Colin and I arrived in Portugal today, beginning a journey that has a lot of meaning and is sort of like a new beginning to me. Having been born to parents who seemed to be searching for something in life that was beyond anything I understood, there were a lot of questions that I had. My brother, sister, and I all had different fathers, and my mom was adopted. I wondered about these facts a lot. Who were their fathers? Where did my mom come from? Where did all of my roots exist? I had interests unlike the rest of my immediate family, like baking and I wondered, why do I love this so much? You get it from your grandmother, my parents would tell me. It felt as if there were a lot of blank spaces about who I was and who I was solidly connected to but the one thing that was always there and that I knew for sure was that I was Portuguese. It was something special to me that I grabbed onto and never let go. I was Serena Melegra Ume De La Luz, I was a Cancer, and I was Portuguese. As a little girl, this was how I would always introduce myself. Really.

In the early 1900’s my great grandparents, Maria and Antonio (pictured above with my grandfather and his siblings) immigrated to America from Portugal. They settled in California and began their American life. A lot of Portuguese immigrants settled in this same area and my dad was eventually born and raised there. Sometime as a young man, during his time at art school in San Francisco, my dad walked away from his conventional life, met my mom, and they began their life on the road and eventually off the grid, at some point removing themselves from their families. Until the age of seven, although I knew I was Portuguese and it was my identity, I didn’t know much more about my family. And then one day, at seven years old, my parents announced my Portuguese grandfather was coming to live with us and that we were driving to pick him up. It was kind of a lifequake for me. I was going to meet my family.

My mom and me, (above).

This trip south to get my grandfather was kind of like someone opened a little door of my life and said, Serena, here are your roots. It was a bit like Christmas and all of life’s birthdays rolled into just a couple of days. Suddenly there were cousins, an aunt and uncle, and my grandfather. My aunt insisted that I call her Auntie (which I loved!) and my cousins and I were instantly friends. We ran around and played, went to see Star Wars (my first time in a theater!), went to Fenton’s Ice Cream Parlor, and had family meals. It was all like a dream.

And as quickly as the door to my family was opened, it was quickly closed again. We headed home with my grandfather who came and lived with us until he died later that year. I never saw my cousins and aunt and uncle again. (Until recently, which is a story for another day).

When grandpa came home with us, my Portuguese identity became an even bigger and more special part of me. I wanted to know more about us and peppered my parents with questions about this side of my family. Pouring over old photo albums was a favorite pastime of mine, staring at the pictures and imagining the stories of who these people were. As obsessed as I was about my family and heritage, I never really even considered that visiting Portugal was a possibility and it never crossed my mind until I became an adult. Even then, it was kind of like this sacred little treasure place that I wasn’t ready to visit. And as much as Colin and I traveled the world, I kept finding reasons why it wasn’t the right time. Then two months ago, out of the blue, Colin said, I think we should go to Portugal! And just like that, I thought YES! We should. So here we are. 

My years of saudade for my family are for some reason what has kept me away until now. But not any more. I have made it to my beloved Portugal and will never stay away again. Portugal is in me. It is my family. And we are together again.

This post is one in a series posts on my visit to Portugal. You can find all of my posts here:

MEET SERENA!

Stay-at-home mom, Serena Thompson, dreamed of creating a fun and happy little event to sell her vintage and handmade goods. In 2002, she and some friends held the first event in her neighbor’s barn. The sale became wildly popular and began attracting visitors from across the country and recognition in national magazines. Today the event fills the Spokane County Fairgrounds and features hundreds of creatively and carefully curated spaces filled with vintage and handmade goods. Many describe it as a bucket list event, magical, inspirational, and the best vintage & handmade fair in the country. Serena describes it as the happiest on earth.

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