Writing comes very easily to me except when it’s a huge topic. The reason? I get anxiety trying to remember all the things I want to mention and tying them all in. When I first started my blog, my intentions were to not only rant about things I care about, but also interview people I admire and respect. I have a whole lot of admiration and respect for Susana Moreira. People who know me know I am obsessed with astrology (not horoscopes) and they also know that my favorite people are Capricorns. As a Scorpio, I immediately connect with them. The “craziness” so often associated with Scorpios seems totally normal, and even fun, to a Capricorn. So, I quickly became freinds with Susana in our Freshman Year College French Class.
I always loved to joke that she would copy and cheat off me in French class to get better grades. Obviously, it wasn’t true. What was true is that we also ended up taking other classes together without even planning to do so. I would probably say our favorite was a New Testament class. It seems very weird today to even imagine a young, pretty girl taking a class on the New Testament. That implies an inquisitive mind and a strong Faith. It would seem not “cool”, when, in fact, it is super-cool. What’s really cool is the truth, an eternal entity. Susana always stuck to the Truth intellectually and defends it in moral terms. When I go through my Scorpio-intense, whirlwind, life traumas, Susana is one of the very few people I turn to for Truth and Guidance. She is one of the very few women who are stronger than any man I know.
I have always had an innate distrust of women, but people like my mother, my wife, my cousins, and Susana give me Hope. Growing up as a child of Portuguese immigrants, we deeply felt and understood the disconnect between us and our American friends. For all the great qualities she possesses, she has her strong parents to thank. Portugal was always a heart-felt reality for Susana and she made sure to visit every summer. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, she had a second, Portuguese home, away from “home”. Her constant travels to Europe and beyond ( I think she rode an elephant in Thailand ! ) gave her more profound perspectives. More importantly, she has the capacities to undetsrand what she is experiencing. All this also further strengthened her Empathy.
Susana Moreira is certainly one of the most genuine and caring people I have ever met. By far. Though I know her well for almost 20 years, I asked for a “bio” for this interview. While each bio I have ever recieved has been great, they all were standard, in the sense that they mention what they do professionally. When Susana sent me her bio, it had zero mention of her career and zero mention of her charity work (various activities she modestly keeps quiet). Her bio just mentioned the happiness she receives from being a Godmother to three children, her love of Portugal, her love of family, and her Faith. While she has a succesful career in Health Care Marketing, her most notable works come from helping others.
After pressuring her to give more (any, really) info on her volunterring, she responded, “We’re on this planet to help when possible.” Though she always volunteered informally, she eventually committed to one Saturday a month to read to the poor children of the families that visited a soup kitchen in a Church in a poor and under-served area of Newark. She told me, “The children were so behind in school because, according to the people that ran the soup kitchen, teachers in their schools spent their days breaking up fights. Shaquai is the name of a girl I’ll never forget. She was 12 and read at a 6 or 7 year old’s level. They craved books. Eventually the Church had to close the Reading Room, which is what we called the section of the soup kitchen where we worked with the kids.”
Gladly taking it even further, she also volunteered every other Tuesday for a year at Good Grief, a foundation that helps children and teens cope with loss. She not only puts aside time to do this, she put aside time to go through an intense retreat-style training period to get certified to become a grief counselor.
Wait, there’s more.
Susana also volunteered formally through Catholic Charities, where she delivered groceries to home-bound seniors. As she touchingly mentions, “This is how I met my lifelong friend now, my 83 year-old Kaye Hanneken. I am not tethered formally anymore to Catholic Charities but I go visit Kaye every once in awhile in her nursing home, bring her Pineapple Juice (her favorite) and take her to meals too. I have plans to take her to a shrine soon. When I leave Kaye, I feel like I just spent an entire day getting the best massage of my life. She is so uplifting. I can’t quite describe her.”
Yeah, someone like this actually exists. I am starting to think I am friends with Susana just for selfish reasons, so I don’t competely just kill myself when I get drowned in the world’s hate.
An avid fitness fanatic, she also became a certified trainer for the fun of it but also to help out friends and family who may need training advice. I remember when Rocky 6 (Rocky Balboa) came out, she fell in love with how Sylvester Stallone decsribed his workouts in the gym and his time spent in Church. She paraphrases him and lives by what she says, ” Church for the mind/soul; Gym for the Body.” She also adds, “By the way, I want to be very careful when I say I go to Church, volunteer……it can be perceived as I think I am a saint. In fact, it’s the opposite…it’s WHY I need to volunterr and go to Church.”
On top of all that, she is a huge Soccer fan.
When I got married in Italy, I knew many people would not be able to make it. I had chosen my brother to be my best man, and since my wife has two sisters she wished to be her bridesmaids, I had to choose another best man. I quickly went with John Mark. John Mark is the male version of Susana, to give you an idea. Unfortunately, my mother was not able to make it to Italy for my wedding due to health issues and so my brother stayed with her. I had to choose someone quickly but my decision was made even quicker. I asked a woman, Susana, to be my other best “man”. It was a great moment to share with two of he best people I had ever met. In fact, at the time of the wedding, I had known John for 21 years ( to the day ! ) and Susana for 17. I had been trying to get them to meet for 17 years and, for one reason or another, it never happened. It took a wedding in Italy, over 4,000 miles away, to get these two to meet. John is like a brother and besides my my mother’s twin sister’s four daughters, Susana is like the sister I never had.
