Life during COVID-19: Gabriela Brocca – Brazil/U.S.

Tiago Barreiro

When the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders started in the U.S. early March, Gabriela Brocca, a CSUN international student from Brazil, grappled with whether or not to return back to her hometown of Rio de Janeiro.

Brocca was at Disneyworld Orlando during spring break. Her mother and younger sister travelled from Rio to Florida to meet up with Brocca and enjoy a week off together.

”It happened really fast. We were at the parks, at the restaurants, then everything started to shut down and people started wearing masks,” Brocca said.

Brocca’s parents asked her to come back immediately, however, her documents and school materials were in California. She was also worried about being locked out of the U.S., so she decided to return to Northridge and quarantine with her roommates.

“I was alone and I had no other place to run or family around,” she said. “Sometimes you need someone to tell you it’s going to be fine.”

Brocca and her family endured weeks of stress as the number of cases skyrocketed both in the U.S. and Brazil; New travel and immigration directives issued by the U.S. added to their stress as well.

“We were literally scrolling through the news the whole day to see if (President Donald J. Trump) said something,” Brocca said. “There was just a lot happening, I was going crazy.”

The currency exchange rate between the American dollar and the Brazilian real was unfavorable for Brocca, especially during a time where every dollar needed to count. One U.S. dollar is now worth over five Brazilian real — a record high exchange rate that makes living in Los Angeles even more expensive. The crushing exchange rate — which has increased over 300% in the past 10 years — is due to the Brazilian economic downturn that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Every time I was trying to make a decision and follow through with it I couldn’t because something would come up. Everything was changing so fast,” Brocca said. “But I realized I needed to make a decision. If I didn’t make a decision I was going to stay and become homeless.”

After the CSU announced that fall semester instruction would be mostly online on May 22, Brocca was finally confident enough to buy an expensive plane ticket home. She reunited with her family in Rio on June 28.

Brazil’s response to the coronavirus:

Born and raised in Rio alongside her younger sister, Brocca moved to the U.S. in 2018 to attend CSUN as a nutrition and dietetics major.

Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed the ”Trump of the Tropics”, was elected president of Brazil during Brocca’s first semester at CSUN.

”After that, it was all downhill. It’s degrading and sad. You cannot believe he is serious,” Brocca said.

Bolsonaro routinely downplayed the pandemic and continued spreading false information. He infamously compared COVID-19 to a ”little flu” and attended multiple crowded political events without wearing a mask.

As of July 23, Bolsonaro has tested positive for COVID-19 three times. An early proponent of hydroxychloroquine, Bolsonaro has published videos of himself taking the unproven coronavirus treatment.

”I feel so bad that I didn’t vote (in 2018.) This is never happening again!” Broca said. ”The next time I can vote I’m going to go all the way to the Brazilian (consulate) to make sure my vote is counted.”

Brocca is saddened that many Brazilians are not taking the pandemic seriously. In less than a month, Brazil’s COVID-19 infections numbers went from 1 million to 2 million. In comparison, it took the U.S. 43 days to reach the same milestone. There have been over 83,000 coronavirus deaths in the South American country, according to the Brazilian health ministry.

Despite the steep rise in coronavirus cases and the lack of infrastructure, Brocca fears many Brazilians are not observing safety measures like social distancing and wearing face coverings.

“I see people partying on a daily basis. They go out surfing. They gather,” she said. “This president is a reflection of society. Brazilians put him there. He says not to wear masks and that it is just a ‘little flu’, so they don’t wear masks and no one is following the rules.”

Regardless of the chaos around her, Brocca is trying to remain hopeful that people will start taking the virus seriously and that she will be able to return to the CSUN campus next spring.

Brocca is happy to be around her family again — they make her feel protected and focused on what really matters.

“We need to give value to the things we have when we have them,” Brocca said.“I feel like everyone should look at the world as fragile, as something that can fade away.”