Intersecting Diaspora Boundaries

Portuguese Contexts

by Irene Maria F. Blayer (Volume editor) Dulce Maria Scott (Volume editor)
Monographs X, 341 Pages

Table Of Content

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A successful experience in bringing forth any book project requires a special kind of collaboration from everyone involved, and this publication is no exception. The seeds for this book germinated from a history of collaborative engagement on diaspora research by the editors of this project, a natural progression of our teaching and research interests within a Portuguese substratum. This landscape provides a background upon which the sixteen essays in this volume have been assembled.

Working together as editors of this volume has given us many hours of enjoyable and memorable moments of reading, interacting with those involved with this project, and travelling through spaces, all of which has proved to be supremely productive for a deeper exploration of a field so dear to both of us. A new awareness has grown out of this experience, and we both know that this has cemented our commitment and incentive for further growth into our diasporic journey.

The most difficult task in finishing any project is making sure that all deserving of it receive appropriate recognition. The volume is the result of the collective efforts of its contributors, and we thank them for being willing to share their ideas with us and for their unwavering patience with our many requests throughout the various stages of this project. Our gratitude also goes to the colleagues who served as anonymous peer reviewers. We would like to express our appreciation to the respective institutions we serve—Brock University, Canada, and Anderson University, USA—for the support that provides the broader context for our scholarship. In addition, we acknowledge the funding received from Humanities ← ix | x → Research Institute, Brock University and the office of the Dean of Behavioral Science, Anderson University, which made this publication possible. We would like to recognize the remarkable support we have received from Michelle Salyga, the team at Peter Lang Academic Publishing, as well as Tracia Leacock for her copyediting assistance. We extend our appreciation to Dr. Mário Cabral for the cover design of this book. We must also thank our colleagues for encouraging us when we felt overwhelmed.

A very special thanks is due to our families, in particular our respective husbands, Dr. Ken Smith and Dr. Marvin B. Scott, to whom our debts extend much further past the specific project of this book. To our respective children, Andrew, Alexandre, and Marvin, whose cultural situatedness is also affected by their maternal diasporic experiences, we dedicate this book.

The timing of this publication is significant because it marks the launching of the book series entitled, “Interdisciplinary Studies in Diasporas,” where we hope to provide a space for further exploration into diasporic dialogues. As executive editors, we have decided to inaugurate the series with this publication.

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The ‘Diaspora’



To what extent can the prolifically theorized and ubiquitous concept of diaspora be analytically useful in the understanding of the dispersal of people from Portugal since the 13th century—their travels, economic activities, social formations, hybridity, identity formation, cultural developments, monumentation, literary production, and so on—through processes related to international trade, imperialism, colonialism, and international migration?

As described by Stéphane Dufoix, “diaspora,” a word that for an extended period of time was applied only to scattered religious groups, beginning in the 1970s “underwent an amazing inflation that peaked in the 1990s, by which time it was being applied to most of the world’s peoples” (1). Indeed, the term diaspora is widely used today among scholars, public figures, the media, religious entities, and the lay public. In a world of ever-growing population dispersal and the emergence of new forms of connection to homelands and host countries, scholars from different theoretical perspectives and disciplines within the social sciences and humanities have seized the concept of diaspora, applying it “as a productive frame for reimagining locations, movements, identities, and social formations that have either been overlooked by earlier modes of analysis or, equally important, stand the chance of being flattened by the homogenizing effects of global capital” (Banerjee 1).

The literature on diaspora—not only on the theoretical evolution of the concept and the disparate empirical phenomena to which it has been applied, but also on its widespread practical uses by social, political, and economic entities—is vast. ← 3 | 4 → It is beyond the scope of this Introduction to review this academic paradigm in its entirety. Nevertheless, some theoretical and practical developments within this field of study as well as their applicability to the Portuguese case merit a brief review.

Diaspora is a term that, as stated by Khachig Tölölyan, dates back at least to around 250 BCE as the Jews of Alexandria adopted it in reference to “their own scattering away from the homeland into galut, or collective exile” (“The Contemporary” 648). By the 1930s, diaspora had come to be applied to what Tölölyan and others consider to be the three classical diasporas: the Armenian, Jewish, and Greek, all of which are characterized, at least in part, by a traumatic or forced expulsion from a homeland.1 In the United States, the concept began to be used in a secular fashion, that is, separated from its early religious connotations as well as the Jewish historical experience, in the 1930s and 1940s (Dufoix 18). The expansion in the use of the concept continued both among scholars and the media after the 1960s and 1970s, and has increased rapidly since the mid-1980s (Dufoix 18–20; Sheffer 5). The publication in 1991 of Volume 1 of Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies is seen as an attempt to consolidate the dramatically growing field of diaspora studies. The Journal’s editor, Khachig Tölölyan, writes:

We use ‘diaspora’ provisionally to indicate our belief that the term that once described Jewish, Greek, and Armenian dispersion now shares meanings with a larger semantic domain that includes words like immigrants, expatriate, refugee, guest-worker, exile community, overseas community, ethnic community. (“The Nation-State” 4)

However, in a later publication assessing the state of diaspora studies, Tölölyan expresses concern over the extended use of the diaspora concept which, according to this scholar, came to be applied to “any combination of mobility, scattering beyond a territory of origin, and resettlement elsewhere,” including incongruous cases such as “the dispersion of poor and often black people from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina […] now routinely called ‘the Katrina diaspora’” (“The Contemporary” 648). Tölölyan proceeds in the same article to make several conceptual distinctions, among which, between diaspora and ethnicity. As he emphatically states: “All diasporics are ethnics, but all ethnics are not diasporic,” affirming, thus, that “diasporas are a specific subset of ethnic minorities” (“The Contemporary” 649).

Concerns over the semantic expansion of the diaspora concept, including its application to the study of nonimmigrant populations such as homosexuals (Gamlen 413), have been expressed by various scholars. In a 1993/1996 essay on post-colonialism, Rajagopalan Radhakrishnan warned that the term diaspora could become devoid of a connection to any historical experiences or empirical realities. As he wrote: ← 4 | 5 →

The diaspora, for example, offers exciting possibilities for the intellectual who has always dreamed of pure spaces of thought disjunct from ideological interpellations and identity regimes. The diaspora as the radical non-name of a non-place empowers the intellectual to seek transcendence through exile and an epiphanic escape from the pressures of history. As such, the diaspora holds possibilities of a “virtual theoretical consciousness” […]. (173)

By the 1990s, varying definitions and applications of the concept of diaspora had emerged in multidisciplinary areas of inquiry, and so had a protracted definitional debate among scholars. Presently, the dispute over meaning has abated, and varying definitions and uses of diaspora are accepted, with an understanding that scholars will carefully clarify their use of the concept (Gamlen 414). Diaspora uses and meanings have been sorted out into specific categories. Michele Reis, for example, distinguishes between scholars who “rely heavily on the Jewish experience as a starting point for examining the phenomenon” and those who approach the topic in a “novel” way, comingling it with issues related to transnationalism and globalization (45–46). Steven Vertovec identified three different uses of diaspora in the existing literature: diaspora as a social formation, diaspora as a type of consciousness, and diaspora as a form of cultural production. As a social formation, diaspora involves tripartite relationships between the homelands, the diasporic communities—the latter of which maintain boundaries over time—and the host countries. It also involves a related emergence of specific types of social relationships, a tension of political orientations, and economic strategies of transnational groups (3–5). Diaspora as a type of consciousness refers to a dual and paradoxical state of mind and a malleable sense of identity based on an awareness of “multi- locality” (8). It generally involves experiences of discrimination in receiving countries and a positive identification with a historical heritage. Diaspora as a form of cultural production involves the “production and reproduction of transnational social and cultural phenomena” (emphasis in the original). It is an approach that highlights the fluidity of constructed styles and identities (19).

Dufoix, in turn, distinguishes among scholars for whom the term diaspora can be applied to any form of “displacement and the maintenance of a connection with a real or imagined homeland” and those for whom such broad conceptualizations are a “betrayal of the word’s meaning” (2). Dufoix, additionally, classifies the existing approaches to diaspora studies into three categories: open, categorical, and oxymoronic (21). We review these categories in more detail.

The open definitions, associated with John A. Armstrong and Gabriel Sheffer, among others, extend the concept to any population of people who are in a minority position within another society, but who generally still maintain references to a common point of origin and exhibit as well a common identity and solidarity with their communities and “entire nation.” Classifying what he terms ← 5 | 6 → as “ethno-national diasporas” into historical, modern, and incipient, Sheffer considers most immigrant communities to be diasporic. This includes contemporary Portuguese communities in countries such as France, Canada, the US, and the UK, among others, which Sheffer designates as an incipient (in the making), ethno- national diaspora (106).2 For this scholar, the dispersal from the homeland can be forced or voluntary, and ethno-national diaspora members may aggregately decide to settle permanently in host countries, without entertaining, thus, what has been designated as a “theology of return.” Further, “Among their various activities, members of such diasporas establish trans-state networks that reflect complex relationships among the diasporas, their host countries, their homelands, and international actors” (9–10; emphasis in the original).

Categorical diaspora definitions, in contrast, delimit the boundaries of diaspora and the phenomena to which the concept applies through the creation of closed conceptual models or “ideal-type” typologies, generally based on the Jewish historical experience as the prototype. Dufoix associates this diaspora view with Yves Lacoste, Safran, and Cohen, stating, perhaps exaggeratedly, that the typology criteria “are designed to differentiate between ‘true’ and ‘false’ diasporas” and that “asking whether a given population is or is not a diaspora has become some studies’ primary focus” (22).

Perhaps the most well-known and cited typology is that provided by William Safran in an article published in the first volume of the seminal Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies (1991). Safran advanced that the concept of diaspora applied to expatriate minority communities whose members exhibited six characteristics in common, including:

1) they, or their ancestors, have been dispersed from a specific original “center” to two or more “peripheral,” or foreign, regions; 2) they retain a collective memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland—its physical location, history, and achievements; 3) they believe that they are not—and perhaps cannot be—fully accepted by their host society and therefore feel partly alienated and insulated from it; 4) they regard their ancestral homeland as their true, ideal home and as the place to which they or their descendants would (or should) eventually return—when conditions are appropriate; 5) they believe that they should, collectively, be committed to the maintenance or restoration of their original homeland and to its safety and prosperity; and 6) they continue to relate, personally or vicariously, to that homeland in one way or another, and their ethnocommunal consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by the existence of such a relationship. (83–84)

Later on, Robin Cohen, based on Safran’s and his own insights, offered a nine-item, “ideal-type” typology.3 Cohen also classified diasporas into “victim, labour, imperial, trade, and deterritorialized.” Among the paradigmatic cases analyzed by Cohen, Jews, Africans, Armenians, and Palestinians represent victim diasporas; Indians and Italians labor diasporas; British, French, Spanish, and Portuguese ← 6 | 7 → imperial diasporas; Lebanese and Chinese trade diasporas; and Caribbeans, at home and abroad, deterritorialized diasporas.

In discrepancy with the open and categorical diaspora constructs, oxymoronic definitions are tied to the emergence of post-modernist thought in the 1980s and its influence on the work of scholars within the English cultural studies tradition, among whom Stuart Hall, James Clifford (although he disclaimed the post-modernist label), and Paul Gilroy. Comparing this type of diaspora definition with open and categorical definitions, Dufoix writes: “Where those definitions stress reference to a point of departure and maintenance of an identity in spite of dispersion, postmodern thought instead gives pride of place to paradoxical identity, the noncenter, and hybridity” (24). Hall, for example, in reference to Afro-Caribbean people, writes:

I use this term metaphorically, not literally: diaspora does not refer us to those scattered tribes whose identity can only be secured in relation to some sacred homeland to which they must at all costs return, even if it means pushing other people into the sea. This is the old, imperialising, hegemonizing form of ‘ethnicity.’ […] The diaspora experience as I intend it here is defined not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of ‘identity’ which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity. Diaspora identities are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference. (235)

Paul Gilroy sees in the concept’s history an oppositional coexistence between the notions of “diaspora-dispersion” and “diaspora-identification,” with the first being intent on a return to the homeland or “the end of dispersion,” while the second “is written in living memory” (Dufoix 24). In congruence with the second meaning, the notion of diaspora can, then, be dissociated from ideas of a collective identity tied to a specific homeland or a commitment to a return or a reconstruction of a homeland and encompass complex notions of “the joint presence of the Same and the Other, the local and the global […]” (Dufoix 25).

In a 1994 article, Clifford critiques the centrality given to the homeland in Safran’s diaspora typology. For example, Clifford questions the extent to which a theology of return was part of a collective consciousness among 11th- to 13th- century Jews, spread through the Mediterranean and Indian oceans. As stated by Jonathan Boyarin, in a personal conversation with Clifford, Jews have lived through “multiple experiences of rediasporization, which do not necessarily succeed each other in historical memory but echo back and forth” (305). Thus, for Sephardic Jews, after they were expelled from Spain in 1492, home could be a city in Spain or a place in the Holy Land.

According to Clifford, Safran’s “‘centered’ diaspora model, oriented by continuous cultural connections to a source and by a teleology of ‘return’” would leave out the African-American, British-Caribbean, and some South Asian cultures (306). Clifford then suggests the adoption of a more “polythetic” definition based ← 7 | 8 → on a comparative analysis of diasporas, in which “the transnational connections linking diasporas need not be articulated primarily through a real or symbolic homeland” and in which “Decentered, lateral connections may be as important as those formed around a teleology of origin/return” (306).

Given the current conceptual status of diaspora, can the concept be usefully employed in the study of the dispersion and the settlement of the Portuguese around the world as a result of international trade, imperialism, colonialism, and emigration? Historically, and following Cohen’s diaspora categories, the Portuguese diaspora, starting in the 13th century, has assumed, often concurrently, different forms, including trade, victim, imperial, labor, and “perhaps” deterritorialized. A brief historical detour through Portugal’s history of overseas expansion and emigration movements will show that indeed the different conceptual definitional categories reviewed above (open, categorical, and oxymoronic) as well as the varied academic uses of the term diaspora (as social formation, type of consciousness, and form of cultural production) can be usefully applied, providing rich conceptual tools, through which Portugal’s story—its social, economic, political, scientific, cultural, religious, linguistic, literary, architectural, and artistic travails both at home and abroad—can be interpreted and analyzed.

By the 13th century, the Portuguese were regularly engaged in trade with Northern Europe, in areas such as England, Flanders, Normandy, Britanny, and La Rochelle, as well as with Kingdoms of Iberia, Mediterranean Africa, and the Canary Islands (Diffie and Winius 37 in passim; Studnicki-Gizbert 18). In northern Europe, they established trading posts (feitorias), each consisting of an “extraterritorial commercial community which enjoyed rights and privileges negotiated with the local sovereignty power” (Newitt 20). Newitt designates these developments, albeit small scale, as the beginning of a Portuguese merchant diaspora (20). These long-trend maritime experiences, as well as internal political stability, positioned Portugal ahead of other European countries to engage in overseas expansion in the 15th century, which would lead the Portuguese to “play the chief role in the linking of East-West trade” (Diffie and Winius 22).

The Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in 1419, followed by other cities in Morocco, is said to mark the beginning of a southern orientation for Portuguese trade, which in the 15th century gradually came to encompass the western coast of Africa (Studnicki-Gizbert 18), with the Portuguese reaching the Cape of Good Hope in 1487 (Diffie and Winius 160). After Columbus’s discovery of America in 1492, and the threat of Spanish incursions into territories held—or that could come to be held—by the Portuguese, the Treaty of Tordesillas was negotiated in 1494. Demarcating the Portuguese land claims at 370 leagues west of the islands of Cape Verde, the treaty would later give Portugal claim to Brazil (Diffie and Winius 176). After the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama reached India in 1497, making the first voyage that would connect ← 8 | 9 → by sea the East and the West. In 1500, Pedro Álvares Cabral, while en route to India, reached what would become Brazil, thus tying

together the trade of four continents—Europe, America, Africa, and Asia. The sequence of his voyage was the establishment immediately of a Portuguese seagoing empire from Africa to the farthest East, and slowly of a land empire in Brazil. (Diffie and Winius 194)

The establishment of the Portuguese African and Asian empire in the 15th and 16th centuries assumed the contours of both an imperial and trading diaspora. In some trading posts, the Portuguese presence remained minimal while in others sizeable fortress cities emerged, becoming an integral part of the empire. Writing about Portuguese 15th- and 16th-century trade in Africa and Asia, Thomas Skidmore notes:

Rather than subjugate the indigenous population politically, the Portuguese established a network of trading posts — militarily fortified and minimally staffed — in order to exchange goods with the local population. They negotiated in order to obtain the local products (spices, gold, rare textiles, etc.), which would be produced for export by local labor, with minimal Portuguese involvement. Such trading was established in Africa and Asia in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries […]. (8)

Notwithstanding, while several of Portugal’s trading posts were either abandoned or were eventually lost, several others attained considerable dimensions, remaining a part of the Portuguese empire until the second half of the 20th century. As explained by Newitt, for Portugal’s nobility as well as its military elites, the overseas empire provided socioeconomic opportunities that were lacking within the confines of Portugal; thus, the nobles and military men were more than willing, in service of the Crown, to uproot their lives—and of those in their service—to become part of the migration to the overseas empire (22). Service opportunities could be had throughout the empire, including, in Asia, Goa—which became the capital of the Estado da Índia—East Timor and Flores in eastern Indonesia, Macao in China, as well as additional cities and fortresses reaching all the way to Japan. For many Portuguese soldiers, sailors, servants, religious exiles, convicts sentenced to deportation, and others the move became permanent. In Asia, through the system of casados, soldiers who married either European or Asian women were permitted to settle as civilians in towns that emerged around the trading posts (Diffie and Winius 329; Newitt 32–36). In time, culturally and racially hybrid communities emerged, where Portuguese culture and identities, mixed with local cultures, persisted over the centuries. In some instances, the Portuguese influence reached beyond the city fortresses, as local elites adopted not only Christianity, but also Portuguese customs and forms of dress (Newitt 13–14).

Portugal’s Crown established two different types of institutions to manage its overseas trade and territories. As described by Diffie and Winius: ← 9 | 10 →

The first of these patterns was royal, authoritarian, and commercial; the second emphasized private capital, delegated authority, and agriculture. In the first, the crown itself became a giant mercantile corporation, as along the African coast and in Asia. In the second [captain-donatary system], it became a colonial franchiser which entrusted the management of its assets to others and allowed them the greatest share of the profits, as in the Atlantic islands and later in Brazil. (301)

Additionally, the vast Portuguese empire, spreading from Brazil to China and Japan, came to be held together by a variety of political institutions as well as the binding power of Christianity with its rituals, feasts, courts, regional church councils, missions, brotherhoods, mutual aid societies, Santa Casa da Misericordia, and so on. In the larger cities of the empire, a chartered town council or a Senado da Camara ruled over local affairs. These councils, constituted in the same manner throughout the empire, “more than any other institutions, bound the communities of the Portuguese together into a mutually supporting worldwide community” (Newitt 15).

With the arrival on the world scene of the Dutch and the English in the 17th century, the Portuguese Asian Empire went into decline and the Estado da Índia became fragmented. The Portuguese lost several possessions in Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Asia to the other two European powers as well as to local political entities, eventually retaining control of only Goa, Daman, Diu, East Timor, and Macao (Newitt 91–92, 101). Residents of various cities lost by Portugal spread to other towns, some under Portuguese control and others not, forming communities with varied forms of creoles, dialects, and cultural mixing.4 Over time, only Goa and Macao remained viable economic centers, continuing to receive emigration from Portugal in the next centuries (Newitt 101). Goa, and the other Indian territories under Portuguese control were annexed by India by 1961, and many Goans entered their own diaspora, leaving for Portugal, Macao, the then Portuguese African provinces, as well as other countries, including Australia, constituting perhaps a deterritorialized diaspora. East Timor ceased to be part of Portugal in 1975 when it was invaded and annexed by Indonesia. Upon becoming independent from Indonesia in 1999, East Timor adopted Portuguese as its official language and became a part of the CPLP, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries [Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa]. Macao was returned to the Chinese in 1999, but today it continues to be a destination of Portuguese emigration. Conversely, Portuguese law permits persons who were born in its former Asian territories prior to their “official” separation from Portugal—as well as their children and grandchildren—to register their births in Portugal, and thus restore their Portuguese citizenship (Dias).

After Cabral reached Brazil in 1500, Portugal paid little attention to South America, setting only trading posts (feitorias) there based on the model established earlier in Africa and Asia. Incursions from other European countries forced ← 10 | 11 → the Portuguese to pay more attention to Brazil, leading the Crown to set up the semi-feudal and hereditary captain-donatary (land grants) system it had earlier adopted in the islands of Madeira, the Azores, Cape Verde, and in the Guinea islands (Skidmore 10; Diffie and Winius 316). Between 1533 and 1535, Brazil came to be divided into 15 captaincies (Newitt 108). With the decline of the Asian empire, Brazil became the major source of wealth for Portugal, and, as we shall address below, a prized destination for Portuguese emigration. Economic emigrants were initially attracted by the sugar industry and later on by gold and coffee. With the discovery of gold towards the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, the level of Portuguese migration to Brazil increased to such an extent that the Portuguese Crown felt compelled, although unsuccessfully, to curb the flow of departures from Portugal to the new world (Skidmore 21; Serrão 598). From 1807 to 1821, the Portuguese Crown moved to Rio in Brazil, and this led to a more extensive migration of members of Portugal’s upper classes to the overseas territory. A Portuguese-born and Brazilian-born elite claimed independence from Portugal in 1822, but with continued Portuguese emigration—from the 19th century to the present—and economic interdependence, the two countries have maintained close ties.

After the independence of Brazil in 1822, Portugal began to invest in the colonization of its holdings in Africa, especially Angola and Mozambique, but its economy never again reached the levels of wealth it had enjoyed during its earlier imperial and colonial periods. Despite the existence of assisted passage schemes, it was difficult to attract Portuguese settlers to Africa, as the Americas remained preferred destinations. Until the early 20th century, the Portuguese population remained small, and a creole elite assumed political and economic leadership in the African possessions. Further, the Portuguese government and colonial governors, with access to an ample supply of cheap African labor, were reluctant to encourage low-skilled migration from Portugal. In the first decades of the 20th century, the presence of the Portuguese increased gradually as demobilized soldiers, civil servants, and workers for large companies began to settle, particularly in Angola and Mozambique (Newitt 226). In the 1930s, the Salazar government, under the assumption that increased economic development in the colonies would attract Portuguese settlers, halted the policy of sending convicts to the colonies and brought an end to the schemes for assisted passages to Africa. During WWII, Salazar began to take steps to industrialize the colonies, and this, along with other economic developments, began to attract Portuguese migrants to the African provinces. By the mid-1970s, “there were 324,000 whites in Angola and 190,000 in Mozambique, 35 per cent of whom had been born in Africa” (Newitt 227). By 1975, all African colonies had become independent, and more than 90 percent of the Portuguese had left for Portugal, South Africa, the Americas, and so on. The liberation movements in the two territories were led by creole elites, and independence from Portugal can ← 11 | 12 → be seen as a return of power to those elites (Newitt 228). Nevertheless, the new African countries maintained close social and economic ties to Portugal, and when the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) was created in 1996, Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde, and Guinea-Bissau, along with Brazil, East Timor, and Portugal joined. As a result of the economic crisis in Portugal, the number of Portuguese emigrating to Angola and Mozambique has increased, and, as we shall see below, their numbers there are approaching levels close to those observed before independence.

Joel Serrão claims that Portuguese dispersal cannot be neatly divided into colonialism and emigration. Reflecting on the history and patterns related to Portuguese colonialism, he observes that it is difficult to distinguish between those who left as colonizers or simply as emigrants (598). Serrão points out that the rush of many Portuguese to Brazil, for example during the colony’s 18th-century gold rush, conformed more to patterns of emigration rather than colonization. Most Portuguese did not depart in service of the colonial state, but rather in pursuit of better life opportunities. Correspondingly, in the 20th century, while large numbers of Portuguese emigrated to the Americas (both North and South) and Europe, Portugal continued to pursue colonialism in Africa. Further, emigration from Portugal has involved not only dispersal from the homeland to a single destination, but also secondary movements from one diaspora community to another within the empire as well as to other countries (Newitt 11).5

A first emigration from Portugal was that of Portuguese Jews who by a royal decree issued in December of 1496 had to leave the country or convert to Christianity. The actual date of expulsion was moved to October 1497, and in the interim many Portuguese Jews chose to convert. Yet, as written by Newitt, “Large numbers of Jews took the opportunity to emigrate—forced migrants who resettled initially around the shores of the Mediterranean and subsequently in northern Europe, western Africa and the New World” (12), constituting perhaps a victim diaspora or a victim “rediasporization.” New Christians maintained ties with those who, choosing not to convert, had left continental Portugal, and this permitted a high level of involvement of this population in the Atlantic trade. The Portuguese Inquisition and continued persecutions of Jews who had converted to Christianity, although sporadic, led to a continuation of emigration of New Christians from Portugal. Newitt writes:

The Jewish and ‘New Christian’ diaspora never wholly merged with that of the other stream of Portuguese migrants though the two streams often ran through the same bed, mixing waters along the way to such an extent that in the eyes of many host states no distinction was made between ‘Portuguese’, Jew or New Christian. (12)

Portugal (followed by Spain) recently passed the Jewish Law of Return, granting citizenship to the descendants of Sephardic Jews who had been expelled or persecuted under the Inquisition during the 15th and 16th centuries (JTA; Liphshiz). ← 12 | 13 →

Christian emigration from Portugal, although initially in small numbers, can be said to have begun in the mid-1500s (Serrão 597; Sousa 15). Brazil, under Portuguese colonial rule from 1500 to 1882, was until the mid-20th century the principal destination for the Portuguese, who settled there either as colonizers or emigrants. Concurrent with Christian, Jewish, and New Christian emigration, the massive slave trade, first to Portugal and the islands of Madeira, Azores, and Guinea, and later on to the Americas, gave rise to racially and culturally hybrid communities, especially on the West Coast of Africa and Brazil, with additional mixing with Native American populations in the latter territory. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Brazilian government, in an effort to whiten Brazilian society, encouraged immigration from Europe (Marger 402–03). The largest percentage of immigrants arriving from 1872 to 1909 were from Italy, followed by Portugal, Spain, and to a lesser extent Germany (Skidmore 73). Nineteenth-century Portuguese emigrants from the Azores, but principally from Madeira, to the Caribbean—e.g., to Trinidad and British Guiana—would come in contact and intermix with members of the transatlantic African diaspora and the Asian-Indian diaspora, the latter of whom arrived in the West Indies as indentured laborers.

Joel Serrão recognizes that although the migratory phenomenon in Portugal has been taking place since the 15th century, it is in the second half of the 19th century, after the independence of Brazil (1822), that it assumed quantitatively and qualitatively new parameters (597). Since then, dispersal of the Portuguese from their homeland has been, more than anything else, an international movement of labor (Baganha 962), or a labor diaspora, to use Cohen’s terminology. Portuguese scholars (e.g., Antunes, Arroteia, Baganha, Rovisco, Pires et al., among others) identify two major emigration flows from Portugal: the transoceanic movement (to non-European destinations) and the intra-European movement. The first flow, the transatlantic, remained prevalent until the 1950s, while the intra-European flow became predominant in the 1960s, at which time emigration to European countries came to exceed the movement to the Americas. Baganha sumarizes Portuguese emigration between 1900 and 1988, as such:

[…] entre 1900 e 1988 emigraram de Portugal, aproximadamente, 3,5 milhões de pessoas […] O maior número de saídas registou-se depois de 1950, correspondendo a emigração registada entre 1950 e 1988 a 61% do total verificado ao longo de todo o período. O fluxo migratório foi particularmente intenso entre 1966 e 1973, altura em que se verificaram 48% do total das saídas. […] No total das partidas verificadas até 1960 mais de 80% dirigiram-se para as Américas. […] No cômputo total, entre 1950 e 1988, 59% do fluxo migratório nacional dirigiram-se para a França e para a Alemanha, enquanto 30% se orientaram para o Brasil, os Estados Unidos e o Canadá. (960) ← 13 | 14 →

[[…] between 1900 and 1988 approximately 3.5 million people emigrated from Portugal […] The largest number of departures was recorded after 1950, as 61% of total emigration for this entire period took place between 1950 and 1988. The migratory flow was particularly intense between 1966 and 1973, a period during which 48% of all departures took place. […] Until 1960, 80% of those who departed went to the Americas. […] In total, between 1950 and 1988, 59% of the national migratory flow headed to France and Germany, while 30% were directed to Brazil, the United States and Canada]. (Our translation)

From the 17th century until the mid-20th century, Brazil accounted always for more than 50 percent of the total emigration from Portugal (Baganha; Rovisco). Several other central and South American countries also received smaller numbers of Portuguese immigrants. In addition to Brazil, the United States, starting in the second half of the 19th century, became a major destination for Portuguese emigrants, principally from the islands of the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde. Emigration to the United States declined in the early 1920s due to the enactment of the National Origins Act of 1924 but recovered after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, increasing from 938 in 1950 to 13,111 in 1969 (Antunes 313).

Emigration from Portugal to Canada, Venezuela, Argentina, and South Africa became prominent after the 1950s (Rovisco; Antunes). By 1965, Canada began to surpass Brazil as a country of destination. During the oil crisis of 1973–74, which temporarily reduced movement to Europe, emigration to Australia increased (Rovisco), as did the movement to North America. In recent years, the principal destinations outside of Europe have become nations of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), including, Angola, Mozambique, and Brazil (Pires et al., Emigração 22). Recent Consular registration data (2013), show a total of 115,595 Portuguese registrations in Angola, 24,871 in Mozambique, and 612,203 in Brazil (Pires et al., Portuguese Emigration 58). The 2013 data for the two African countries, when compared to 1997 Consular data of 20,000 registrations in Angola and 13,299 in Mozambique (Arroteia n. pag.), reveal a recent significant increase in emigration from Portugal to these two nations.

