Being Canadian born to an Azorean immigrant, I have been fascinated with Portugal and Portuguese identity since I was very young. I was fascinated by the lack of Portuguese-Canadians in my immediate surrounding, considering myself to be very unique amongst my peers. This fascination usually translated into a sense of pride, but it was not until I started university that I truly discovered my Portuguese heritage and began forging a real connection to my Portuguese family, history, and culture.
When I entered into Political Science in 2005 at Brock University, I finally found an avenue to translate my interest in Portugal into academic study, and my research during my Masters focused around citizenship theory and cosmopolitanism. My main interest here (apart from questions of justice) dealt with questions of identity, and identity construction. How do people form national identities and why? I began to ask myself this question over and over again in relation to my Portuguese identity.
In April 2009 I started writing a paper on the Portuguese Diaspora in Canada. This essay focused mainly on the relationship between the Azorean-Portuguese Diaspora and the Canadian community at large. The paper addressed the rates of social/political integration of Portuguese-Canadians in Canada, and I analyzed themes of social isolation and segregation in Portuguese immigrant literature.
I discovered that across each of the pieces of literature analyzed, similar themes were presented that expressed an understanding of a lack of integration within the adopted community. I found that the themes portrayed a ‘typical Portuguese immigrant experience.’ Several traditionally Portuguese cultural practices/norms/values played an important role in this experience. I was very interested in the role that ‘saudade’ played in how Portuguese-Canadians would integrate in the community, and how the feelings of restlessness and longing that ‘saudade’ provokes, led to isolation and segregation from the Canadian community. I then moved to analyzing rates of integration among Portuguese-Canadians through an analysis of several previous studies done by Portuguese scholars, as well as using information gathered from Statistics Canada. The data gathered here gave some validity to the themes expressed in the literature.
This research provided me a second opportunity to academically study my heritage, as I was fortunate enough to present a paper at the Narrating the Portuguese Diaspora (1928-2008): International Conference on Storytelling which took place at the University of Lisbon (October 2008), and was organized by two Azorean academics one from Canada (Brock University), the other from US (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and two professors from the University of Lisbon. This conference was attended by academics worldwide.
My paper was entitled “Portuguese in Canada or Portuguese-Canada?” which explored a similar theme, but through oral narrative histories.
In this paper I attempted to look into my personal history and address Portuguese-Canadian social integration. The paper was based on anecdotes and personal reflection that led me to surmise that there are perceptions within the Portuguese community in Southern-Ontario that they are ‘different’, ‘unique,’ and more Portuguese than Canadian. The ideas that I develop in this first paper were extended into “Portuguese in Canada: Diasporas and Adopted Nations,” an essay that I have just completed and will be submitting for publication.
I am extending my research, both on the Portuguese Diaspora and citizenship theory and cosmopolitanism into my PhD where I will analyze identity construction amongst Azorean-Canadians. My main area of interest here is addressing how Diaspora affects identity construction, and I’m especially interested in the concept of ‘home’ amongst 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants/emigrants. I also plan on addressing identity construction among Canadian-born Portuguese who have immigrated to the Azores.
Robert Maciel is completing his doctoral dissertation in Political Science at University of Western Ontario – Canada. His main research is in liberal political thought and identity politics. Robert’s PhD research is focused on questions of identity construction among Portuguese-Canadians. He has presented papers relating to this topic in Europe(2008) and Canada (2009, 2010). Further doctoral research will include the relationships between the Diaspora community and the Canadian community at large.
P.S. On March 2, 2013, Robert Maciel was awarded a scholarship from the federation of Portuguese Canadian Business and Professionals for his academic achievements.