Portugal Pelo Mundo Disperso
I would like to thank the coordinators of this book, Teresa Cid, Teresa Alves, Irene Maria F. Blayer, and Francisco Cota Fagundes for giving me the honor of being the first colleague to present in public their momentous book.
Portugal Pelo Mundo Disperso is a unique and extraordinary opus of well over 400 pages. Despite its thematic and linguistic diversity, as well as the breadth of existential experiences it narrates, and the spatial and temporal vastness it covers, there are common threads that weave through the essays, unifying and rendering congruity to the volume as we travel from one text to the next.
The book, which is a collection of peer-reviewed essays, written in Portuguese, by scholars, writers, and poets who participated in the 2008 conference, “Narrating the Portuguese Diaspora,” held at the University of Lisbon in 2008, is divided into four sessions:
1. Opening themes: diaspora, identity, and context
2. Variations: visual arts, music, festivals, and media
3. Literary modulations within and beyond borders
4. Essayistic and poetic echoes
I will attempt, in the short time allowed, to address some of the themes and threads that run through the book’s essays.
The question of Portuguese identity at both a macro and micro level is a common underlying theme in many of the texts. In the first essay of this volume, Helder Macedo brilliantly addresses Portugal’s and Portuguese identity at a macro, collective level and in a context of the past, the present, and the future.
For most of its history, Portuguese identity has been intimately tied to its diasporas. The author writes and I translate:
… Meanwhile, far from there they created and lost three empires: in the East, the Americas and Africa. Others emigrated and, as immigrants contributed to the economic and cultural development of foreign nations. And so, although free from the dubious benefits of the empire, a third of the Portuguese continue to live outside of their country. Many are returning, but many others are going, and, all added to those who left but did not return, this may actually add up to an experience lived by the majority of the Portuguese population. (p.21)
A similar thought is expressed in the book’s second essay, by Jorge Fazenda Lourenço, who begins by making reference to a speech in Guarda, where Jorge de Sena twice uses the expression that inspired the title of this volume, “Portugal disperso,” as a synonym for the word diaspora. Sena ends the speech with the affirmation that «Portugal, como Camões, é a vida pelo mundo em pedaços repartida» ([Sena 2011a: 339], p. 29). [Portugal, like Camões, is life around the world split into pieces.]
Even though in this presentation, I focus on the United States, countries such as France and Brazil also figure prominently within the essays of this volume. Paula Mendes Coelho, for example, provides an excellent analysis of the existential condition of being in exile in Brazil in her essay entitled, and I translate, “From the poor Lusiad and Pessoa’s seafarer to the nomad writing of Maria Gabriela Llansol: fragments of a poetics of exile,” p.45.
The connection to Portugal of those who are dispersed throughout the world and, inversely, Portugal’s relationship with them are underlying threads that run through the book. The integration, or lack thereof, of the Portuguese in the societies where they settled, either as immigrants or exiles, is also a recurrent theme in several of the essays.
Particularly for those residing in the United States, the interaction with mainstream Anglophone intellectual circles may be made problematic in a state of affairs where, as Macedo states, “a peripheral writer cannot be comfortably accepted as paradigmatic within a universal cultural tradition,” (p.24). And, as Macedo explains, both Camões and Shakesppeare, “when speaking of their time and for their time also speak to us and to our time,” (p.24). However, Shakespeare’s perennial modernity is universally recognized while that of Camões is not because of the mere fact that the latter “wrote in a language made peripheral by dislocations of the world’s political and historical power” (p.24) to Anglophone countries.
As described in several essays in this volume, particularly those of section 3, many of the Portuguese writers living in the United States felt deeply isolated and estranged simultaneously from the country where they lived and from Portugal, not to mention the Portuguese American communities. Onésimo, in his essay, cites English scholar David Brookshaw, who referring to José Rodrigues Miguéis states that he was “in exile at home and at home in exile,” p. 216.
This theme of fragmented selves, of selves that have no pátria, no homeland, who are isolated everywhere, who when in America desire to be in Portugal, who when in Portugal miss America (as does Jose Rodrigues Miguéis who misses New York when in Lisbon) who belong “neither here nor there,” is a recurrent refrain in most of the essays contained in section 3 of the book, and also permeates the creative writing and poetry in section 4 of this volume. This is exemplified by Sena’s statement in a letter to a friend, and I translate: “I think, more and more, we are not, my dear, to live there (or here). But in other places remain weeping into the rivers that go” ([Sena 1987: 82], p.30).
A few of the essays address the distinction between the concepts of immigration and exile, as well as the question of whether being forced into exile and entering voluntarily into exile are different existential conditions.
Sena, Miguéis, Lacerda, and several of the other writers analyzed in the book did not consider themselves to be immigrants and neither did they identify with the Portuguese American communities. An immigrant is someone who leaves his homeland in search of a better a life, to build a life for himself. She may gradually integrate into the host society, but she does not lose her homeland in the process. The exiled, as in the case of Jorge de Sena, has built a career and a professional identity in the home country before he is forced to leave. “Ausente, o exilado está essencialmente na terra que deixou.” [“Absent, the exiled is essentially in the land that he left.”] ( [quoted from Eduardo Lourenço 1994: 209‑210], p. 35). And this is also the difference between voluntary and forced exile, as the one who leaves voluntarily, likewise, does not lose her homeland.
As I was reading the essays in the book and was suffering with the writers the existential agony of belonging nowhere and feeling the acute pain of the psycho-dislocation of my own soul in the depths of my inner being, I reached the essay written by Francisco Cota Fagundes about some of Onésimo’s work.