It was not until the 1960s, as stated above, that the transoceanic movement was surpassed by the intra-European movement. According to data spanning from 1950 to 1969, provided by Antunes, Portuguese emigration to Brazil declined from a high of 32,159 in 1953 to a low of 2,537 in 1969. Starting in 1962 and until 1969, France became the primary destination of Portuguese immigrants, with an increase from 314 in 1950 to 110,614 in 1969 (313). In Europe, Germany also became a prominent destination for Portuguese immigrants, and later, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain, and the United Kingdom also attracted considerable numbers of Portuguese immigrants. Pires et al. indicate that more than 20 percent of the entire Portuguese population live outside of Portugal, and that Europe is currently the main destination for Portuguese emigrants, receiving ← 14 | 15 → around 85 percent of all new emigrants (Portuguese Emigration 12). In the last few years, due to an economic crisis and subsequent adoption of austerity measures in Portugal, Portuguese emigration grew rapidly, with 110,000 leaving the country between 2013 and 2014, a level of emigration not seen in Portugal since 1973 (Pires et al., Emigração 21). Nowadays, the United Kingdom is the country of preference for Portuguese emigrants, followed by Switzerland (Pires et al., Emigração 21).

The data presented above, however, generally does not account for Luso-descendants born in the countries of destination. Based on 1997 Portuguese Consular data, Arroteia (n. pag.) shows that in Europe, countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, and the United Kingdom boasted both Portuguese-born and Luso-descendant populations (those registered in Portuguese Consulates) ranging from 38,000 to 798,837, with France being, by far, the main host country. Several other European societies had a smaller number of Portuguese residents. In South Africa, the Portuguese population registered with the Consulate amounted to 300,000, and, in addition to Angola and Mozambique, mentioned above, there were smaller numbers in other African countries. In North America, Canada and the United States boasted considerable Luso-American populations, respectively 415,000 and 1,153,351.6 In Central and South America, Brazil had a million, Argentina 16,000, and several other nations had smaller Portuguese populations. In Asia, the Portuguese population was highest in Hong Kong (20,700), and in India (6,000). Finally, in Oceania, the Portuguese of Australia amounted to 55,339.7

As shown in this brief historical overview, the dispersal of the Portuguese from their homeland has been long-standing and far-reaching. It is our claim that the historical and contemporary dispersal of the Portuguese from their homeland—as well as the social formations, political structures, social and economic networks, and cultural productions they engendered—can be fruitfully studied through the lenses of the concept of diaspora in its various definitional categories (Dufoix) as well as uses (Vertovec). Still, and using Tölölyan’s conceptual distinction between diasporas and ethnic groups en route to full assimilation, it is possible to inquire about the extent to which contemporary Portuguese immigrants have conformed to either of these two patterns of ethnicity.

Scholars have distinguished between “emic and etic claims (the participants’ view versus the observers’ view)” (Cohen 5) and have discussed how such “claims map onto the history and social structure of the group concerned” (Tölölyan, “The Contemporary” 648). Portuguese scholars, politicians, the media, and the lay population generally view their immigrant and Luso-descendant communities as part of Portugal and as part of the Portuguese diaspora. Edite Noivo writes: “While theoretical debates on the inclusive-exclusive character of diaspora continue to unfold […], many relocated groups have already appropriated the term ‘diaspora’ ← 15 | 16 → in formulating their own identity discourses” (255). The Portuguese indeed have appropriated the term diaspora in the construction of “new deterritorialized versions of what it means to be Portuguese in a world of expansive transnationalism” (Noivo 255). Likewise, Portuguese and non-Portuguese scholars alike have been increasingly employing the concept of diaspora in studies related to Portuguese history, emigration, and spaces. In 2012, the co-editors of this volume founded the InterDISCIPLINARY Journal of Portuguese Diaspora Studies (IJPDS), dedicated to an academic dialogue centered on themes related to Portuguese diaspora studies. Along with other colleagues, these two scholars have embarked on the organization of a number of large international and interdisciplinary conferences on this subject matter in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013.

To be sure, some Portuguese emigrants and their descendants, since the earlier flows of emigration, have assimilated into their host societies, but many others have endeavored to construct distinct communities which, in many ways, have displayed the characteristics attributed by Sheffer to ethno-national diasporas (see Sheffer Ch. 3). For example, wherever the Portuguese have settled, they have formed a large number of community self-help associations, organizations, groups, churches, and schools, and they have replicated Portuguese culture by instituting several ethno-religious feasts (Holy Ghost, Santo Cristo, Blessed Sacrament, among many others) as well as secular festivals.8 An example of the latter is the Day of Portugal, which was commonly observed among Portuguese immigrants of earlier migration movements, and continues nowadays—renamed as the Day of Portugal, Camões, and the Communities—to be celebrated yearly on or about June 10th across Portuguese immigrant communities and in Portugal. Other indicators can be found in an analysis of American and Portuguese-American newspapers dating back to the 19th century (e.g., Diário de Noticias, from 1919 until the closing of this newspaper in 1973) showing that a “sustained” group consciousness and collective identity has existed among Portuguese Americans since they first began to establish their communities in the 19th century.9 As revealed by articles in Diário de Noticias, such a sense of peoplehood was extended to Portuguese immigrant communities in Brazil and other host nations. Well into the 1970s, Portuguese immigrants commonly referred to their immigrant communities as colónias portuguesas [Portuguese colonies]. After the word “colony” went into disuse in the mid-1970s, terms such as Portuguese or Azorean communities were commonly used by Portuguese Americans and political entities in Portugal and its autonomous regions to refer to immigrant settlements in North America and around the world. In the US, by the early 1990s, the term diaspora began to appear and became increasingly used in Portuguese American ethnic newspapers (e.g., O Jornal and Portuguese Times). ← 16 | 17 →

Roger Waldinger states:

Today, diaspora is not just a category of analysis; it is also a category of practice. That is to say, it is a strategy or a project undertaken by a broad range of actors interested in what the people ready to think of themselves as members of a diaspora might be willing to do. Diasporas are of interest to states seeking to organize emigrants (and their descendants) into a collectivity that can be controlled and from which resources can be extracted, and to emigrants (and their descendants) eager to use the advantages acquired from residence outside the home state in order to gain leverage within the home state. (xii)

The Portuguese national government, as well as the regional government of the Azores, and to some extent the regional government of Madeira, have been in the last few decades actively promoting the emergence of a diaspora consciousness among Portuguese immigrants and Luso-descendants. This has been accomplished through frequent visits by Portuguese national and regional politicians to immigrant communities; the promotion and funding of Portuguese feasts, monuments, museums, and educational institutions; as well as through the creation of transnational organizations and networks intended to connect Portugal and its diaspora communities. Portugal’s 1976 Constitution decreed Portuguese education abroad to be a Constitutional right, mandating the state to provide the necessary means for its implementation, that is, of “Ensuring that emigrants’ children are taught the Portuguese language and enjoy access to Portuguese culture” (Portugal’s Constitution 36).10 Casas de Portugal and da Madeira in some host countries, and Casas dos Açores in a number of Azorean communities abroad provide another form of connecting emigrants and their descendants to the homeland. Additionally, Portugal maintains a system of consular services in the more sizeable diaspora communities, and emigrants and their descendants are permitted to maintain dual citizenship, to vote in Portuguese national elections, as well as elect four officials to the Portuguese Parliament, two by Portuguese citizens within Europe and two by citizens outside of Europe (Abrantes et al.). The Portuguese national government maintains a Portuguese Communities Council created in 1980 to provide advice on emigrant affairs and connect diasporic communities. In 1985, the national government also created a department for overseas Portuguese communities. The regional government of the Azores created the Direcção Regional das Comunidades in 1998, which took the place of a previously existing and more limited Gabinete de Emigração e Apoio às Comunidades. In 2012, the President of Portugal announced the creation of the Conselho da Diáspora Portuguesa [Council of the Portuguese Diaspora], constituted of 300 Portuguese notables, who would be personally invited to serve on the Council’s Board. As described by Sandi Michele de Oliveira, the function of the Council’s members would be “to serve as lobbyists working to improve the country’s image in the world” (61). Additionally, the Council of the Portuguese Diaspora ← 17 | 18 → would be able to “take advantage of the best that Portugal has to offer outside Portugal” (qtd. in Oliveira, 61).

The Portuguese in diasporic communities, in turn, have been very receptive to the homeland’s efforts to promote a Portuguese identity (Portugueseness) and a cultural, social, political, and economic connection to Portugal.11 Likewise, Portugal’s political mobilization of the diaspora on behalf of the homeland has been readily accepted by political leaders in destination countries. For example, Portuguese American politicians—of generations ranging from the first to the third and beyond—have formed Portuguese–American political caucuses at the national and state levels of government, which are open to non-Portuguese elected officials.12 They have often taken it upon themselves to defend and fight for Portugal’s interests and Portuguese causes in the United States, the latest of which has been an intense struggle against the Pentagon’s decision to withdraw from the US air force base located in the Azores.

The attachment to Portugal is also expressed in the form of remittances and fundraising events on behalf of homeland causes, such as geographical disasters, as well as returns and frequent visits. Several scholars have studied the return of emigrants to Portugal (Rocha, Ferreira, and Mendes; Malheiros; Portela and Nobre; Rocha-Trindade, “O Regresso;” among others). The return of Luso-descendants, even though currently abated due to the economic crisis in Portugal, is a topic that recently has generated a great deal of interest among scholars (e.g., Irène dos Santos; João Sardinha; Paula Cristina M. P. Sampaio; among others). Luso- descendants continue to be highly interested in their roots and in maintaining a Portuguese identity, as evidenced by the proliferation of social media sites about Portugal and the Azores that are frequented by Luso-descendants around the world as well as Portuguese in Portugal. In a 2010 online survey, Dulce Maria Scott found that among Luso-descendants in the US and Canada who participated in the study, 88.3 percent of those who were from the one-and-a-half generation (immigrants who arrived before the age of 14), 87 percent of the second generation (children born in the US to immigrant parents), 53.3 percent of the third generation (grandchildren of immigrants), and 26.4 percent of the fourth and beyond generations had visited Portugal.13 Additionally, a large percentage of respondents were interested in things that were Portuguese and kept up with what was going on in Portugal through television, newspapers, and social media. In other questions, a large number of participants revealed a preference for a hybrid identity, indicating that they were proud of being simultaneously American/Canadian and Portuguese.

It is our claim, then, returning to Tölölyan’s conceptual distinction between diasporas and ethnic groups en route to full assimilation, as well as Sheffer’s conceptualization of incipient and mature diasporas, that contemporary Portuguese ethnic communities constitute—or, in some places, are in the process of ← 18 | 19 → constituting themselves into—a diaspora that can be fruitfully studied, along with Portugal’s overseas history, through the use of the varied conceptual tools that have emerged within this academic tradition.

This book is a collection of sixteen original research chapters, providing critical and interdisciplinary means for thinking across diasporic travels within the Portuguese experience and its intersection with other peoples and cultures. The chapters are organized into four sections and represent rich, diverse, and insightful materials that explore sociocultural and identity-forming phenomena within Portuguese diasporic contexts. Following the Introduction, Part Two, entitled “Identity Spaces in Intercultural Crossings,” consisting of six chapters, delves into historical and current diasporic contexts in which members of the Portuguese diaspora have come into contact with members of other diasporas, resulting in cultural and linguistic hybridity, distinct ethnographic landscapes, and “third spaces” (Bhabha “The Third Space” and Location of Culture). Part Two opens with Barry L. Stiefel’s chapter, which addresses the exodus of Sephardic Jews from Portugal after 1500 and questions the extent to which this population has maintained a Portuguese identity over the centuries, a question of particular pertinence nowadays as recently Portugal, and then Spain, passed the Jewish Law of Return (JTA; Liphshiz). In the chapter that follows, Robert Mason examines how Goans who migrated to Australia, after Portugal lost Goa to India in 1961, experience identity and belonging within a changing multicultural paradigm in their host country. In the subsequent chapter, Cielo G. Festino offers a reading of the collection, Inside/Out: New Writings from Goa, by the Goa Writers Group, exploring a sense of place and identity-formation patterns among Goa’s contemporary residents. Jo-Anne S. Ferreira’s chapter studies the remnants of Portuguese culture in Trinidad and Tobago, arguing that over time the Portuguese, mostly from the Madeira Islands, contributed to the construction of a hybrid culture in this region rather than to the preservation of their own culture. In her study in Chapter 6, Smita Das analyzes the literature produced by Portuguese Creole writer, Alfred Mendes, in the early 20th century, and, in particular, his early barrack-yard narratives and the figure of the dougla in Trinidad, in which the characters of various intersecting diasporas intermix, while occupying specific sociocultural spaces determined by a societal hierarchy based on race, skin color, and civilizational ideals. Continuing with the theme of intersecting diaspora boundaries in Portuguese contexts, in the last chapter of this section, Janelle Gondar analyzes literary trends—i.e., the modernist literary movement and how it was influenced by rapidly changing spatial configurations in the city of São Paulo—transposed by members of various European diasporas, particularly the Italian and the Portuguese, which converged in Brazil during the first quarter of the 20th century.

The chapters in Part Three—“The Diasporic Imaginary: Self, Place, Memory, and Textualized Identity”—explore textualized narratives in literature created by ← 19 | 20 → second- and third-generation Portuguese Americans. This section opens with a chapter by Reinaldo Silva addressing ethnic themes, hybridity, multiculturalism, and the tension between the maintenance of an Azorean heritage and the American mainstream in the unique poetic voice of David Oliveira. The next chapter, by Fernanda Luísa Feneja, focuses on the interplay between place and memory, and reflects on the representation of Portuguese culture and identity in Katherine Vaz’s “Lisbon Story,” the last story in the collection, Our Lady of the Artichokes and Other Portuguese-American Stories. In the following chapter, Margarida Vale de Gato analyzes some of the earlier work of Frank X. Gaspar, a poet of Portuguese descent. This chapter “offers a close analysis of the trope of breathing in Frank X. Gaspar’s The Holyoke, in contrast with his later poetry.” This chapter also addresses issues related to the translation of Gaspar’s work into Portuguese. Within the same theme, and closing this section, the chapter by Teresa Alves analyzes the later poetic work of Frank X. Gaspar, Late Rapturous, and how the poet “artfully interweaves the main tradition of American culture with Portuguese ethnic heritage, without falling into the trap of unsettling the balance between both.” According to Alves, Gaspar engages in a kind of spiritual quest, and this is distinct from his earlier poetic expression.

The last cluster of chapters, entitled “Interfacing Literary Dialogues,” Part Four of this volume, takes us to writers who experienced voluntary and involuntary exile or were dislocated in Europe and Asia as a result of war, fascism, and political turmoil. The chapters explore how the writers’ diasporic condition influences their identity and interfaces with their textualized narratives. This section opens with a chapter by Carlos Reis who analyzes how themes embedded in the concept of diaspora—departure, travel, border, identity, difference, otherness, self-awareness, and language—are represented in the writings of early Portuguese writers, including Luís Vaz de Camões, Fernão Mendes Pinto, Eça de Queirós, and António Nobre. In the second chapter, Mario Higa examines how the poetry of Cesário Verde, a 19th-century Portuguese poet, addresses the positioning of a declining imperial nation vis-à-vis its more industrialized neighbors to the North, i.e., England, France, and Germany. The chapter by Dora Nunes Gago explores some of the literary work of a Portuguese writer, Maria Ondina Braga, who writes about exile and the encounter with other cultures and the Other. Maria Ondina Braga taught in Goa and then migrated to Macao, after the 1961 invasion of Goa by India. This section continues with a chapter on the work of Ilse Losa, a German- Jewish refugee, residing in Portugal, who managed to escape the Nazi persecutions, and for whom literature became a way of reconstructing her fragmented existence through writing. In this chapter, Ana Isabel Marques examines how Losa’s translation of Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen, by Anna Seghers, a fellow German-Jewish writer exiled in Mexico, becomes a means of retelling Losa’s ← 20 | 21 → own experiences as a refugee. In the final chapter of this volume, Martine Fernandes Wagner analyzes Manuel da Silva’s O Gaiteiro: Le Joueur de Cornemuse, a memorial eponymous novel, a story of illegal emigration to France in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War. It is the story of the author’s father, a farmer from the northeast of Portugal, who participated in the Maquis movement during WWII. Portuguese illegal migrants played an important, albeit unrecognized role, in the French Resistance of that period.

