreign place into your home. You can’t just pause your life – you keep moving forward. Yet, you don’t have any guarantees that it is gonna be forever, but you keep pushing it. And sometimes people are ok on leaving again when it is time, but sometimes they put down roots and they get attached to those places.
I believe that the places where we live can be like the loved ones in our lives. Some of them will be only a good or a bad memory, others will change us forever. That’s me and New York City. I got to a point in my life where I was just tired of moving from one country to another, and I found my place in the world when I moved to NYC. Yep, I’ve struggled a lot in this city – trust people when they say it is not an easy place to be. But it is definitely my place. I couldn’t see myself moving again. You may be wondering: well, you always have Brazil. True, but not true. It has been over a decade since I left my home country for good. Going back requires a lot of courage – maybe more courage than the time when I left. Your memories and your references are from the time you decided to move. But, while you’ve been away, things have happened, people have moved, people have died, people have gotten married, babies have been born. Truth be told: I don’t want to go back. I am attached to New York City and I have decided to stay, especially after something a friend of mine once told me.
– How can you expect to create deep relationships or even find someone if you are always moving?
Ugh, that hurt. I was always complaining about the fact that I had never found a great guy to date. You may not believe it, but marriage was among my dreams. Although I had dressed as a bride for a lot of photoshoots, I wanted to be a real bride some day. But when you are moving from a country to another, it is not that simple or easy. And that was one of the things I got to thinking when I decided I wanted to stay in New York. I just needed to figure out how to do that.
When I decided I wanted to stay, the first thing I did was look for an immigration attorney. I needed to know how I could renew my visa, now that the modeling agency had kicked me out. After talking to some friends and getting some recommendations, I found an excellent attorney that could help me with my case. We basically had to fill out a new application – renewing a visa requires the same steps as getting the first visa – and putting all the evidence together again. I have to be honest: my case was not as good as the previous one. I was nervous. And it could take a while before I had a final answer.
At the same time, as if being fired and having an expired visa were not enough, the Covid-19 pandemic had just started (and we didn’t even know how long that would last). That made things even harder. No castings, no jobs — life had stopped. Even love life.
Well, that one I managed. I had countless virtual dates and, after a while, I actually started seeing someone. He knew about my situation and he even joked one day:
– I could marry you and solve your problem. But I would do that only if you gave me a child.
How romantic, hum? I can’t say he didn’t help me. Some months after filling my application, immigration asked for more evidence and my attorney suggested that I should get a letter of recommendation from a famous model. Not that easy. How would a famous model recommend me without even knowing me? Fortunately, this guy I was dating knew a model (also Braziian, by the way) and she was kind enough to help me.
At that time, I also got a call from a friend. He was my ex-boyfriend’s best friend and he had heard about my situation with the visa.
– If you want, I can marry you. Just to help you out, you know?
He was an immigrant like myself, but he already got his American citizenship. I don’t know why he offered me something like that, though I figured it was probably because he knew the perks of being an outsider.
– Oh, thank you. But my visa process is not over yet. They asked for more evidence and I’m waiting for the final response. I’m sure everything is gonna work!
That was true. But the other truth was that I was seeing someone, remember? And I was really falling in love with him (or I thought I was). How could I tell this guy that I would marry another guy?
Well, apparently, my so-called “boyfriend” didn’t care a lot about me. When I bought a dog, he broke up with me. Yep. I bought a dog and he thought that enough was enough.
I was waiting for my visa, taking care of a new dog, and now I was single again.
Some weeks after my boyfriend had broken up with me, I finally heard back from the immigration office. Unfortunately, they didn’t approve my case. I couldn’t believe it. It was the end of the line. It was Summer, around August, and I was becoming desperate and deeply sad. I couldn’t believe that this was it for me.
But one day, thinking about everything that was happening, I remembered the call that I had received some months before from my ex-boyfriend’s best friend. Well, he had told me he could marry me. I mean, why not? It was my last shot. So, I decided to give him a call.
– Hey! How is it going?
– Hey! So good to hear from you. I’m in Croatia right now visiting my family.
Oh no. Awesome. Ok, let’s keep talking. I broke the ice.
– So, I was wondering, was your offer to marry me something serious? I mean, would you be willing to do it? I have to be honest with you, my visa was denied and I was considering your proposal…
He hesitated for a few seconds – it seemed like forever.
– Yeah, I can marry you. But listen, we have to live together. I have a daughter, I don’t want to have problems with immigration.
Awesome. OMG. I was freaking out.
– But listen, I don’t know when I’m going back to the US. I’ll let you know.
Great. I had a solution for my case; the guy said that he could marry me, but he was on another continent and he didn’t even know when he would be back. Let’s remember that time was not on my side. I had less than a month to solve this problem. But lucky for me, it didn’t take a lot. The next day, he called me back.
– Ok, I’m flying back at the end of September. Just because of you.
Then, we realized it would be a good idea to have an official “meeting” to set some details and talk further. See, we were two foreign people talking in English, not our mother tongue. We didn’t want any misunderstanding – plus, come on, we would get married. So, we needed to meet up, right?
I must say I was nervous. There were a few days between when he landed in NYC and the day we met. He was tired from the trip and he also needed to get tested for Covid – our new reality. I almost asked him if he had changed his mind.
We met on a Monday at the end of the day, at his favorite bar & restaurant. I was anxious and I kept telling myself: this is business. Be a business woman.
I got there late, I did it on purpose. When I arrived, he was already there. The weather was nice, so he picked a table outside – something that became very common in the pandemic reality of the city. Can’t deny that I had found him very attractive since the day we met. But nothing more than that. On that day, he was especially handsome and with a tan from summer in Europe. Plus, he was my type: tall and with a lot of tattoos.
– Marcelle, this is business.
We talked for more than two hours while drinking a bottle of chilled white wine, which made me feel good, not only because of my anxiety but also because of the warm weather. Truth be told, both of us were avoiding the elephant in the room. I didn’t know how to proceed. I mean, there we were: two friends (can I say we were friends?) that would be married soon, but we were not dating. Oh, gosh. I kept asking myself why immigration couldn’t approve my case?
Well, I don’t know what happened first, or who took the first step, but the fact is we kissed each other. We went on to spend the next three days together.
Yep, that happened: I started dating my fiance.
I know what you’re thinking right now: we started to go on countless dates until we became girlfriend and boyfriend. But that was not the case, because we had to race against the time. So, we got our marriage certificate as quickly as possible and that was it: we were, in fact, getting married. But it was not just about business anymore. We were falling in love. It was real.
On October 28th, we got married and the location could not have been more perfect: a tattoo studio. It was a small and intimate ceremony, but very special.
We have been living together since that first wine-filled meetup. He was even the one who said “I love you” first. He doesn’t like to introduce me as “his wife,” but as “his girlfriend” – because he knows about my dream of getting properly married and he keeps telling me that he will propose the way I deserve someday. And so, my nightmare became my fairy tale in the end.
Content creator and journalist in New York City. Here, I share lifestyle, beauty, NYC tips, thoughts, and the struggles about living in the most amazing city in the world! I’m not gonna pretend to be another person: I’m a Brazilian immigrant and I think this is my soul, it is part of who I am. I hope you enjoy my content! Follow me on Instagram!
GraciaMay 13, 2021 at 9:12 pm
Soon you’ll be writing a novel! Congrats! 👏
The Story of an Undocumented Immigrant in New York - Laura Peruchi | NYCAugust 17, 2021 at 9:22 am
[…] to share with you another narrative essay. Like I mentioned in my first narrative, I have a podcast in Portuguese called Let’s Talk New York, to talk about the pains and joys of […]