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Saturday, January 29, 2022
Mario de Queiroz
LISBON, Sep 14 2005 (IPS) - The growing influx of immigrants from former Portuguese colonies over the last half century has led to the emergence of a new status in Portugal: that of the eternal foreigner.
The majority of people who fall into this category are so-called second- and third-generation immigrants, which is in itself a misnomer: they did not immigrate from anywhere, but were actually born and raised in Portugal.
They are the children or sometimes even the grandchildren of people who did in fact immigrate to this European nation, primarily from its former colonies in Africa and Asia.
However, because Portugal’s current legislation is based on the principle of “jus sanguinis” (right of blood, in Latin), citizenship is passed down from parents to their children, no matter where these children are born.
As a result, there are people who have lived their entire lives in Portugal, yet are officially considered citizens of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe and East Timor. Others are citizens of India, because they are descendants of immigrants from Goa, Diu and Daman, which were Portuguese possessions until 1961. But most have never even visited those countries.
This same phenomenon is beginning to affect the more recent wave of immigration from Brazil, which began in the late 1980s. There are now 120,000 Brazilians living in Portugal, making them the country’s largest immigrant community today. And the children of these immigrants, even if they are born in Portugal, are nonetheless foreigners.
“My friends say I’m a white black, which means someone who has integrated into white society, but when I’m back in my neighbourhood or with my family, I talk ‘Creole’ (an African-Portuguese dialect), listen to music from Cape Verde, and eat the food from my parents’ homeland,” he told IPS.
Nevertheless, “Cape Verde is like my second home. Portugal is my first. I remember visiting Cape Verde and feeling culture shock, because of the mentality of the people there, the smells and tastes.”
Mendonça said there is a common belief that even if young people like him are born and raised in Portugal, their families transmit African culture to them, “but that isn’t true, because when I went to Cape Verde, it felt very foreign, and I realised that in the end, what most marks a person is where you grow up and go to school, from primary school to university.”
“I speak Portuguese with a Lisbon accent, and that’s why people tell me I’m more Portuguese than African. For a lot of people, speaking with an African accent means speaking a less sophisticated form of Portuguese. But that’s not really true, it’s a question of educational level, of how much you’ve studied,” he added.
But no matter how strongly these second- and third-generation “immigrants” identify with Portuguese culture, those of African descent continue to be viewed as “different” by the Portuguese public.
“They don’t think of us as Portuguese. There is still resentment over the war of independence (1961-1974). Some look at us paternalistically, like the poor little victims of colonisation, and others act like we’re still part of an empire that no longer exists.”
Joacine Moreira, a 23-year-old university student in her final year of a modern history degree, has lived in Lisbon for 16 years. Unlike Mendonça, she was not born in Portugal, and she has decided to go back to Guinea-Bissau.
Of all the former Portuguese possessions and colonies, her own country and Sao Tome and Principe are the most “ethnically pure”, in contrast with the intermixing of races that is especially prevalent in Brazil, Cape Verde and East Timor, and to a lesser extent in Angola and Mozambique.
“The only thing I’m sure of at this moment is that I feel very African, more and more so every day, despite all the years I’ve been away from Africa. Every day I feel a more urgent need to get back to the land of my birth,” said Moreira, one of the top students in her university programme.
She sarcastically noted that she will be following “the ‘advice’ I get from the racists who yell at me on the street, ‘hey blackie, go back to where you came from!’ That’s exactly what I plan to do. As soon as I’ve finished my studies and I have my degree, I’m going.”
Nevertheless, she admits to feeling a certain cultural duality, and can even foresee some difficulties in her professional future as a modern historian.
“I’ve been fortunate to live for so many years surrounded only by Portuguese and then to spend my vacations in a completely African environment. Even though I never felt completely identified with either one side or the other, at least I was able to feel good on both sides,” she remarked.
Sometimes, she confesses, “I’m afraid that when I’m back in my own country, I won’t be viewed as a Guinean. My Portuguese accent is obviously not African, and some people even tell me to ‘speak properly’. Guinean society is extremely traditional, and people can be very critical.”
Consequently, although she is enthusiastic about returning to Africa at the end of next year, she predicts that her reintegration in Guinea-Bissau “is going to be a lot more difficult than my integration in Portugal, because the fact that I’ve lived in Europe, graduated from university and am a woman on top of it will make things a lot more difficult.”
But despite the difficulties she is likely to face in the future, she still considers herself better off than the young people of the so-called second and third generation, because “they never know where they belong.”
“On the one hand, they don’t identify with the country their families came from, with African culture, but on the other hand, even though they live here, they are constantly made to feel that they’re not Portuguese,” noted Moreira.
The category of African-Portuguese “is an illusion on the part of those who are not completely Portuguese. No matter if you are born here and live here for a hundred years, you will never really feel Portuguese,” she maintained.
This view is shared by film director José Fonseca e Costa, a white Portuguese national who was born in Angola. Despite being the son of one of the wealthiest families in this former Portuguese colony, he was an ardent defender of the decolonisation of the old Portuguese empire in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I don’t think that Africans become Lisboans because they live or are born in the Portuguese capital. They continue to be exactly the same as they are in (the Angolan cities of) Luanda or Benguela. They live here like exiles, immigrants, because real integration has not yet taken place, because the racial multiculturalism that you hear so much about has still not become a reality,” he told IPS.
And why not? According to Fonseca e Costa, “because usually those who think about how to resolve this are European heads, white minds, who don’t let Africans take part in the debate.”
“It’s always the whites who want to think for them, in Lisbon and in all the other former colonial powers in Europe,” he concluded.
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