The thematic content visited throughout the chapters in this volume enhances our understanding of the Portuguese diaspora by opening new lines of inquiry that extend the interdisciplinary scope of research on Portuguese diasporic experiences. These chapters travel through the diversity and dynamism of the Portuguese diaspora while positioning this field of study within a broad research landscape.


1. For a brief description of the Jewish, Greek, and other “historical” diasporas, see Sheffer, 2003, Chapter 2.

2. In some countries, where Portuguese immigration began in the 19th century and has continued into the present, such as the United States and Brazil, the Portuguese communities can be said, using Sheffer’s definition of the concept, to constitute a full-fledged ethno-national, “state-linked” diaspora.

3. For Cohen, who cautions that real diasporas do not—not even the Jewish—conform to the ideal-type, the categorical definition of diaspora is as follows:

1. Dispersal from an original homeland, often traumatically, to two or more foreign regions; 2. alternatively or additionally, the expansion from a homeland in search of work, in pursuit of trade or to further colonial ambitions; 3. a collective memory and myth about the homeland, including its location, history, suffering and achievements; 4. an idealization of the real or imagined ancestral home and a collective commitment to its maintenance, restoration, safety and prosperity, even to its creation; 5. the frequent development of a return movement to the homeland that gains collective approbation even if many in the group are satisfied with only a vicarious relationship or intermittent visits to the homeland; 6. a strong ethnic group consciousness sustained over a long time and based on a sense of distinctiveness, a common history, the transmission of a common cultural and religious heritage and the belief in a common fate; 7. a troubled relationship with host societies, suggesting a lack of acceptance or the possibility that another calamity might befall the group; 8. a sense of empathy and co-responsibility with co-ethnic members in other countries of settlement even where home has become more vestigial; and 9. the possibility of a distinctive creative, enriching life in host countries with a tolerance for pluralism. (17)

4. See, for example, Stephan Halikoswki-Smith’s description of the Portuguese of Ayutthaya.

5. See, for example, Halikowski Smith’s chapter on “Seventeenth Century Population Movements in the Portuguese Indies.” ← 21 | 22 →

6. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are approximately 1,385,999 people of Portuguese ancestry residing in the US. The Portuguese in America have come to be considered “an established immigrant group” by the US Census Bureau. This assessment is based on data, such as the 2011–2013 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates, which indicate that 81.9 percent of the Portuguese born outside of the United States arrived before the year 2000, while 14.6 percent came between 2000 and 2009, and 3.5 percent entered in 2010 or later. The percentages for the entire foreign-born population of the United States were respectively 62.6 percent entering before 2000, 30.3 percent between 2000 and 2009, and 7.1 percent in 2010 or later. For an analysis of demographic and socioeconomic aspects of Portuguese immigration and integration in the United States, see Scott, “Portuguese Americans’ Acculturation.”

7. More recent Consular data can be found in Pires et al., Portuguese Emigration Factbook 2014; and Pires et al., Emigração Portuguesa: Relatório Estatístico 2015.

8. For an overview of Portuguese immigrant associations throughout the world, see Rocha-Trindade (“Associativismo”).

9. Portuguese-American group consciousness and sense of connectedness to the homeland as well as other Portuguese diasporic communities (e.g., in Brazil) might have been reinforced by constructions of race in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in an America that viewed people of different national origins as belonging to distinct races.

10. This right has been implemented through the Institute of Camões, which employs a large number of mobile teachers who ply their trade, sometimes moving from one community to another.

11. For a description of Portuguese American businesses with connections to Portugal, see Carolina Marçalo and João Peixoto.

12. For the membership of the Portuguese-American Caucus of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, when it was created in 2005, see Scott and Fraley (9 and fn. 3).

13. Due to geographical proximity, visits from immigrants and Luso-descendants in European countries are even more frequent.


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Scott, Dulce Maria. “Portuguese Americans’ Acculturation, Socioeconomic Integration, and Amalgamation: How Far Have They Advanced?” Sociologia, Problemas e Práticas 61 (2009): 41–64. Print.

———. “Structural Integration and Selective Acculturation: Luso-Descendants in America.” Academia.edu (2010). Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Scott, Dulce Maria, and Marie Ray Fraley. “How Did They Do It? A Structural Analysis of Portuguese American Political Incorporation in Rhode Island.” Gávea-Brown 36 (2014): 7–47. Print. ← 24 | 25 →

Serrão, Joel. “Conspecto Histórico da Emigração Portuguesa.” Análise Social 18 (1970): 597–617. Print.

Sheffer, Gabriel. “A Collective Portrait of Contemporary Diasporas.” Chapter 3. Diaspora Politics: At Home Abroad. By Gabriel Sheffer. West Nyack, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 65–98. Print.

———. Diaspora Politics: At Home Abroad. West Nyack, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Skidmore, Thomas E. Brazil: Five Centuries of Change. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Sousa, Fernando de. A Emigração Portuguesa para o Brasil e as Origens da Agência Abreu (1840). Porto, PT: Fronteira do Caos Editores e CEPESE, 2008. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.

Studnicki-Gizbert, Daviken. Nation upon the Ocean Sea: Portugal’s Atlantic Diaspora and the Crisis of the Spanish Empire, 1492–1640. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

Tölölyan, Khachig. “The Contemporary Discourse of Diaspora Studies.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27.3 (2007): 647–55. Print.

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United States Census Bureau / American FactFinder. “Selected Population Tables.” 2011–2013 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

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Waldinger, Roger. “Foreword.” Diasporas. By Stéphane Dufoix. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. xi–xvii. Print. ← 25 | 26 →

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Identity Spaces in Intercultural Crossings


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The Evolution OF Portuguese Identity IN THE Post-Fifteenth-Century Jewish Diaspora



What was the state of Portuguese identity amongst Jews after 1500? This is especially significant when we consider that Jews were expelled or forced to convert to Catholicism across Iberia over the course of the previous decade. Since Spain’s expulsion edict occurred first, in 1492, many Jews moved to Portugal, only to encounter another expulsion edict less than five years later. This was subsequently changed into a compulsory conversion edict, both exposing and entrapping many Spanish Jews to Portuguese culture and language. Wherever expatriate Iberian Jews found refuge off the peninsula, those of Portuguese and Spanish extraction often lived side-by-side in organized communities. So, there has been cross- pollination between the two demographic origins, causing a blurring of identities. Additionally, more than five centuries have passed since the cataclysmic event for Portuguese Jews, creating multiple manifestations of Portuguese identity in diaspora form that must be considered. Thus the premise of this chapter is to what extent was Portuguese culture and language the identity of Jews in the post- fifteenth-century diaspora? Furthermore, considering the contemporary diasporic nature of Lusophone culture outside of Iberia—spread across the mid-Atlantic islands, parts of South America, Africa, Asia, as well as expatriate communities beyond the Lusophone world—are there other manifestations of Portuguese identity amongst Jews that should be considered? Are Portuguese Jews necessarily all Sephardic—that is Jews who identify with an ancestral heritage originating ← 29 | 30 → from the Iberian Peninsula? It is through this lens that a better appreciation of Portuguese identity can be obtained.

Lastly, this study will focus on Portuguese Jews who were able to practice normative Judaism, regardless of whether they chose to or not. The experience and identity of post-fifteenth-century Portuguese crypto-Jews is beyond the scope of this research, and could be found throughout much of the early modern Lusophone world (Gitlitz). Assessing those who lived centuries ago who purposely chose not to document their true identity is wrought with difficulties. Nonetheless, Portuguese crypto-Jews who sought out new lands where normative Judaism was permitted are touched upon.


As previously mentioned, during the 1490s the crowns of Aragon, Castile, Portugal, and Navarre forbade the observance of Judaism within their realms. Provence also followed suit in 1500 with its own expulsion, after becoming part of France, resulting in the entirety of southwestern Europe nearly void of Judaism. In the early 1490s all, except Portugal, expelled their Jews, though they had the option to remain if they converted to Catholicism. Many from the kingdoms that became the modern state of Spain, and where the first dominions of expulsion fell in 1492, chose to leave these kingdoms with their ancestral faith. Since it was an adjacent kingdom, Portugal became a popular destination for Spanish Jewry until King Manuel (1469–1521) also decreed expulsion for 1497. Exact numbers are difficult to determine, but the number of Jews who fled to Portugal was in the tens of thousands, with some estimates as high as 120,000 (Rozen 47).

Portugal’s expulsion decree came due to pressure from the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand (1452–1516) and Isabella (1451–1504), as part of their demands for Manuel’s sought-after nuptials with their daughter, Princess Isabel (1470–98). Observing how many of his Jewish subjects chose expulsion over voluntary conversion—even after recently arriving from Spain—Manuel rescinded the expulsion edict, replacing it with one of compulsory conversion without the option of fleeing the country. In order to soften the blow, Manuel decreed that no converted Jews, now New Christians, would be scrutinized in matters of faith for a twenty- year period. The Portuguese Inquisition would not be established until 1536. Thus, a public façade of Catholicism was all that was required, which enabled the development of a highly secretive crypto-Jewish culture in Portugal, which later spread to the New World. Portuguese Jewry, with its former Spanish refugees, developed into a slightly different demographic category than their co-religionists ← 30 | 31 → who had remained in Spain and had chosen conversion, as well as those who had left Iberia altogether for other lands.

Even though a Portuguese identity within the Sephardic Jewish sub-diaspora emerged, Portuguese Jews were tied in many ways to their Spanish cousins. Later, in the sixteenth century, New Christians eventually gained the opportunity to leave Portugal for intermittent periods of time. For instance, Portuguese borders became more fluid under the Habsburg monarchs, who reigned between 1581 and 1640. Portugal was part of the same geopolitical polity as Spain, southern Italy, the Spanish Netherlands, and the American viceroyalties. Many who had held steadfastly to their former Jewish heritage as crypto-Jews sought refuge in lands of tolerance where they could return to the religion of their forefathers. Thus, did the post-fifteenth-century Sephardic diaspora acquire multiple layers of Portuguese identity, mixed with various levels of Judaism and Catholicism. This included families who had always resided in Portugal and those who sojourned in Portugal but with Spanish origins. Amongst both groups were those who departed Iberia prior to the change of the expulsion edict to compulsory conversion, and those who left later. Circa 1536 serves as a demarcator for those who chose to reside in Portugal with a hostile Inquisition that aggressively persecuted New Christians (Rozen 49). Progressing past the mid-fifteenth century, beyond the initial generation that experienced the Iberian expulsions, matters become more complex as Sephardic Jews with these various backgrounds intermarried. Lastly, there were New Christians who remained indefinitely within Portugal and her empire as crypto-Jews and sincere Catholics, until the ban on Judaism was lifted in the nineteenth century.

Two examples of the fluidity of Jewish identity between Portugal and Castile during this period, as well as slightly earlier, are Dom Isaac Abrabanel (1437–1508) and Doña Gracia Nasi Mendes (1510–69). Abrabanel, a successful rabbi, statesmen, philosopher, and court financier, was born in Lisbon, the descendant of Jews who came to that city after fleeing Castile’s massacre of Jews in 1391. Due to his abilities, Portugal’s King Alfonso V (1432–81) appointed him as treasurer. Following Alfonso V’s death, Abrabanel fled to Castile in 1483 after having been accused by the successor, King Joao II (1455–95), of colluding with Dom Fernando II (1430–83), Duke of Braganza, who was executed for treason. In Castile, Abrabanel entered the service of Queen Isabella of Castile, farming tax revenues and lending money to fund the army in its final offensive on Grenada, concluding Spain’s Reconquista in 1492. From Grenada’s recently captured royal palace, the Alhambra, the Spanish monarchs proclaimed the infamous decree that expelled the Jews from their lands. Abrabanel attempted in vain to persuade Ferdinand and Isabella to rescind the edict, but to no avail. Having to flee once again, Abrabanel sought refuge in Italy, settling in Venice in 1503. There, amongst other activities, ← 31 | 32 → he negotiated a commercial treaty between the Venetian Republic and Portugal (Netanyahu).

Doña Gracia Nasi Mendes was born in Lisbon, descended from Aragonese Jews who came to Portugal due to the Alhambra Decree. Five years later they were among those forcibly converted to Catholicism by Manuel, though they continued to observe Judaism as best they could as crypto-Jews. Gracia married a wealthy spice merchant and banker, Francisco Mendes Benveniste (c.1500–36), and they had a daughter, Ana. Shortly after Gracia’s widowhood in 1538, the family moved to Antwerp, where they had a branch office of their bank. This move was in reaction to the newly established Portuguese Inquisition, which they had lobbied against. From Antwerp, Gracia established an escape network for persecuted New Christians in Portugal and Spain, which she and her family eventually used. Portugal’s Inquisition was also now in full force, in addition to Spain’s. The Nasi Mendes family later relocated from Antwerp to Venice, then on to Ferrara, before settling in Istanbul. In the Ottoman Empire Gracia used her wealth to patronize Jewish schools, synagogues, and protect Iberian Jews and New Christians (Brooks).

Thus we see Abrabanel and Gracia as descendants of Spanish Jews in Portugal, interacting and identifying with Jews from both sides of the Portuguese- Castilian frontier, and under the umbrella identity of their Mosaic faith. At this time, the Jewish aspect of their identity trumped the Portuguese half, and reasonably so, when one considers the betrayal many Jewish Iberians felt in the immediate aftermath of their expulsion.


The majority of Sephardic communities established in the early sixteenth-century expulsion chaos were scattered across the Mediterranean; primarily the Ottoman Empire, Morocco, and the northern coastal states of the Italian peninsula. Since Aragon also ruled Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia, southern Italian Jews were expelled as well. England, the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe known for tolerance during the early modern period became places of refuge later. Within the northern coastal Italian states and Morocco the Sephardic communities were dominated by the Spanish exiles due to the circumstances just explained. In Venice, Rome, and other Italian cities, Spanish dialects and a heterogeneous Ladino heritage, combining Hispanic and Luso together with Hebrew, was prevalent. Aspects of Italian culture were also gradually adopted. So great was the number of Spanish exiles in Rome that within its ghetto, founded in 1555, two separate Spanish congregations ← 32 | 33 → existed, one Castilian and the other Catalan. Jewish Portuguese exiles in Rome had to decide between one of these congregations since the other three were Italian (a limit of five was permitted by the Pope).

The case of Iberian Jews in Morocco was similar to that of Italy, but they assimilated better into North African Jewish society due to the recent experience of living under the Moors. The first occupants in the Fez Jewish quarter in Morocco, or mellah, during the early fifteenth century, were Berber Jews, but many were killed in the riot of 1465.1 Circa 1500, due to the expulsion edicts, Iberian Jewish refugees settled in the mellah, forming a majority in the sixteenth century. Eventually the two groups—Sephardic and Berber Jews—fused together, becoming homogeneous, with Arabic as the common language (Miller, Petruccioli, and Bertagnin 310–27).

