On The Tip of The Tongue, an Innovative Exploration
of Portuguese Immigration Experiences
experience of Portuguese immigration?
What are the stories, dreams, and impressions that define your sense of
Portuguese identity? Why not share them? Na
Ponta da Língua/On The Tip of The Tongue is waiting to hear from you. It is the virtual platform and hands-on
biographical research project initiated in 2014 by social scientist and
Portuguese migrations specialist Elsa Lechner.
With funding in 2017 by the Gulbenkian Foundation program on Portuguese
Language and Culture, Lechner and her multidisciplinary group of 6 colleagues from France,
Brazil, the United States, and Portugal launched the project’s virtual platform
last September. http://napontadalingua.ces.uc.pt/#p18577
produced by Portuguese students in Brazil, France, and the United States as
well as by Portuguese people living and working outside Portugal. The goal is to cultivate interconnectivity
and deepen knowledge about Portuguese emigration among different Portuguese
communities abroad and in Portugal by looking at personal testimonies, family
memories, and biographical accounts of participants. Anyone who wishes to consult or contribute to
the digital archive ready to collect such experiences is welcomed to do
hands-on workshops in Paris, São Paulo, Newark, Berkeley, San Diego, Fresno, and
Lisbon. The project makes pedagogical use of oral,
written, visual, and performance narratives of participants in Portuguese
language and culture classes, highlighting new self-expressions and creativity.
Center for Social Studies at the University of Coimbra in Portugal where she
began working as an assistant in 2009 before becoming a principal researcher in
2014, following doctoral studies in France.
She received a prestigious Fulbright scholarship in 2013 to study the
Portuguese community in Newark, New Jersey.
Her work is multi-faceted and innovative. "Providing visibility to buried biographies…a
new look at Portuguese immigration narratives" is her self-description that
includes such activities as facilitating community workshops, consulting,
graduate-level master classes, and academic publication. She is deeply influenced by the
groundbreaking work a century ago of William Thomas, the American social scientist.
need to take into account their narratives and lived experiences." Biographical research is her primary tool as
she explores social and digital memory as well as the digital humanities to
know the real immigration experiences of many different people.
Tell Me A
ourselves in the chaos," says Lechner.
"Nearly everyone wants to tell their story. It’s a way for us to become comfortable with
ourselves." The image of Portuguese
immigration is often portrayed with the clichés and prejudices that have
historically accompanied new comers from many countries. "They are caricatures with some sociological
truth." Lechner’s work is deeper and
more personal as she aims at revealing narratives that often surprise the
people who tell them. She does so,
fully-voiced and not just on the tip of
where stories can emerge from memory and even unconscious thoughts." Lechner tells of the example of her
colleague’s enactment exercises with Portuguese students in Paris who improvise
the role of the Portuguese plumber who arrives for a repair job at a Parisian
references that connect them to concrete images of their identity with regards
to Portugal. Stuff comes out." A personal narrative of identity emerges and
people discover ways of belonging that don’t necessarily have to do with what
Lechner calls "artificial images of a public identity without real personal
investment," such as Fado music or the glory of Portugal’s navigation history.
from the burden of the past, a possibility of creation and new
empowerment. There is no need for a flag
or an icon. You can find something
within that allows you to connect." The autobiographical
method allows for participation without obstacles with regards to language, a
non-judgmental place for expression where all differences and languages are
Lechner insists. "It is about getting
people in touch with the multiple versions of themselves where being Portuguese
is important and that is rarely acknowledged.
It is about how people understand the ancestry, language, and culture of
the country in their own way."
using new communication technologies as a key to exploring immigration
narratives, allowing more people to connect and share that information, more
visibility to diversity, and a familiarity with diversity that didn’t exist
before. Fluid and flexible images of
identity are the ideal in developing autobiographical immigration work. This is a novelty in the history of
Portuguese immigration studies.
Migrant Lives Matter
political and religious conflicts, desertification, economic instability, and
other factors, causing human migrations in unprecedented numbers. "Democracies are currently in transition,"
she observes. "The problem is
far-reaching and the current global refugees crisis impacts attitudes towards
immigrants in democratic countries." To
call attention to a problem that resonates throughout Europe and North America,
Lechner has coined the phrase "Migrant Lives Matter," inspired from the recent
"Black Lives Matter" movement. It
underlines her public
stance before the contradictions dominating migration policies worldwide.
argues, noting the ignorance of human rights within democratic countries and
the banalization and necropolitics of migration.
Else Lechner advocates biographical research as "a relational type of work that
creates opportunities for researchers and participants to engage in an empathic
endeavor, a dialogue that has the potential to change the subjectivities of
their different, sometimes asymmetric, subject positions."
rooted in exploring narratives of Portuguese immigration, everyone can connect
to the project, says Elsa Lechner. "The
issues exist wherever you find Portuguese immigrants and immigrants in general,
for example, Turkish people in Germany, Syrians in Sweden or Canada."
beyond words and language. It embraces
the full embodiment of immigrant narratives in all their creative potential and
in doing so stakes a claim for the intelligent, peaceful, and humane
integration of migrant populations. Next
July 23 and 24th, near the end of its one-year plan and with hopes of
continuing the project in the future, Lechner and her Na Ponta da Língua colleagues will organize a conference in Lisbon at the Gulbenkian
Foundation with an open call for papers followed by the publication of a book documenting
the project’s first phase.
collaboration between the Centre for Social Studies at the University of
Coimbra, the Portuguese Studies Program at the University of California
Berkeley, the Portuguese and Spanish Department at Rutgers-Newark University,
the University of Paris-Nanterre Interdisciplinary Research Center on the
Lusophone World (CRILUS), and the Museum of the Person in São Paulo.
Montreal. March 2018