ALINE MELLO WAS 7 years old when she left Brazil with her parents and sister for what was supposed to be a short-term stay in the United States. Growing up undocumented, Mello turned to writing to process her questions about belonging and relationships. More Salt than Diamond (Andrews McMeel Publishing), her debut poetry collection, pulses with themes of identity, religion, and living as an immigrant in tumultuous times. Sojourners columnist Liuan Huska spoke with Mello, a graduate fellow in creative writing at Ohio State University, about race, language, and coming back around to God after disillusionment with the church.
Liuan Huska: What were the circumstances of your family’s emigration from Brazil?
Aline Mello: We emigrated in 1997. We were pretty poor. We had a lot of faith that if we were going to the U.S., it was because God wanted us to go. My uncle got a tourist visa for the four of us to go to Somerville, Mass. It was just going to be three years.
My father had this thing where he would follow charismatic pastors, and we followed one to Atlanta in 2000, right before 9/11. I had been told [incorrectly], “If you stay here for 10 years, you automatically get papers.” I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be fine.”
Right when I graduated high school, in 2007, my father left us. My mom literally got home from work one day and got a voice mail from him saying, “Hey, I left the country.” I realized I couldn’t go to college in Brazil because I didn’t know college-level Portuguese. And I had scholarships here. The goal was to go to college and then go back. Then DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] happened. So I thought, “Obviously, God wants me to stay.” You keep getting scraps enough [that] you don’t starve.