The composition of Jewish congregations on the Italian peninsula and in Morocco in regards to their cultural roots, at least during the sixteenth century, should be seen as a reflection of where exiles found refuge. It is normal for immigrants from common places of origin to settle near one another, such as by ancestral towns or regions. Until the mid-sixteenth century, Sephardim who identified with one of the kingdoms that comprised Spain dominated the sub-diaspora. This slowly shifted after 1536 with the stream of exiles that fled the newly established Portuguese Inquisition, such as Doña Gracia Nasi Mendes and those she assisted out of Iberia; but the Spanish forerunners had set the precedent for Jewish culture in the Mediterranean. Nonetheless, expanding our search (Rozen), some Portuguese Jews did form their own communities on the eastern Mediterranean, most notably in Istanbul.

Istanbul’s Jewish population mushroomed due to the Iberian refugees. As of 1477, the city’s Jews numbered 11,530, most of whom were immigrants from the Balkans and Central Europe. There were also a small number of expatriate Iberian Jews already residing there, including their spiritual leader Rabbi Ḥanokh Saporta of Catalonia (Rozen 259). Sultan Bayezid II (1447–1512) welcomed the Jews from Iberia, declaring the Catholic monarchs fools for impoverishing their country of the Jews’ economic usefulness while enriching his own Ottoman empire at the same time. By the 1560s, there were a dozen or so Sephardic congregations within the city, including ones specifically named Portugal and Lisbon (Rozen 64, 81). This is in addition to 47 other Jewish congregations, which were mostly organized around places of origin. At this time, Istanbul’s Jewish population exceeded 56,000, and would grow to 68,000 during the seventeenth century (Shaw 38). With the exception of Ottoman Palestine, the Sephardic refugees remained largely urban until the fall of the empire in the early twentieth century. For example, in Salonika during the seventeenth century, Jews comprised more than half of this city’s population, in excess of 30,000. Many Salonikian Jews had Iberian ancestry and congregations existed with the names of Lisbon Yashan ← 33 | 34 → (Old Lisbon), Lisbon Chadash (New Lisbon), Portugal, and Évora (Ben-Naeh 72–77; Molho 67).


Circa 1600 the Sephardic sub-diaspora was primarily distributed across the Mediterranean, with New Christians—some of whom were crypto-Jews—remaining in Iberia, with a growing number in the American viceroyalties. Other New Christians, who would become significant later, also ventured into the Netherlands when it became part of the Habsburg Empire, which included Flanders. France’s King Henry II (1519–59) also permitted a small number of Portuguese New Christians to settle in Bordeaux during the mid-sixteenth century. Thus, the sphere for where Jews with Portuguese origins could reside steadily grew over the course of the sixteenth century. Antwerp was a popular destination for Portuguese New Christians due to their mercantile connections, until 1585, when Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, captured the city during the Dutch Revolt (1568–1648). Since Antwerp was part of the Spanish Netherlands, Judaism was outlawed, as in Iberia. However, the Inquisition here was more concerned with Calvinist heresy than relapsing Portuguese crypto-Jews, who at least maintained a Catholic façade (Peters 153).

After Antwerp fell to the Duke of Parma, the city’s fortunes declined, as Protestant burghers sought freedom of conscience in Amsterdam. The port city on the Amstel soon waxed in economic importance, and Portuguese crypto-Jews discreetly made their way here, posing with a Protestant veneer instead. Not long into the seventeenth century, the Dutch authorities discovered the secret community of crypto-Jews. At first they were unsure what to do with the Jews due to suspicion that they were practicing Catholicism, then forbidden in Amsterdam. After a brief inquiry and deliberation, the Dutch authorities concurred with the Jews’ claims that they were not Catholic. However, the Dutch Reformed Church still wanted them expelled. The Jews appealed their case to the civil authorities, emphasizing the economic benefits to Amsterdam if Jews were permitted to settle in the city (Nahon 59–78; Belinfante 11–33).

Experts in law and Calvinism were consulted, including Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) and Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540–1609). They argued that not only could the Jews be beneficial for economic reasons but also for Protestant scholarship in order to learn from them—for no one else knew the Old Testament in its original language better (Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 258). Indeed, Grotius claimed that not only should Jews be permitted in Amsterdam but also allowed to practice Judaism freely. This was on the condition, however, ← 34 | 35 → that the Jews did not cause a threat to the Dutch Republic or Reformed Church (Kuhn 173–80). The civil authorities agreed and permitted the small group of Jews to remain. Henceforth, they no longer had to hide their religious identity (Huussen 25–41). Jewish settlement soon spread to other Dutch cities and towns with the permission of the local authorities. By 1620, three Sephardic congregations called Amsterdam home, Beth Jacob (House of Jacob, 1604), Neve Shalom (Abode of Peace, 1608), and Beth Israel (House of Israel, 1618). Ashkenazic congregations—Jews from Central and Eastern Europe—were also established after 1630, and their population soon outnumbered the Sephardim. In order to maintain some hegemony—since the average Sephardi was of higher economic standing than their Ashkenazi co-religionist during this period—the three Sephardic congregations amalgamated into the Talmud Torah (Study of the Torah) between 1636 and 1639, also known as the Portuguese Synagogue (see Fig. 1 and Fig. 2).

The Sephardim who had formerly been Iberian crypto-Jews and made Amsterdam their home made a full return to normative Judaism. Though coming from both Spain and Portugal, those who culturally and linguistically identified with Portuguese predominated; though of course, many had complicated patrimonies that also had a Spanish component. Knowing the hearts of well more than a thousand Jews in 1640 and their feelings towards Portuguese identity is difficult. However, assessing the values of their leaders as a reflection provides some insights (Bremer 111).2

The first rabbi to serve Amsterdam’s Portuguese Jews was Uri ben Joseph Halevi. He was an Ashkenazi from Emden, now in Friesland, and was recruited to serve Amsterdam’s Jews when they still had to be clandestine during the late sixteenth century. Since Halevi had always been observant of normative Judaism, he was the first to reintroduce the faith to those Portuguese who had been crypto. Overlapping and following Halevi, during the early seventeenth century, were rabbis Isaac Uziel (d.1622) of Fez, Joseph Pardo (d.1619) of Salonika, and Saul Levi Morteira (1595–1660) of Venice, as the number of Sephardic congregations increased from one to three. We also see that after reacquainting themselves with normative Judaism in Amsterdam, the Portuguese Jews quickly turned to their Mediterranean heritage for guidance in ritual matters instead of their Central European brethren, the patrimony of Halevi. However, it is the next cadre of rabbis at the time of the congregational unification that created the Talmud Torah that shall be focused on: Saul Levi Morteira, David Pardo, Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (1605–93), and Menasseh ben Israel (1604–57). There were also Moses Raphael d’Aguilar, Jacob Sasportas (1610–98), and Solomon de Oliveira, but they would not rise to leadership until after these four just mentioned. ← 35 | 36 →

Saul Levi Morteira rose to the position of chief rabbi of Amsterdam’s Sephardic Jewish community at the time of the merger. However, Morteira was not of Sephardic origin, but from the Venetian Ashkenazic community (Nadler 16). As a youth, he likely attended the Scuola Grande Tedesca (Great German Synagogue), changing to Sephardic traditions after taking his first pulpit appointment in Amsterdam during the 1610s. It should be noted that Venice’s umbrella Sephardic communal organization, like the one in Amsterdam, was called Talmud Torah (Davis and Ravid 23). While on the surface Morteira appears to be a Central European Italian Jew in Iberian clothing, over the course of his career he had become thoroughly acculturated to Amsterdam’s “Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation,” or La Nación, as his flock called themselves. For instance, Morteira wrote and published in a variety of languages, but most prolifically in Portuguese, including some 550 sermons and his magnum opus, Tratado da Verdade da lei de Moisés. Only later was his opus translated into Spanish (Saperstein 113–33).

In contrast to Morteira, Rabbi David Pardo was from Salonika’s Sephardic community, coming to Amsterdam as a youth when the Portuguese Jews called his father, Joseph Pardo, to the city for a rabbinic position (c.1600). Prior to Amsterdam, Joseph Pardo had also served as a rabbi in Venice. He was instrumental in reintroducing Sephardic customs amongst Amsterdam’s Jews since his predecessor, Halevi, was Ashkenazi. Like Venice, Salonika’s Sephardic Jews had an organization called Talmud Torah Hagadol (Nadler 117; Adler et. al. 524–25). Thus there was continuity regarding the names of Sephardic communal institutions that the son, David Pardo, also participated in, passing on the traditions acquired from the Mediterranean. Salonika’s Talmud Torah’s bylaws, called hascamoth, were very similar to Amsterdam’s Talmud Torah, with both communities having the near-same 42 regulations.

Lastly, there were the rabbis Isaac Aboab da Fonseca and Menasseh ben Israel (see Fig. 3), both born as New Christians in Portugal and the Madeira Islands, respectively, coming to Amsterdam with their families in their youths. In Amsterdam they studied under Isaac Uziel. During the late 1630s and 1640s, da Fonseca served as the first rabbi in the Americas, presiding in Dutch Pernambuco, where he transplanted the Portuguese-Jewish doctrines of Amsterdam. For instance, the Portuguese-written hascamoth for Zur Israel (Rock of Israel) congregation in Recife was nearly identical to Amsterdam’s, previously copied from Salonika (Wiznitzer 217–27). With the Portuguese reconquest of Pernambuco, da Fonseca returned to Amsterdam where he succeeded Morteira as chief Sephardic rabbi in 1660. Ben Israel founded the first Jewish printing press in the Netherlands, in 1627, where he primarily published in Hebrew and Spanish. It is odd that this rabbi of Madeiran origin did not publish largely in Portuguese, ← 36 | 37 → but this paradox reflects the complexities of the Sephardic sub-diaspora 130 some years after the calamitous events in Iberia. Ben Israel was also instrumental in negotiating the readmission of Jews into England and her empire with the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658), after having been expelled from this realm in 1290 (Goldish 9–19).


Fig. 1. The Talmud Torah, or Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam, built 1671–75. Credits: William A. Rosenthall Collection, Special Collections, College of Charleston. Reprinted by permission.

According to Miriam Bodian’s eminent research, Portuguese was the native language for the majority of Sephardic Jews within the sub-diaspora outside of the Mediterranean, based in Amsterdam. This entailed communal records, sermons, daily conversation, etc. For example, on the one hand, Amsterdam’s Talmud Torah hascamoth were copied in Dutch Recife, London, as well as other colonial congregations in the New World. Spanish, on the other hand, continued as a language of literary expression. Thus most Sephardic literary works produced in the Netherlands were in Spanish. This includes bilingual texts with Hebrew, such as Bibles and prayer books. Portuguese was used, but for less sophisticated publications (Bodian 92). This explains the discrepancies of why Morteira’s writings were so prolifically in Portuguese and ben Israel’s in Spanish, despite their origins. In other words, multilingualism was a hallmark of Portuguese Jews in their diaspora. ← 37 | 38 → Hebrew for purposes of worship, as well as Dutch and English—depending on the locality—were also important languages for commerce and communication with non-Jewish neighbors and colleagues.

It is from the formative roots in the Dutch Republic during the first half of the seventeenth century that early modern Portuguese Jewish life, culture, and identity came into being. Sephardic Jews would follow the pattern set by Amsterdam’s Talmud Torah across the Netherlands and England, as well as colonies scattered from Dutch Recife to New York to Gibraltar, for the next two centuries. Add to this Portuguese Jewish Atlantic World outposts that were eventually permitted in Hamburg (1628), Denmark (1682), France (1723), and the latter two’s respective Caribbean colonies, St. Thomas and Cayenne (Stiefel).


Fig. 2. The Jewish festival of Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles) at the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam. Credit: William A. Rosenthall Collection, Special Collections, College of Charleston. Reprinted by permission. ← 38 | 39 →


Fig. 3. The Maderian-born Menasseh ben Israel (1604–57). One of the significant rabbis in forming Sephardic Jewish culture in the early modern Atlantic world. Credit: William A. Rosenthall Collection, Special Collections, College of Charleston. Reprinted by permission. ← 39 | 40 →

Being a member of these expatriate Portuguese Jewish communities—which were introverted in respect to membership—came with benefits, including access to a trans-Atlantic economic and social network reinforced by ties of kith, kin, and culture. During this period, Atlantic World Jews were fundamentally involved in the sugarcane trade as well as the transoceanic transport and selling of goods between the new and old worlds. So important was Portuguese identity in this respect that (nearly) all Jews within the Atlantic World desired to be part of this distinct heritage for economic reasons. Indeed, by the mid-eighteenth century, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe outnumbered Sephardim in colonial North America but they deferred to their Portuguese brethren in matters of religion and tradition so as to also benefit from their vast trade network. For example, add to the Sephardic sub-diaspora congregation Shearith Israel (Remnant of Israel) of Montreal, which also goes by the name “Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.” Formally incorporated in 1768, the founding members were almost entirely Ashkenazim and knew little about Iberian culture or language. The bylaws from Amsterdam, transferred via London, were reproduced in English. Today, Jews from North Africa and the Middle East have replaced the congregation’s founding Ashkenazim, but the same Iberian customs remain (Eidelman 71–83). Non-Jews were also aware of this ethnic Sephardic commercial network. From 1780 are found death notices in English and French North American newspapers of the preeminent merchant Abraham Gradis (1700–80) of Boudreaux, the “Portugueze Jew [sic]” (American Journal 1), or “Juif Portugais” (“De Paris” 2).


Feelings amongst Amsterdam’s Portuguese Jews about Portugal, and elsewhere where Judaism was permitted, were not entirely negative, despite those who lost loved ones to the Inquisition, nearly escaped arrest, or confiscation of property. Likewise, Portugal did not completely reject everything associated with Jews. Already mentioned was Abrabanel’s involvement in establishing a commercial treaty between Portugal and the Republic of Venice. Portuguese explorers, including Vasco da Gama (c.1460–1524), engaged the assistance of Jews in their early endeavors in India (Couto). However, the most significant instance was in 1641, when David Curiel, a merchant of Amsterdam, assisted the Portuguese Ambassador in obtaining a 100,000 cruzados contract in weaponry, siege equipment, and naval supplies for King Joao IV (1603–56) so that he could maintain Portugal’s independence from Spain. This armament acquisition was likely the largest single ← 40 | 41 → purchase made by Joao IV. David Curiel’s brother, Jacob, and Jacob’s son Moses, also assisted Joao IV with Portugal’s commercial interests in the Netherlands and Hamburg. Due to their loyal service to the Portuguese king, they were made cavaleiros fidalgos—noble knights! Though they were Jewish and resided abroad, the Curiel family considered themselves Portuguese despite the fact that in 1609–11 they were forced to flee Portugal to evade arrest by the Inquisition for Judaizing (Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism 108; Israel, “Jews and Crypto-Jews in the Atlantic World Systems, 1500–1800” 3–17; Bodian 38–39). There is a second facet regarding the assistance provided by the Curiels of Amsterdam to Portugal, however. Joao IV was fighting Spain, which was a common enemy of the Netherlands, the new home of the Curiels. Spain was also the originator of Jewish removal policy in late-fifteenth-century Iberia. In both instances the enemy of my enemy could be the friend of the Dutch-Portuguese Jews, which was Portugal. The situation becomes more complicated, in respect to Portuguese-Jewish identity, when assessing other examples.

