Brazilian model Lisalla Montenegro, taking a break from showing her visiting father the sights of NYC, spoke to us this morning by telephone. Her story is an interesting one we thought we should share because of her extraordinary journey from struggle to success between Goias, Brazil and New York City.
When Lisalla was a teenager she had dreams of becoming a doctor. Somehow, along the way to those dreams, she fell in love with the idea of becoming a model. This is her story.
GlobalGrind: How are you today?
I’m feeling good. I’m getting ready to spend time with my dad while he’s here in NY. Sometimes it gets a little bit crazy but its been really fun.
Can you talk a little about your upbringing?
I come from a very poor area/city. I was born in Goisana, but I was raised in a city close to Goiasna and we went through a lot of things together, me and my family. My dad is a very hard working person and always showed us very good examples of working, teaching us about never giving up and never sit down to wait for things to happen. He would always show us what to do, what not to do exactly, like talking to us. That’s really a good thing about my family: we’re very communicative and me and my sister are close. I use to take care of my sisters because my parents were working so much. Sometimes, we didn’t even have food on our table because we were going through lot of things. But we were always together, always caring for one another.
When I was 12, I used to ask my mother, “Hey can I have some money to go here or to get this?” She used to say, “I’m sorry I don’t have this money but you can go do something. Do laundry for your grandparents or go to your uncle so they can give you some money.” I would do this so I could study, model or catch a bus to castings. That’s how it kind of started. But that’s the good thing about Brazil: we’re always helping one another; and that’s one of the best things I’ve learned.
When I was 14, I uses to go to the agency and my parents got a little better life, a little something more and then I started getting castings. I came to New York City because one of the scouts at one of the agencies here in New York went to Brazil and saw me. We did a casting of like 40 or 50 models and I was the only one they chose to come here. I came to New York when I was 16.
What were your impressions when you first got to New York? What did you think about New York?
For me it was an adventure. It was like a dream! I couldn’t believe I was here, I didn’t even know what the city had to offer me but I was here. I had no money, clothes, but I was wandering, and I never gave up. I did a casting and didn’t even tell my mother. I came back home and I was like, “Hey mom, I think I’m going to New York.” And she was like, ‘Okay.’ I wanted to turn my life into something. I wanted to take care of her and I promised her when I got back I was going to get her a very, very beautiful apartment.
I went through lot of things the first two months. It was winter, but I had one pair of shoes, which weren’t even that warm, but I was here and was planning on staying. My first agency here was very nice, but after two weeks, we had a meeting and they told me I might have to go back to Goias because I don’t speak English. I got really, really upset. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because I didn’t speak the language but I was here already and I thought, “I can’t stop, I can’t go back, I need to move forward.”
I woke up the next morning at 7 am and went back to the agency. I waited for my manager and when he got there I said “Whether you approve or not, I’m staying here. I’m going to go to school, I’m going to study 24/7 and I’m not going back.” He said, “ok lets do it.”
So I stayed, I worked and I was really happy. I learned English, I was living for New York. I’ve been here for 6 years and it was the best the decision I ever made in my life.
How did your parents react the first time they saw you in a magazine or a campaign? What was their reaction?
They were so proud of me! It’s such a good thing to go back to them and have with me my magazines, my covers, and the campaigns. My mother is so crazy! She steals my magazines to show to her friends. My friends, they put the pictures on Facebook; they’re really proud and are so sweet. They give me this positive energy and say I’m doing an amazing job.
Where have you traveled?
Argentina, Panama, Turks & Caicos, London, Amsterdam, Greece, South Africa, Spain California, Mexico.
Do you have a favorite destination, a favorite country that you like to see over and over?
I don’t know. Brazil is always my first option.
Have you been to Bahia?
Yeah, my dad is from Bahia so I’m always there; and it’s one of my favorite states. It’s so beautiful! The people are so happy, it’s amazing!
What does of your dad think of New York now that he is here?
He is impressed with so many beautiful cars (laughs). He wants to speak English now. Yesterday was really funny: it was his birthday so after we woke up I gave him a hug. He was like, “Uhh I want to go to Brooklyn! We didn’t go because we went to Wall Street and walked around there. Maybe today I might take him to Brooklyn. He didn’t know how to pronounce Brooklyn so he said Booklyn.
Are your sisters here or are they back in Brazil?
One of them is here with me. She’s my assistant, my personal manager, and the other one is back in Brazil studying to be a lawyer. She’s getting married actually. I have very, very smart and beautiful sisters!
Have you always wanted to be a model?
No, I wanted to be a doctor when I was young, but something was pulling me in another direction. I’m very happy and I am doing what I love to do.
Do you have a favorite photographer you like to work with?
I really like Tiziana Magni; he’s amazing and he’s one of my faves.
You recently introduced Jessica White to your father.
Yeah, they met and she was very cool about it. She’s an amazing person, when we first met we bonded. It was so amazing, we had a good connection. We talk, we talk about boys, and we talk about everything. We talk about God; I went to her church and she tells me so many good things about her experiences. She’s an amazing person! I really admire her because she’s such a strong woman. I always tell her, “You are like an example for me, and I love you very much.” I don’t know, it’s like we knew each other for a long time, and it’s amazing.
I took my dad to her birthday party. We organized a surprise birthday and she was so happy. I can’t believe she cried so many times, and I hugged her. She was really surprised and happy. She’s amazing an amazing model, an amazing person, always helping everyone. She was really cool with my dad. I mean, my dad doesn’t speak English but she was very nice to him.
Where’s your mom? Has your mom seen New York?
Yes, she been here, I think 2 years ago. I’m trying to bring her back so she can have more time here.
So you live between New York and Goias?
Yes, I decide to go back to Goias more often than I used to because when I got to New York I couldn’t really go to visit that much. Now I always try to. Every 2 months, every 3 months I try to go.
Goias is rural. You grew up around a lot of animals?
Yeah, a lot of horses. For me horses are my inspiration. They’re free, they are there when you need them; they’re there, and they are so beautiful and so strong. I love horses so much. I love all animals!