I could go on and on but let’s see what Susana has to say.
1) You are Portuguese and very proud of it. Tell us about your culture and how it played a huge role growing up, especially in America. Being a fellow child of immigrants, I could understand how hard it was for your “American” friends to “get it”.
This is one of those questions that I could spend hours answering. Well, for starters, we (my brother, sister, and cousins) were always considered “different.” Being considered “different” might not sound bad but as a kid, I hated it. I hid from it. I always sensed a pull in the opposite direction, for example, friends and teachers said one thing, and my parents and home life seemed to say and suggest something else. It’s as if my attention and priorities were divided. The hardest part really though, is the feeling of never being quite at home in America, and definitely not quite at home in Portugal. You’re both…how do you choose! Another thing I found difficult was trying to convince my American friends that some things that my culture taught me -not many, but some things – actually make more sense. For example, there just seems to be a a higher standard for what good looks like in Portugal (and Europe). People eat with forks and knives for most meals of the day. Go figure. They say good morning even if they don’t know you!
Perhaps what my friends “didn’t get” most, was how hard my parents worked and saved. My parents were always working! The lesson I learned from that, is that they were lucky enough to come to the best country on the planet, and they weren’t going to ruin it. I loved that. I honestly wouldn’t trade any of this for the world. And because we were as I said, different, I think we formed a special type of closeness over having the same scars and inside jokes.
2) Not only did you have that Portuguese-American upbringing, but you grew up in Newark, which, up until recently, was probably the most Portuguese city in North America. Did Portuguese Americans change their original culture as much as Italian-Americans sadly did?
Probably not as much, but yes, definitely. This sounds cliche, but I do remember walking to Ferry St. with my grandmother for fish from one store, bread from another, and good fruit from the fruit stand. Things are much different in Newark now. Portuguese-Americans, particularly the ones that haven’t gone back home in a while, become Americanized, bend their customs to allow for life here, and suddenly, culture is lost. It’s evidenced most in restaurants perhaps. It’s funny because if you walk around Lisbon and you walk around Ferry Street, you might not identify it as the same culture! Things change, but they have to. I understand that. Two Portuguese friends of mine were married a few years ago and came to visit NY. They wanted to see Newark obviously. I will never forget what one of them said while walking around: “Woah, this is like Portugal in the 70s.” In other words, Portuguese came here, never went back, and just carry on as if nothing has changed!
3) You were always torn between Europe and America and even wished to move to Portugal. Times and conditions have changed. Where do you see those ambitions now and the world in general?
I was all set to move. Not to get too political, but I remember after 9/11, feeling like there is no place I rather be than in the US. My friend Jorge Oliveira, who was born in Portugal, died in Afghanistan fighting for the country that, as he said, “gave his immigrant parents everything.” After that, how could I take this for granted? Admittedly however, after about 9 or so months without traveling somewhere, I feel like I’m busting at the seams! I only hope that I could pick up and go in the future, the way I’ve been so blessed to do thus far. I can’t imagine not seeing the world from a different perspective. Those ambitions manifest themselves in how I try to inspire my nephews to see the world. They love going to Portugal and my oldest nephew is already talking about traveling when he graduates college. He’s 16! In that way, I can see how my ambitions can be used to inspire him.
Last, nothing is permanent. I haven’t eliminated the idea of living somewhere else for about a year or two at least.
4) You majored in French and clearly used to copy and cheat off me in class. You also minored in Business. How do you see those two fields intermingle in todays’ climate? And how did it help with your new job?
Yes, the only reason I made it through college is because you were in all my classes, clearly! :-). It’s actually funny how things work. By now you probably have gathered how much I love my niece and nephews. I’ll continue here to tell you that my oldest nephew, who has a lot in common with me, is talking about majoring in Internal Business. Isn’t it amazing to see how your decisions 20 years ago impact the future? But to answer your question more directly, the world is shrinking. Yes, I know that sounds textbook, but look at your social media connections and tell me how many speak just one language. Not many I’m sure. And because no matter what your craft, talent or art, you’ll inevitably make it your business. Being able to navigate that business part without ignoring the people part is a challenge.
After about 15 years in healthcare marketing, I can say that I understand the business but if you can’t understand the people (clients) and how to manage personalities, you’ll have a hell of a time getting through the day. So often the people part is understanding first where they come from, the language they speak, and making them feel heard.
5) Would you rather eat roasted, porcupine ass cheeks, marinated in bum’s saliva everyday for breakfast or have the Portuguese National soccer team make it to every final and lose? You have to pick one.