As part of the United Provinces struggle for independence from Spain the conflict was expanded beyond the Lowlands to open new war fronts to distract Iberian troops, as well as redirect treasure and resources from Habsburg coffers to those of Dutch stadtholders. In 1624, the Dutch briefly conquered the Brazilian capital of São Salvador da Bahia, but were forced out the following year by a counterattack. At this time Portugal, and what had been her empire, were under Spanish Habsburg rule. A small number of Dutch Sephardic Jews were part of the invasion force, where they served as Portuguese interpreters, amongst other tasks. While the colony’s Catholics considered the Dutch presence an occupation, for the Jews it was liberating. Albeit a few, some Bahian crypto-Jews returned to traditional Judaism. This was recorded by the Portuguese following the reconquest of Bahia when five relapsed New Christians were tried and executed for renewing their Jewish practices (Metz 216–20). However, New Christians with Jewish background also participated in the defense of Portuguese Bahia against the Dutch, which testifies to how assimilated, acculturated, and loyal many had become to Catholic Portugal despite the discrimination they endured (Elkin 16).

Since the Dutch were also determined to gain a foothold in the New World, or more specifically Brazil, in 1630 a second invasion was launched at the Pernambuco captaincy. With the support of the Dutch West Indies Company and many Jewish investors, the Dutch sought not only to control Brazilian sugarcane production and trade, but also to create a new colony, called New Holland. Besides permitting Jews, the Dutch Calvinist rulers extended religious tolerance to Portuguese Catholics, the majority of the colony’s European inhabitants (Wiznitzer 217–27). Many Portuguese crypto-Jews in Pernambuco expunged ← 41 | 42 → their Catholic façade and made a return to traditional Judaism, since the Dutch colonial venture here seemed more sustainable than in Bahia, which lasted until 1654. Thus, the Jewish community in Pernambuco was comprised of Jews who had been there prior to the Dutch conquest and those that came with and after the conquest (Silverblatt 524–29). By 1636, Recife’s Jews had established Zur Israel, the previously mentioned first Jewish congregation in the New World, which was also the first in the southern hemisphere. A synagogue was built in 1640.


While the openly Jewish community in Dutch Pernambuco was relatively brief—lasting less than twenty-five years—it too had a lasting effect in addition to the cultural-religious model developed at Amsterdam’s Talmud Torah. The Portuguese Jews exiled from Recife, as well as the satellite communities of Mauricia, Paraiba, Olinda, Penedo, Itamaraca, Ipojuca, and Goiana, found new havens elsewhere (Feitler 123–52). Many went to Amsterdam, but Brazilian refugees also founded the first communities in Suriname, Curaçao, Barbados, Jamaica, Cayenne, and New Amsterdam—later to become New York. Subsequent generations established communities in St. Eustatius, St. Thomas, British Gibraltar (see Fig. 4), Rhode Island, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. All told, approximately thirty congregations were part of this Atlantic World sub-diaspora (Stiefel). A few, such as the one on Tucacas, now part of Venezuela, and which went by the Portuguese name Santa Irmandad, were rather short-lived, functioning for only a decade or so during the 1710s before the Spanish reconquered the fledgling Dutch outpost (Arbell 35–41). Others, most notably Curaçao’s Mikve Israel (Hope of Israel) and Shearith Israel of New York, in addition to Amsterdam’s Talmud Torah and Sha’ar ha-Shamayim (Gates of Heaven) at London, flourish unto today. However, these surviving remnants of the Portuguese Jewish diaspora are highly assimilated into the societies of their host countries. In some instances, few if any of the congregants are actually descended from the founding expatriate Portuguese Jews from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The erosion of Portuguese identity, which was steadfastly held onto linguistically and culturally for more than two and a half centuries, was multifaceted. ← 42 | 43 →


Fig. 4. A Portuguese Jew in nineteenth century British Gibraltar. Credit: William A. Rosenthall Collection, Special Collections, College of Charleston. Reprinted by permission. ← 43 | 44 →

Within the Mediterranean sub-diaspora exiled Iberian Jews were more readily open to acculturation with their host societies. Indeed, considering that the expulsion from Spain and the fall of Muslim Grenada occurred within the same year (1492), it was not as difficult for those who found refuge in Arabic-speaking lands to acclimate to their new surroundings. For those who sought refuge on the Italian peninsula, the language is also a romance one similar to Portuguese and Spanish. Furthermore, since in many Mediterranean localities Jews from Iberia outnumbered the local Jewish inhabitants, there was sometimes assimilation into Sephardic culture. Many of the Sephardic Jews here also did not have a very long experience, if any, in post-expulsion Iberia, and were always familiar with normative Judaism. Take, for instance, Istanbul’s Ahrida Synagogue, located in the Balat district. The congregation was founded c.1460 by Jews from Ohrid, Macedonia. According to its tradition, the infamous false-messiah, Shabbatai Tzvi (1626–76), frequented this synagogue during his sojourn in Istanbul (c.1666). Tzvi’s ancestors came from the Peloponnese peninsula; however, many of his followers were Sephardim. It is in this period that the congregation adopted many Sephardic customs—such as the use of Ladino—and continues today as one of the city’s oldest functioning synagogues (Shaw 66–69, 136, 230). Thus, while there was not a pan-Mediterranean Jewish culture—the European side of the Mediterranean was different than the African, as well as east vs. west—there was an underlying Iberian contribution that tied all regions together.

Outside of the Mediterranean there was greater balkanization between Sephardic Jews—many having Portuguese origin—and those of other cultural backgrounds, primarily the Ashkenazim. Aware that they were soon to be vastly outnumbered in Amsterdam and London, as well as Hamburg and Copenhagen, the Sephardim residing in these northern European cities encouraged the Ashkenazim to separate and form their own congregations during the mid and late seventeenth century. The Ashkenazim were also content with this relationship, desiring to observe Judaism with their own cultural distinctiveness and language, which was Yiddish. Meanwhile, where the Portuguese Sephardim had multiple congregations—such as in Amsterdam and Hamburg—they consolidated for greater solidarity. From this, a custom of “synagogue-communities” spread across the Atlantic World, which postulated that there should only be a single (Sephardic) congregation per municipal jurisdiction. In Dutch Pernambuco, in order to satisfy the needs of Jews residing outside of Recife where Zur Israel was based, satellite gatherings were permitted—most notably in Mauricia, which had its own synagogue building, called Magen Abraham (Shield of Abraham)—but all were part of the Zur Israel congregation. This arrangement was reproduced in Barbados, Suriname, and Curaçao. In these communities, the Portuguese Sephardim always dominated, though in early-eighteenth-century Suriname permission was given ← 44 | 45 → for an Ashkenazic satellite, called Neve Shalom, to co-exist under the Sephardic Berakha ve Shalom (Blessings and Peace) congregation (Stiefel).

Jewish life in North America began to evolve on a different tangent, however. As mentioned before, by the mid-eighteenth century, Central European Ashkenazim outnumbered Portuguese Sephardim, though the latter were able to dominate synagogue posts and politics for a number of decades. That the socio-economic mercantile network established by Sephardim was a program that Atlantic World Ashkenazim wanted to be a part of, reinforced this. The communal practice of Judaism, most notably in synagogues, requires the attendance of ten Jewish males over the age of thirteen for quorum, called a minyan. Due to the relatively small size of colonial North American congregations, and since mercantilism was a common profession of all Atlantic World Jews that required extensive travel abroad, having the necessary attendance was often difficult. Due to this common religious requirement, the synagogue-communities of New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia could not afford separate Sephardic and Ashkenazic congregations. Nonetheless, the Sephardim had to make available to their Ashkenazic congregants information about the proper observance of Portuguese Jewish custom. Beginning in 1728, Shearith Israel of New York made available its hascamoth in English, the vernacular lingua franca, in addition to Portuguese. This trend spread from New York.

By the dawn of the nineteenth century, numerous Sephardic Jews in North America and Western Europe had gradually become detached from their Portuguese ancestral heritage. This is not to say that there was a complete divorce from Portuguese identity, but it was certainly less important for many. North America’s Portuguese Jews were friendly with visiting Portuguese from abroad. Take, for instance, the travels of the eminent Brazilian-born diplomat and journalist, Hipolito Jose da Costa (1774–1823), who visited Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel Synagogue on Saturday, March 9, 1799. From his diary, da Costa wrote that he arrived at the synagogue at “10 o’clock and the religious service was over. […] The only man I found here seemed to be one of their priests because he went up and opened the chest looking for something and then shut it again. He invited me to come back on [the following] Saturday at 9 o’clock in the morning, or on Friday at night” (Excerpts from the Diary of Hipolito Jose da Costa 97). The “priest” who da Costa encountered, more commonly called hazan since he was not an ordained rabbi, was Jacob Raphael Cohen (1738–1811), who served as the congregation’s spiritual leader between 1784 and 1811. He was raised and educated in London, as well as lived in Montreal and New York, prior to Philadelphia. Though Sephardic, Cohen was thoroughly Anglicized, as supported by his papers held at the Center for Jewish History in New York. The documents are in English with a scattering of Hebrew, and no Portuguese. Thus, while da Costa’s diary was in Portuguese, his ← 45 | 46 → conversation with Cohen took place in English (Marcus 238; Guide to the Jacob Raphael Cohen Collection).

Since the dual revolutions of America and France during the 1770s and 1780s, Jews of these lands—Sephardim, as well as others—had acquired citizenship and equal rights. Jews were now socially and politically welcomed into many western societies, in addition to economically as before. The Portuguese language and customs for these Sephardic Jews, now removed nearly a dozen generations from the calamitous decade of the 1490s, felt archaic and obsolete. In many families, the local vernacular, such as English, Dutch, and French, was what was spoken in the home, with perhaps the exception of knowledgeable aging grandparents. The likes of David Henriques Valentine, sexton of New York’s Shearith Israel between 1821 and 1835, who bore scars on his arms from having been chained as a prisoner during the Portuguese Inquisition, were now rare (Angel 52). A dying breed akin to the early twenty-first century’s elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors, since the Portuguese Inquisition was brought to an end in 1821 with the inauguration of the constitutional monarchy. The last Portuguese auto da fé took place in 1791, the last execution in 1765 (Gitlitz 52).

Again, with congregational record keeping as a litmus test, New York’s Shearith Israel adjusted its policy a second time, completely dropping Portuguese in 1805, utilizing English exclusively. London’s Sha’ar ha-Shamayim also changed their language of record keeping to solely English in 1819. However, the instance of congregation Beth Elohim (House of God) in Charleston, South Carolina had the most extreme reaction to Portuguese-Jewish tradition. During the early 1820s the congregation’s liberal members, led by Isaac Harby (1788–1828) of Sephardic descent, sought to “modernize” the ritual practices and mode of worship, such as abbreviating prayer services, using English instead of the customary Hebrew and Iberian languages. A proposal was made to the congregation’s leadership, who subsequently ignored it due to their preference for the status quo, or orthodoxy. The liberal congregants had also caught wind of the nascent Reform movement of Judaism taking place in Central Europe. They considered this news and decided to establish their own Reformed Society of Israelites, for which Harby composed their first prayer book by hand. The manuscript is in English with some Hebrew transliteration, and a sprinkling of original Hebrew text. Both Portuguese and Spanish are noticeably absent from the prayer book (Harby and Cohn). Harby was also a prolific writer and journalist, and his sentiments regarding where his and his co-religionists’ identity lay was best expressed in a correspondence he had with future US President James Monroe (1748–1831): that the Jews should “by no means be considered as a Religious sect, tolerated by government…[but rather they] constitute a portion of the People. They are, in every respect, woven in and compacted with the citizens of the Republic. Quakers and Catholics; Episcopalians and Presbyterians, ← 46 | 47 → Baptists and Jews, all constitute one great political family” (Harby 75).3 Many of Charleston’s Sephardic Jews no longer saw themselves for their unique Iberian identity, but Anglo Americans who happened to be Jews by faith alone. Sometime in the late 1830s, members of the Reformed Society of Israelites reconciled their differences and rejoined Beth Elohim, but their reformation did not end. In 1841 the issue resurfaced, and with a slight Americanized majority, Beth Elohim officially became reform (Moore 10–21; Zola).

Not all Atlantic World Sephardic congregations parted with Portuguese voluntarily, as in the United States and Great Britain. In 1808, all Jewish congregations within France—the Portuguese Sephardim and the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim in Alsace-Lorraine—were compelled to maintain records and non-religious communications in French through the consistory system. Other reforms were also implemented to acculturate the Jews into French society (Albert 186). After assuming the throne in 1814, King William I (1772–1843) implemented a similar policy for the Netherlands and her colonies for purposes of integrating all Jews into Dutch society. Thus, external forces due to early-nineteenth-century socio-political nationalism pressured many Portuguese Jews to part with the regular use of their ancestral identity (Michman 21–53). Elsewhere, most notably in Hamburg and Copenhagen, the Portuguese Jewish communities declined to the point where they simply ceased to exist.

As has been demonstrated throughout Anglophone, Francophone, and Dutchophone societies on both sides of the Atlantic, public expressions of Portuguese identity were on the decline due to internal and external forces that encouraged assimilation into the host societies. Affiliation with Portuguese Jewish ancestry does persevere unto the present, however. Rabbi Dennis Sasso of Indianapolis, Indiana is such an example. Born and raised in the Republic of Panama, Rabbi Sasso presides over Beth-El Zedeck (House of God [and] Justice), a Conservative-Reconstructionist congregation of Anglophone American Jews who come from Ashkenazic stock. He is proud of his Spanish-Portuguese ancestry that settled in the Caribbean during the seventeenth century (Congregation Beth-El Zedeck).

While Sephardic Portuguese identity in the post-fifteenth-century diaspora was in decline during the nineteenth century, another was beginning. In 1822, the year after the Portuguese Inquisition was dissolved, Dom Pedro I (1798–1834) declared Brazil’s independence. Both countries, including Portugal, soon instituted constitutional reforms regarding freedom of religion, influenced by socio-political changes instituted by the Enlightenment as well as to promote commerce with non-Catholic nations. It is at this time that a migration commenced from North Africa, consisting of immigrants seeking new economic opportunity in the Amazon Basin. Among these North African immigrants were Jews—possibly some with Portuguese ancestry—who established a congregation in Belém (also) ← 47 | 48 → by the name of Sha’ar ha-Shamayim, or Porta do Céu, as it is called colloquially (Elkin 41). By 1828 they built a synagogue—the first under a “Lusitanian” government in more than 330 years.

Jews settled in other polities of the Lusophone world after the Inquisition’s end. In 1836, Jews from the same North African migration founded a congregation in Ponta Delgada, Azores—called Sahar Hassamain (Gates of Heaven)—where they first began settling during the previous decade. Settlements without formally organized communities also grew in Madeira and Cape Verde (Dias 19–34). However, not until 1892 did normative Judaism reemerge in communal form within Portugal proper, with the establishment of Shaare Tikvah (Gates of Hope) in Lisbon, whose members were Sephardim from North Africa.


Jewish migration to Brazil remained small for most of the nineteenth century. From its foothold in Belém, and later Manaus, a mercantile network of North African Jews—who first worked as peddlers and rubber tappers—developed across Amazonia, stretching as far as Iquitos, Peru. Circa 1900 Brazil’s Jewish population was approximately 1,000. Due to their professions, which brought them into close contact with the local population, fluency in Portuguese was essential—the first seed of a new Lusophone identity amongst Jews (Elkin 92).

