This is a long overdue thank you letter — an idea I dreamed of years ago when I would watch you open all that mail on your TV show. You helped me learn Portuguese during my student exchange in Brazil in 1989, something I’ve always been grateful for. I now realize that you taught me much more than how to say a few words in a new language. In fact I think you showed me an enlightened way to come at life, with way more profundity than I gave you credit for at the time. So now, when the world could use a little more profundity, I am finally writing this letter.
Please don’t feel badly if you don’t remember. You were just going about your business on your show, singing your catchy songs, having lively conversations with your young guests, dancing around in your over-the-top outfits and beaming your contagious smile at us. Ad libbing in response to letters and conversations with adoring fans, you slipped in advice on conserving electricity at home and using natural skin remedies — all in the guise of fulfilling our obligation to be happy which was the premise of your show.
At 18 years of age I was in theory too old for your program and so I pretended to watch with irony, but you had me eating out of your hand.
At the end of each episode, as you blew kisses to your millions of viewers, you would call out to us in different ways. One day, you said in your crystal clear, pep-rally Portuguese something like, “…and to all the boys and girls from another country visiting Brazil, tchau and beijinhos to you, too!”
I answered aloud without realizing it, all teenage cynicism swept away by the moment: “Obrigada! Tchau, Xuxa!” My host sister and I laughed, excited that I was at last making sense of some of the verbal chaos I had been experiencing as an exchange student. Yet there is so much more to thank you for than your great diction and friendly farewells.
That was the year of Brazil’s first democratic election. Every night my host family and I watched television ads (during which I learned the Portuguese word for “ad” is propaganda). All 22 candidates had their allotted time to…