Hardest question by far. I’m taking one for the team. I pick the porcupine ass cheeks and just ask for a bottle of Pepto and vodka shots immediately following.
6) Having traveled around the world, which experiences do you remember and value most and why?
Please don’t think that my answer suggests that I sit on my yoga mat every night in hymns, BUT, it never fails to hit me like a ton of bricks no matter where I go, that people, no matter where they are from, are not that different!!! I value tolerance. We all want the same things in the end. I also like how quickly you can figure out how to feel at home when you are so far away. Along the same lines, what traveling has taught me most, is how to put myself in other people’s shoes (not that I am always successful.) So often people want to be ONLY with people that are EXACTLY like them. I understand, but then you’ve just closed yourself off from 2/3 of the world.
7) You are a fitness fanatic. You even got certified as a trainer because you love staying fit so much. Tell us some programs you like to do.
If I could just run every day for the rest of my life, for miles, I would. I love running. Or maybe I don’t love running, but I love having run. With that said, I do switch things up. I like circuit training and getting my heart rate up. I recently put together a one-month program for my brother that incorporated a lot of push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, and box jumps. One of my all-time favorite go-to workouts is what I call 21: 21 push-ups, 1 burpeee, 20 push-ups, 2 burpees, and so on, without taking any breaks. I always try to beat my previous time. If you have 30 minutes or less to get a workout in, this works great.
8) Everybody who meets you instantly feels you’re like some sort of angel. When I asked for an official bio (even though I knew you for almost 20 years) you sent me many paragraphs about how much you love your family and friends and NOTHING about your professional life. You did the exact opposite of what many people do. Your priorities are perfectly aligned with a holy Christian Life. What role does your faith play in your decisions and outlook?
Wow, that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me! That is so very kind. Well, I don’t know how to do anything without consulting that faith handbook. (But I do forget to consult it sometimes, a lot of times!) You heard me say before, I go to the gym for my mind and body and church for the soul. I guess it’s that black and white. If there is a manual for every appliance you buy, my faith is my manual for life. When I leave my house every day, I need to remind myself that a lot of what is about to happen – work, stress, tough personalities – can all be approached and handled better with a solid grounding in the basics. (I am NOT saying I always succeed in this! Don’t misread.) But it is one way of going about it.
9) You volunteer in many ways. One touching way is by helping in soup kitchens and teaching children how to read in those soup kitchens. You are also a certified grief counselor and had to take a lot of time to train to be able to take more time to help people of all ages grieve the loss of a loved one. On top of that, you deliver groceries to seniors via Catholic Charities. How do you manage to continue to be so consistently helpful, inspiring, and optimistic even when facing your own problems?
That’s nice of you. Really. I suppose I’d feel like my life was too contrived if I really thought that on my death bed I’d be wishing for one more deadline, one more really challenging business question to answer for my clients. I do see myself wishing for one more hug from a senior. Maybe that’s how?
10) You are a Godmother extraordinaire. Tell us about your Godchildren and nephews and neices.
Ah! I answered this in your other questions without knowing! Put it this way, I am Godmother to three children and what I want for them is good health, a faithful existence, and success, however they define success. I believe that I have to show their parents that if anything were to ever happen to them, they have to feel good about me guiding their children. I take that seriously. Again, I’m not saying I succeed all the time. In fact, I’m sure I have failed in some ways. But I love the challenge nonetheless. One Godchild I have calls me Meena. My nephews call me Mumya. I can not get enough of hearing those names come out of their mouths. It is one of life’s greatest gifts for me. I cry thinking about it!
11) Top 3 favorite meals?
It’d be easier if you asked me for my top 30 favorite meals. If I have to pick 3:
Bacalhau a Bras
Anything with chocolate
12) Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
The next 10 years are going to be here so fast. Life moves fast. 10 years used to feel like eternity. Now I feel like I can blink and the next 10 are here. So, I don’t know that I can say I will be running a Fortune 500 company by then. 🙂 I can say I’d like to continue being successful in my career, but also be a mom. I think I’d like that.
13) Any pet peeves?
Hmm, when people ride the left lane (it’s probably a NJ thing) and I don’t appreciate when people name drop or drop unsubtle hints that point to the fact that they are status seekers. Too deep for a pet peeve? 🙂
14) Do you believe in an After Life?
Is this the same as eternal life? If so, then yes. I believe that I will see my lost loved ones some day. Hopeful or ignorant? I’m not sure. But that’s my answer.
What a wonderful human being Susana is! I had the privilege to watch this friendship flourish and this interview is a great example of two good souls. My favorite part was the question about the soccer team. Some things that I need mentioned are that Susana helped guide me to find my own faith in God, when I was very lost. She has never judged me, when it would have been very easy to do so on many occasions. She’s fair, honest, and tough (inside and out). She’s an avid Benfica and has taught me that Sporting and all the other Portuguese club teams stink in comparison. She has taught me many things about her culture, things that make a big difference to my first generation students. I love her very much and love you for writing this piece!
yes amy ! i totally agree !!! 🙂