In 1891 Baron Maurice de Hirsch (1831–96) founded the Jewish Colonization Association for the purpose of settling indigent Eastern European Jews in agricultural colonies located in the Americas. The reason for this was to provide an opportunity for impoverished Jews to improve their socio-economic condition through farming. Among the countries de Hirsch took an interest in was Brazil. By 1904 the Association established its first of several colonies in Rio Grande do Sul, bringing hundreds of Ashkenazim from the Russian Empire. Though these colonies failed after a couple of decades, they were a significant catalyst in attracting Eastern European Jews to Brazil, who soon outnumbered their North African co-religionists in Amazonia. On the eve of World War I, Brazil was home to several thousand Jews residing in nine municipalities with organized congregations (Largman and Levine 159–70).4

Oddly enough, Brazil’s Jewish population would not grow significantly until external events redirected the flow of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the 1920s. With the passing of the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924 by the US Congress—in America, where more than 2.5 million Jews had immigrated since 1880—hundreds of thousands ← 48 | 49 → of would-be Jewish immigrants had to find alternative destinations. Besides Canada and Argentina, Brazil was another sought-after destination. By 1940, Brazil’s Jews numbered approximately 50,000, with the most populous communities in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Porto Alegre. Nearly three-quarters of Brazil’s Jews resided in these three cities, and still do unto today. Following World War II and the Jewish refugee crisis created by the Holocaust, Arab uprisings across the Middle East (1948–60s) in response to the establishment of the State of Israel, as well as natural growth, Brazil’s Jewish population climbed to 90,000 by 1980. This number has stabilized according to the 2000 census, though there are some estimates that the population has surpassed 100,000 (Decol 99–113). Like Jewish communities elsewhere in the modern world, the majority have acculturated into their respective host societies, identifying as Portuguese-speaking Brazilian Jews. If anything, there has been a shift in the Jewish aspect of one’s identity for the less devout, from that of a doctrinaire faith to agnostic ethnicity.

Within the contemporary Lusophone world Jewish communities can also be found in Portugal. Besides Lisbon’s Shaare Tikvah (see Fig. 5), who built a synagogue in 1904, there is also Ohel Jacob (Tent of Jacob), a small Ashkenazic congregation; and Kehilat Beit Israel (Community of the House of Israel), a Conservative congregation. Elsewhere, small communities can be found in Belmonte (Bet Eliahu, House of Elijah) and Oporto, and include Portuguese crypto-Jews who returned to normative Judaism in the twentieth century. All told, less than a thousand self-identifying Jews reside in Portugal (Comunidade Israelita de Lisboa). The organized Jewish community of the Azores dissipated during the mid-twentieth century, and is virtually no more. In Lusophone Africa there was a small community comprised of Sephardic and Ashkenazic immigrants in Maputo, Mozambique, who built a synagogue in 1926. This community flourished until Mozambique’s independence in 1975, when many relocated to South Africa (Melton and Bauman 1985). ← 49 | 50 →


Fig. 5. Interior of the synagogue Shaare Tikvah, Lisbon, Portugal, 1967. Credit: William A. Rosenthall Collection, Special Collections, College of Charleston. Reprinted by permission. ← 50 | 51 →


Portuguese identity amongst Jews today exists in multiple states, and all but several hundred resided beyond Portugal’s borders. Thus, Portuguese Jewish identity is largely a diaspora within a diaspora. The oldest component within the Portuguese diaspora is the descendants of those who fled after King Manuel’s forced conversion edict of 1497, primarily during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. North Africa, the Italian States, the Ottoman Empire, and later the Dutch and British empires became the primary places of refuge for this first population. The experience of Dutch-occupied Pernambuco, from 1630 to 1654, was perhaps the most exceptional. Here, the Dutch were a numerical minority, primarily serving as colonial administrators over a Lusophone society. Dutch freedom of conscience, even extending to Catholics, enabled some Portuguese New Christians to return to Judaism. Portuguese Jews from the Netherlands were also able to participate in a colonial venture that simultaneously provided cultural familiarity and a sense of comfort. From the Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation, or La Nación for short, came such outstanding individuals as the philosopher Baruch Spinoza (Dutch, 1632–77) and US Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo (American, 1870–1938). Today, most Sephardic Portuguese Jews reside in Israel, the United States, and France. While many acknowledge their patrimony, often carrying the surnames of their forefathers from Portugal, the majority does not speak Portuguese or identify with the culture on a regular basis. They have embraced the societies and languages of their host countries, which are English, Hebrew, and French.

Most Jews who speak Portuguese and participate in Lusophone culture today reside in Brazil. Considering that the majority of the world’s Portuguese speakers are Brazilian, more than all other Lusophone countries combined, this is not terribly surprising. However, the majority of Brazil’s Jews has a patrimony that originates amongst the Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern Europe. Only a minority of Brazil’s Jews has ancestry from Iberia. Brazilian Jews are well acclimated to their host country (Lesser; Vieira). Contemporary notables include writer Moacyr Jaime Scliar (1937–2011), entrepreneur and TV mogul Silvio Santos (1930–), and journalist Sérgio Groisman (1950–). While native-speaking Lusophone Jews constitute less than 1 percent of the world’s Jewish population today, more Jews speak Portuguese and identify with Lusophone culture than ever before in history. For instance, c.1490, on the eve of Spanish Jewry’s expulsion in 1492, Portugal’s Jewish population was approximately 30,000 (Saraiva, Salomon, and Sassoon 1). While by 1497 Portugal’s Jews had by some estimates more than tripled, could one call these new arrivals “Portuguese” only after five years? In contrast, Ashkenazic Jews have resided in significant numbers within Brazil’s urban centers for nearly a century, spanning multiple generations. In a certain way, they are the neo-Portuguese Jews of two diasporas. ← 51 | 52 →


1. During the mid-fifteenth century the Marinids were in a struggle for control of the Moroccan kingdom against several factions, including the Wattassids who supplanted them c. 1465–72. The Jews were caught in the middle of the conflict, and when Jewish loyalty became suspect a massacre occurred.

2. Between 1610 and 1640 Amsterdam’s Jewish population grew from about two hundred to more than a thousand. After 1640 the Ashkenazim grew to dominate numerically.

3. Isaac Harby in a letter to then Secretary of State, James Monroe, Charleston, 1816.

4. Estimates range between 5,000 and 7,000, with most Jews in northern Brazil at this time.


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← 54 | 55 →


A Precarious Whiteness

Exploring Australian Cultural Diversity through the Legacies of the Portuguese Empire



My interview with Xavier occurred on a hot summer day in subtropical Australia. As we talked, he laboriously peeled a large bag of small river prawns and recalled childhood days in Portuguese India spent similarly preparing food with his mother. In the living room behind us, a large crucifix and religious symbol hung from the wall. Next to them hung a wooden copy of a family crest that unabashedly drew attention to his Portuguese identity. Draping over the crest was a small Australian flag. As we chatted, he emphasised that he had “only ever had Australians” as friends in Australia, and that he had quickly distanced himself from formal ethnic organisations. Indeed, none of the smiling photographs that adorned the walls had any friends that were not white. Instead, they were stereotypically Australian images of drinking beer in the sun with friends. As we talked, Xavier reflected on Australia’s cultural diversity through the prism of his own migration story.

Xavier’s emphatic rejection of being “ethnic” was in many ways a predictable reflection of the value-laden terminology of Australia’s multicultural framework. His strong sense that Anglo-Australians accepted that he was not “ethnic” was noteworthy, however. Portuguese Indians offer an important case study of how cultural memories (of both migrants and permanent residents) influence migrant settlement experiences. Australia is home to large numbers of people with ties to mainland Portugal, the Azores, Goa, Brazil, and Timor Leste. Portuguese-speakers draw on their own cultural memories of identity, but are simultaneously viewed ← 55 | 56 → through the Australian community’s understanding of Lusophone culture. Portuguese-speaking Australians are often visibly different and proud of their Portuguese heritage; they nonetheless reject the marginalisation that is associated with being “ethnic.” Instead they evoke their Portuguese identities to occupy the spaces of white Australia, negotiating their identities in complex situated exchanges and negotiations with others.

This research explores the long role of the Portuguese in Australia’s history of cultural diversity and engagement with Asia. It argues that Australians have long possessed cultural empathy with tropical Portuguese culture. The second half of the chapter draws on a study of Portuguese Indian Australians, with a particular focus on how men born in Portuguese India (more commonly known as Goa) make meaning of Australia’s multicultural framework. The research involved a year-long investigation of the Goan community in the city of Brisbane in Queensland, using both archival and oral histories. As part of the project, I conducted a number of extended interviews, and I draw on three core interviews for this chapter. Each interview exemplifies an arrival during a particular period of Australian multiculturalism. I then explore how these memories of multiculturalism allow Goans to move beyond the constraints of the multicultural framework.


Australian society has been preoccupied with whiteness since the first European settlement. The country’s population remained low throughout the nineteenth century, and many worried about the risk of invasion from the “yellow peril” to the continent’s north. The racialization of the discourses surrounding national security and immigration continued into the twentieth century. As historians have noted, Australia imagined itself to be one of a number of white nations under existential threat from Asian and African populations (Lake and Reynolds). The now infamous “White Australia” policy was instigated upon Federation in 1901, and quickly became a pillar of the new nation’s identity. The policy removed large numbers of non-whites, and prevented others from entering the country. While north Europeans were permitted to enter, there was a pervasive emphasis on British-ness in public space. Dark-skinned Europeans, such as those from southern Iberia, were discouraged from entering (Mason, Agitators and Patriots). Those southern Europeans who were able to settle were viewed askance by the Anglophone majority as a potential source of moral and physical contagion, and as a group that risked weakening the fledgling nation’s capacity to defend itself.

Australia’s experience in the Second World War generated an urgent belief that the country must “populate or perish.” Australians had been horrified by the wartime experiences of bombing in the continent’s north, Japanese submarines in ← 56 | 57 → Sydney harbour, and the British Empire’s manifest inability to protect them. That the wartime threat had primarily come from the Japanese emphasised long-held racial stereotypes of fears from the north. A series of attempts were made to secure additional British migrants after the war’s end, with the government subsidising the cost of the journey and Australians urged to “Bring Out a Briton.” Despite more than a million British and Irish arrivals, Australia’s intake of migrants increasingly came from continental Europe. Such migrants could be compelled to work in industries and locations of the government’s choice for two years following their arrival, and many Australians viewed them through the prism of their economic utility. The government was careful to emphasise that the “New Australians” had a wholesome north European heritage, but the expectation remained that the new arrivals would rapidly assimilate to the country’s British cultural heritage. In reality, the government’s adherence to assimilation was causing increasing pressures within migrant communities hidden from Anglo Australians’ eyes.

The White Australia policy was under increasing pressure by the 1960s. It was a source of growing embarrassment internationally as Australia sought to develop ties with the newly independent states in the region (Brawley). Sociologists, such as Jean Martin, were also noting the problems that the emphasis on assimilation was causing domestically. It was apparent that former Displaced Persons and new arrivals were becoming confined to the outer suburbs of Australia’s rapidly expanding cities, with little prospect of upward mobility. Equally troubling for the government, it was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain high levels of immigration from traditional European sources. Definitions of acceptable migrants continued to be widened into the 1960s and early 1970s, as the government targeted migrants from regions such as Latin America and Turkey. Given these multiple factors, the White Australia policy was gradually dismantled until the new multicultural framework was announced in 1973. The dominant strand of this new policy was initially focussed on welfare issues, by targeting assistance to improve accessibility of government services and to prevent intergenerational poverty (Lopez). By the 1980s, however, multiculturalism had become a far-reaching attempt to reimagine a new national identity based on cultural diversity and acceptance of difference (Moran).

Australian multiculturalism can be characterised as one example of a global phenomenon of government policies aimed at addressing the domestic consequences of international population flow. In its social context, however, Australia’s experience necessarily incorporated the historical legacies and cultural memories of White Australia. Support for multiculturalism remained based on the assumption that these “multi-cultures” were subordinate to the nation’s Anglo-normative past (Hage, Against Paranoid Nationalism). Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, public expression of cultural difference was permitted within clear parameters of social acceptability. Multicultural festivals, folk dances, and religious Sunday schools ← 57 | 58 → occurred at the periphery of everyday social interactions. The reimagining of Australian society was contested, but it is undeniable that major cities did experience new foods, café culture, and other aspects of multiculturalism that were connected to Australia’s broadening world vision. Such was Australians’ engagement with this “cosmo-multiculturalism” fashioned around consumption, however, that it risked creating what was termed “multiculturalism without the migrants” (Hage, “A Home in the Entrails” 99).

Many Anglo-Australians felt that multiculturalism was eroding core Australian values of hard work, equal treatment for all, and “mateship.” Concerns resonated most powerfully outside the major metropolitan centres, with political movements such as the One Nation Party achieving considerable electoral success (Mason, “Pitbulls”). In response to this electoral disquiet, and in common with elsewhere in the world, multiculturalism became progressively de-emphasised in government rhetoric during the 1990s (Meer and Modood). Instead, the language of “citizenship” was used to emphasise new arrivals’ responsibilities as well as privileges in what has been termed a “more combative approach to national identity” (Moran). In much of this, the traditional connection between immigration and national security remained pronounced. Successive prime ministers have used public concerns over an “invasion” of “boat people from the north” to frame the national debate (Wazana; Hayes and Mason). In so doing, they effectively continue to marginalise cultural and visible difference as disruptive to an imagined Australian way of life.

This public discussion of cultural diversity and social anxiety belies the rich complexity of interpersonal exchanges in local spaces. Scholars have increasingly focussed on this “everyday multiculturalism” as core to Australian society (Wise and Velayutham). Investigating how multiculturalism is experienced on a daily basis re-emphasises the contextual nature of how identities are performed and received, but also reveals the power relations around such exchanges. Food has frequently been lauded as one of the areas in which otherness is embraced and accepted by Australian society, and food malls remain some of the foremost sites of everyday interactions between ethnic groups (Wise and Velayutham). Other contexts, such as public transport or taxis, are more frequently noted for their strict ethnic hierarchies and barely contained racism (Neilson). Yet, Australians’ cultural imagination has a deep capacity to recognise a plethora of visible and cultural differences. Thus, while Indian identities are viewed as potentially problematic (Lakha and Stevenson; Baas), Australians embrace the supposed hyper-sensuality of the Latino/a (Zevallos). For this reason alone, the Portuguese Indian identities of Goans offer a rich space to explore the complexities of contemporary cultural diversity.

Portugal and the Portuguese have repeatedly influenced debates about Australians’ sense of self and cultural identity. Australians’ imagined relationship to ← 58 | 59 → the Portuguese reveals the former’s shifting attitudes to whiteness and decolonisation within the Asia and Pacific region. Even during the Second World War, for example, Australia asserted the “special [economic and defence] rights which we desire as regards Timor” (External Affairs Officer). This was not an isolated concern for defence in wartime, and was a part of Australia’s long-term relationship to a close neighbour in the Asian region that shared European heritage. The seriousness, and the uniqueness of Australia’s position, was reflected in the direct correspondence that occurred between the two countries’ prime ministers, Robert Menzies and Antonio Salazar, during the 1960s.1 As late as the 1970s, a sense of shared European experience in Asia remained. In the days immediately preceding the Carnation Revolution, Australia’s (admittedly, occasionally wayward) Ambassador to Lisbon expressed his “odium for the break-up of the multi-continental Portuguese republic,” lamenting that it “would be a soul-searing experience” for all concerned (Kelly).

