When I was a kid, my Aunt Judy O’Brien adopted 7 children from Brazil. She was a single, 50+ year old woman who’d made a small fortune in the local real estate industry and now felt the calling to a higher purpose.

To say the O’Brien family “stood out” was the understatement of the year. Aunt Judy is a large, boisterous, take-no-bullshit kinda’ gal who lived in a stately blue mansion, owned two Cadillacs, and always had a cigarette drooping from the side of her mouth. After she adopted the 7 Brazilian kids, she also amassed a collection of 7 scruffy, untrained dogs who got into massive brawls with each other, peed liberally on the hardwood floors, and completed the circus-like atmosphere.

In Brazil, the kids had been so abused and neglected by their families that they didn’t know their true ages. So, the orphanage where they lived “assigned” them ages. Making no sense at all, they assigned 4 of the kids (from two different sets of siblings) to be the same age — and incidentally, the same age as me.

So in my high school homeroom, we had 5 O’Briens: Valdevino, Valdeci, Elizangela, Alejandro, and…Christen.

Knowing we were a weird AF family, we all sat together in that class, perhaps deciding that we might as well lean in. And — lean in we did.

If you walked over to the O’Brien corner, you would hear nothing but fast-paced Portuguese rattling off the tongues of loud, insolent teenagers. There was fighting in Portuguese, jokes in Portuguese, futbol debates in Portuguese…and every once in a while, they switched to English so I could understand what they were saying.

I listened to Brazilian music, ate Brazilian food, watched Brazilian futbol matches, spoke Brazilian profanities, and learned Brazilian dances.

It rarely occurred to me that I looked different. Two of my cousins were part afro-Brazilian, and the other five were indigenous Brazilian. All of them were dark, with thick accents and passionate, fiery temperaments.

When I moved away from my small, farm-town to the big city of Los Angeles to attend USC, a notoriously wealthy and elite school, I happily (and perhaps subconsciously) immersed myself in Latino culture. I mastered my Spanish education, taught local elementary students in Spanish, and even joined an informal sorority called “Nuestra Alma Latina”.

To this day, I rarely see “color” in other people, nor do I think of myself as a color. I grew up with diversity, so I just see people.

My high school years with my Brazilian cousins had a huge influence on my entire life course — from joining the Peace Corps, to traveling all over the globe, to investing in startups from India to Nigeria to…Brazil.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my Aunt Judy, who, by making me the only white O’Brien in high school, changed the entire course of my life for the better.