As I was reading Francisco’s essay, it became evident that Onésimo has burst through all of these existential dualities. With Onésimo, and his realist, “empirical,” and outward-looking approach to his life and work, we find the syntheses that may put an end to our painful double and sometimes triple “apratriation” from Portugal, from the wider American society, and from the Portuguese American communities. How does he do this? The vast abyss that separates Portugal from America, the Atlantic Ocean, becomes a river that can be easily crossed. At the other margin of that river, there is another Azorean island, the “tenth island,” to which belong the parts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where the Azorean population is concentrated. And this allows Onésimo, figuratively speaking, to live in the US, the immigrant communities, and Portugal all at once. But travel, a constant
in Onésimo’s life and work, does indeed permit him to live, literally speaking, in both countries at the same time. And that “empirical” travel of his, which is not limited to crossing “that river” several times per year, but encompasses the entire planet, has also allowed him to transcend the Portugal-USA duality, and as Francisco describes, achieve a certain “universalism,” p. 310.
Although section 3 is the largest, other themes are recurrent through the book. Due to the lack of time, I can only list some of them and mention only a few of the authors.
How do emigration and immigrant cultures impact the home society, its culture, and its landscape?
Essays addressing this theme range from that of Gilberta Rocha and Eduardo Ferreira who present a content analysis of how immigration and emigrants have been portrayed in Azorean newspapers for a time period spanning from 1930 to 2000, to the study by Maria Isabel João of monuments dedicated to the immigrant in various Portuguese localities, to Maria Beatriz Rocha Trindades’s analysis of various types of feasts and festivals, including traditional parochial feasts in Portugal and how they are transformed by the annual visits and return of emigrants, the new festivals that have arisen to celebrate the emigrant, as well as those that have emerged in the countries of settlement.
Under this thematic area we also find the dialectical relationship between America and the Azores described in the essay by Anabela Oliveira, “Happy People with Tears,” which analyzes the Television Series produced by Zeca Medeiros, based on a novel by the great writer João de Melo. Images of America ─ made concrete by “luggage, dolls, and sponsorship letters” (p. 207) ─ capture the imagination of young children in the Azores, making departure to the long ago “promised land” an expected future inevitability. For Amelia, one of the film protagonists, “in a constant alternation of images and words, the boats are a fascination and a process of identity construction that defines the novel’s title —‘the ships full of happy people with tears headed in the direction of the Americas of their first dreams’,” (p.204). Not even the hardships of life in America and the linguistic and other difficulties of adaptation to another society erase the childhood images and fascination with America.
The creation of immigrant communities within which Portuguese emigrants replicate and reproduce their ancestral cultures is also a theme approached in several essays, including those by Lelia Nunes, Daniel Ribas, Maria Luísa Leal, Isabelle Simões Marques, the latter focusing on the influence and interference of French in the immigrants’ speech, a process that she distinguishes from the use of “estrangeirismos,” that is, of foreign words in written language.
When we say, immigrant replication and reproduction of culture, as recognized in the essays, it is never just a duplication of the rituals and traditions as they existed before emigration. Immigrant communities do not live in isolation from the wider receiving societies and, as such, immigrant culture is reproduced in a dialectical relationship and tension with the mainstream culture, not to mention that it is conditioned by the socioeconomic status that immigrants could only achieve in their adopted countries.
American sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee redefine the concept of assimilation as a gradual process of blurring, that is, of weakening ethnic boundaries between groups, whereby assimilation can be to some extent a two way process. The implication of Alba and Nee’s theoretical perspective is that there is a triple dialectical relationship between the wider American society, the immigrant communities in the host country, and the communities of origin in the Azores, Madeira, and continental Portugal, whereby they all influence and alter each other to one degree or another.
As time is running out, I would like to reiterate that I fully recommend the reading of this momentous volume, which not only takes us figuratively in a physical voyage around the world, but also allows us to descend into the depths of the psyche and the soul of the Portuguese dispersed throughout the world.
But before closing, I want to commend the beautiful prose and poetry included in session four of this volume, and read to you a poem in an essay by Fernanda Dias that describes her immersion into the arts in her 20 years of living in Macau. It is a poem that exquisitely combines the visual and the poetic arts, by bringing into view some quintessential iconic symbols of Portuguese culture.
Circle, moon, Cronus
Labyrinth, Crystal, Warrior
Figure, Aphrodite illusion
Babel, planet, fatuous- fire
Wall, windmill, village
Anger, tears, stormy morning
Mail, crow, caballero
Linden, memory, dream of spring
Oceans, schooners, ships,
Rivers, appeals, people at the pier
Figures departing … or waiting … or bidding farewell without waving … (p. 399)
(*) Dulce Maria Scott doutorou-se em Sociologia pela Brown University, Providence-Rhode Island. Presentemente é professora na Universidade de Anderson, Indiana-USA. Tem-se dedicado a pesquisas na área da imigração, raça e etnicidade nos Estados Unidos, tendo publicado e apresentado sobre esta temática nos Estados Unidos e na Europa. Dulce Maria Scott integra o Quadro de Directores, Indiana Academy of the Social Sciences, é co-editora de Journal of Indiana Academy of Social Sciences, e de InterDISCIPLINARY Journal of Portugues Diaspora Studies. Dulce Maria Scott é natural de São Miguel, Açores.
Nota: Imagens gentilmente cedidas por Teresa Cid.