The situation with regards to the fraught existence of Portuguese India was particularly intense. Australia was caught between British Commonwealth links to India and treaty obligations to Portugal that could potentially invoke a NATO response (White). The Australian government was initially concerned that the “somnolent” Goans were being goaded by New Delhi, and provocatively compared the Indian government to Hitler’s actions in the Sudetenland (Crocker). This instinctive and emotive sympathy for what were imagined as isolated pockets of European culture in Asia was part of Australians’ perception of empire, decolonisation, and their own place in the world.

More profoundly, however, the Portuguese republic was one of a number of states that challenged Australia’s racist immigration policies. On December 9, 1961, three Portuguese naval ratings deserted the Portuguese frigate Gonçalves Zarco in the Australian city of Darwin, and subsequently requested political asylum. The concerned government in Canberra liaised with the Portuguese consulate and sought to deport the men as deserters. These actions denied the men the rights of asylum accorded to citizens of the various communist dictatorships in east Europe (Neumann), but drew on the close relationship between Lisbon and Canberra. The case sparked rallies in major cities, newspaper editorials, and expressions of solidarity for the sailors from concerned public groups. The government eventually allowed the men to stay, conscious of the increasing difficulty the White Australia policy posed to Australia’s international reputation. It was also made aware of increasing domestic pressure for change. Indeed, many Anglo-Australians were simultaneously uncomfortable with the explicit racism of their country’s immigration policy and sympathetic to the Portuguese claims to be white. ← 59 | 60 →

Social debate surrounding Portugal’s Asian empire has formed part of Australians’ changing sense of social justice with regards to race. Protests in response to the Goan crises did occur, but were limited. In 1954, when India first made a concerted effort to disrupt Portuguese rule, Australians’ feelings were confused and sympathetic to Portugal. By the time the Portuguese were expelled in 1961, responses had hardened in opposition to Lisbon’s actions. Those few Australians who took action in sympathy with the Goans were firmly positioned as outside the national community (“Indian Embassy Attacked”). The Timor crisis of 1975 garnered far greater social awareness, and was viewed by the general public largely in the context of laudable decolonisation in Australia’s backyard (“Embassy Occupied”). The opprobrium directed towards Indonesia’s actions was clear from across many social groups. This sense of special relationship between Australians and Timorese was again expressed in the crisis surrounding the country’s 1999 independence. Australians’ empathetic connection to Asian countries with Portuguese heritage is multilayered and complex, but remains instructive of Australians’ changing engagement with European heritage in the Asia and Pacific region.

Australia’s founding myths as a white nation in Asia continue to involve the Portuguese.2 Debate regarding the European discovery of Australia has repeatedly been aired during key moments of national transition, such as the instigation of the White Australian policy and during the multicultural changes of the 1980s. At the centre of these debates was the question of whether the Portuguese had discovered Australia in the 1520s (Heawood). It was originally deemed “highly probabl[e] that Australia was discovered by the Portuguese between the years 1511 and 1529, and almost to a demonstrable certainty that it was discovered before 1542” (Major, ctd. in Whiteway 80). Debate focussed on the possible depiction of Australia on maps held in Dieppe (Wallis 30). These maps pointed to a French-led expedition that used Portuguese names to describe a territory that partially matched the eastern and northern Australian coastlines (Richardson, “Yet Another Version”). In reality, the maps were a combination of various documents, with the Portuguese names confusingly overlaying a map of the Mekong delta (Richardson, The Portuguese Discovery). The disproval of the Portuguese claim did nothing to dampen the interest in the probable discovery by the Spanish, nor the burgeoning interest and rich data on the Dutch and French explorations (Mason, “The Portuguese”). More than links to Portugal, these debates reveal the increasing conceptual space in which it was possible to explore a white Australia that was not necessarily British. It reaffirmed a culturally diverse Australia that was not part of Asia, but of the grand European narratives of discovery. ← 60 | 61 →


There have been many changes in how Australians view cultural diversity since the instigation of multiculturalism in the mid-1970s. In this chapter, I explore how attitudes towards Portugal reveal Australians’ changing identity, but also how residents with Portuguese heritage use this to make sense of the country’s cultural diversity. Key scholars of Australian multiculturalism have explored how the policy has prioritised white culture by grafting other identities to the Anglo-normative core.

There is a danger in assuming that a single “Anglo-Australian” culture can establish itself as the sole referent point for all others. Instead, it is helpful to focus on the different threads and connections through which individuals make meaning across various contexts. This provides conceptual space to recognise that migrants’ own prior experience of interculturality will inevitably influence their engagement with cultural diversity, as well as how they perceive the connections available to them at a given time. These points of intersection can be portrayed as sites of resistance to cultural domination, but I suggest they may also be sites at which the legacies of colonialism are formulated and articulated. It is in this regard that the chapter will explore the particular experiences of Portuguese Indians in multicultural Australia.

Hybridity can be seen in the identities of a number of Lusophone groups within Australia, including Portuguese and Brazilians. Yet, Portuguese Indians offer a particularly strong case study to explore Australia’s cultural diversity. Australia’s immigration department does not record Goans as a separate category (although it has previously recorded “Goenese”); meaning that there are no clear indicators for the current size of the Goan population. The group potentially falls within the category both of those with Indian heritage and those with Portuguese heritage. Both are substantial categories, and neither fully captures those who identify as Portuguese Indian. The 2011 Census recorded 15,300 Portuguese-born residents, and an additional 46,500 Australians cited Portuguese heritage. Of the 14,500 residents born in Brazil, approximately 2,200 also explicitly identified with a Portuguese heritage. There are approximately 295,000 Indian-born residents in Australia, but there is no census tool to identify ancestry as Goan within this group. Notwithstanding Australians’ long history with Portuguese heritage in their region, Goans now occupy a form of precarious whiteness where some community members are visibly different and others are not; where some identify as Portuguese Europeans and others as Indian.

Australia’s community of Portuguese Indians is nonetheless well-established, and has had a presence in the country for over a hundred years. The earliest Goans ← 61 | 62 → were cooks on the various ships that docked at the country’s ports (Pinto), but others found it much harder to gain residency until the relaxing of the immigration laws in the 1960s. Many Goans came to Australia after time spent in Africa, and, of these, a large proportion arrived after having been expelled from their homes in Uganda by Idi Amin. These first substantial arrivals established a chain migration that brought increasing numbers. Many found it difficult to migrate, since their self-identification as Portuguese was rarely recognised by immigration officials. As one testimony recalled, Australian bureaucrats focused on visible difference above cultural and legal claims to Portuguese identity:

We were going to come to Australia in 1966 and the Australian government said that my husband’s qualifications were very good, excellent, but the colour was not right. It was the White Australia policy…and they told you to the face. We went to the Australian Embassy and that’s what they told us. (Ethel and Joe, qtd. in Earnest 94)

Given this, I would like to shift the chapter’s focus to explore Goans’ position in multicultural Australia through the responses of three key interviewees. Each of the men arrived in Australia at different times and related to Australia’s cultural diversity differently. The similarities and differences in their memories, and their attitudes during our discussions, help to understand the changing nature of Australian diversity and the role of the Portuguese within Australia’s cultural landscape.

The men met with me in their homes on a number of occasions as part of a broader research project into migrant masculinities. My first interviewee, Antonio, arrived in the mid-1960s at a time when cultural difference remained predominantly confined to gradations of European heritage. In contrast, Xavier arrived in the 1980s, at a time when multiculturalism was at the forefront of national debates. Francisco arrived in the 1990s, when visible difference was more frequent but the language of multiculturalism had shifted to a more contested notion of migrant communities’ inclusion in Australian society.

By the late 1990s, all three men could be said to share physical characteristics reminiscent of Australia’s rapidly growing number of Indian migrants. Although this potentially offered access to support from Indian community groups, it did not imply high status. Many Anglo-Australians continue to feel alarmed by the rapid increase in the country’s Indian population (an increase that the 2011 census enumerated as over 100 per cent in five years). Despite often being well-educated, Indian migrants are popularly associated with low-status jobs and attempts to rort the immigration system (Lakha and Stevenson). This places them in a position of vulnerability in society (Neilson), and many have been the target of violent racist abuse (Singh). Any association with the Indian state on the part of my interviewees was particularly problematic, given their consciousness of Goa’s forced reunification with India in 1961. ← 62 | 63 →

Antonio had been born in Goa in the late 1940s before moving to British East Africa, in a pattern shared by many Goan men (see Antonio, personal interview). He lived in Kenya for a number of years, and fondly remembers the last days of British rule. As a member of the large Goan community, integral to the colonial administration, he felt the British accorded his family respect and access to opportunities that were not granted to the African population. He moved to the United Kingdom to complete his education in the 1960s, before returning to Kenya and Uganda as a successful businessman with a family. He was one of a number of Goans forced to flee countries such as Uganda, Malawi, and Kenya. Another Goan Australian recalls the urgency and panic of the time:

Idi Amin’s reign of terror and expulsion of non-citizen Asians from Uganda forced me to seek refuge in another country.…In two short weeks we dispensed with all our household goods, abandoned our investment property, packed the bare necessities into a couple of suitcases and covertly flew out of the country. (Ernest, qtd. in Earnest 62)

As Ernest’s comment makes clear, the Goans had access to financial and cultural capital that allowed them a degree of mobility. While Amin’s government viewed them as Asian, they imagined themselves to be part of the European world. Many were reluctant to return to Goa following the reunification with India in 1961. While some fled to the United Kingdom or Portugal, many settled in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States.

My interview with Antonio occurred in a prestigious apartment overlooking Brisbane city centre, positioned on the banks of the river. From the start of our talks, Antonio was eager to impress on me his charity work with impoverished children in the developing world, and the need to ensure access to education for all. During our discussion, however, he gradually acknowledged his great concern with how countries in the global north were being “flooded” with Indian migrants, whom he felt integrated poorly. He juxtaposed his impression of the poverty and closed nature of the contemporary Indian migrants with his own initial Australian settlement in the early 1970s. He recalls proactively seeking to play hockey with Australian men, and having traditional Australian barbeques on the beach.

Antonio was at his most relaxed when discussing intercultural relations during his childhood in Kenya, using the period as a prism to understand contemporary Australia. He carefully juxtaposed his happy recollections of the Goan schools and ethnic club in Nairobi with the problems of ethnic groups in Australia. While the Goan club in Nairobi provided supports to enable Goans to engage in commerce and government, he hoped the local Goan Club in Brisbane would close as quickly as possible. Unlike in Kenya, there was no need to maintain Portuguese Indian heritage through formal clubs in Australia. Goans were better served by engaging in the mainstream British-based culture. In brief, his experience in the British ← 63 | 64 → Empire and United Kingdom impressed on him that he was part of a white world predicated on assimilation to the norms of the cultural majority.

My second interviewee, Xavier, had also travelled prior to settling in Australia (see Xavier, personal interview, 3 Mar. 2012). Born in Goa soon after the Portuguese were forced to withdraw, his Portuguese identity was especially strong. Xavier’s sense of being Portuguese was closely associated with his family’s landowning status. He described in detail the various properties, and was proud to show photographs of large Portuguese-style buildings and estates owned by his family. Photographs depicted his extended family in smart European suits, dresses, and hats. He laughingly described how his father’s English-sounding first name was always rendered into a more Portuguese form through the ostentatious addition of an “o” at the end. Xavier perceived a clear delineation between the territory’s “true Goans and mestiços” and the Hindu inhabitants that he dismissed as “servants and not really Goan.” As a teenager, Xavier moved to the Gulf States to stay with family members. Outside a Catholic culture for the first time, he recalls his shock at the restrictions on religious freedom of expression.

Xavier eventually migrated to Australia in the early 1980s, following two other family members who had moved earlier. His family was active in the local Goan club, but he remembers quickly distancing himself from the group as he made Anglo-Australian friends at the local university. Like Antonio, Xavier quickly became involved in Australia’s sporting culture and made friends through the local Australian Football League. With the club, he made the typical Australian male’s coming-of-age holiday to Bali. It was clear that simply by recounting the story to me, Xavier sought to affirm to me that he was accepted as an Australian male. Similarly, he recounted travelling long distances in the iconic rural Outback with sheep shearing friends. Deploying these key signifiers of Australian identity acted to position him as a part of the traditional Anglophone Australian culture, emphasising points and sites of cultural affinity.

Xavier responded sharply when I moved the conversation to a discussion of multiculturalism. He recalled almost no contact with any tangible expression of multiculturalism in his early settlement. The only exception was the “ethnic food” shops, in which he recalled shopping. Even here, however, Xavier quickly moved the discussion of my question “how did you get spices for cooking?” away from an acknowledgement that he would use Asian stores, to a discussion of the many Greek shops in the area close to where he worked. The discussion returned to the essential Europeanness of Goan food, which he described as akin to Greek and Italian cooking. For Xavier however, there was no need for formal arrangements to maintain Portuguese heritage in Australia. He felt that “in Australia, Australia first.” Those migrants who claimed to maintain connections with communities outside Australia were deeply problematic. As with Antonio, Xavier had limited patience for “do gooders” who suggested cultural diversity implied accommodating difference. ← 64 | 65 →

Francisco arrived in Australia in the early 1990s, at the same time as the country’s intake of Indian migrants began to accelerate (see Francisco, personal interview). He had also lived in the Gulf States prior to his arrival, but had moved to Australia for work rather than family connections. While he identified as Portuguese Indian, his Goan wife identified solely as Indian. In this sense, it is unsurprising that they felt a greater connection to the country’s nascent Indian communities than the other two men. In other ways, however, it was the Australian community that caused them to privilege this aspect of their identity. With little social capital or existing bridges to engage with Anglo-Australians, they felt a profound loneliness and isolation on arrival. Francisco recalled that his first real contact with Anglo-Australians was with elderly women who stroked his daughter’s hair to draw attention to its unusual (for Australians) colour and texture. Such contact further ostracised the family, who felt their identity as visibly different Indians was far stronger than any common European culture.

In our interview, which was admittedly predicated on the various legacies of being Goan, Francisco did discuss his Portuguese heritage. He was eager to share memoirs from his grandfather, who had published journalistic stories critical of the Portuguese rule of Goa. Unable to read the text, he was eager for me to translate and explain some of the content. Despite his inability to read Portuguese, he felt intense pride in its possession. His father had supported the Portuguese presence in Goa, but opposed the nature of the administration and laws which he had felt to be repressive. As such, Francisco was able to extol the legacies of Portuguese culture without feeling any culpability for aspects of its rule that were oppressive. Like the other men, Francisco was acutely conscious of a historical experience in Goa that sought to emphasise the cultural differences (rather than racial distinctions) between the Portuguese and non-Portuguese.

Despite his early experiences, Francisco was able to cultivate a sense of whiteness through his professional life. His English-language fluency and professional status accorded him a degree of respect at work. While colleagues were unable to recognise his Portuguese identity, his English-language proficiency meant that many assumed he was connected with the former British Empire in some way. He recalled one work meeting with particular satisfaction. After he had commented on his birth “in India” for the first time, colleagues expressed surprise. Francisco was concerned that this meant they thought he was from Pakistan, but in reality his co-workers had not realised he was born outside Australia. While it did not create a sense of belonging for Francisco, it did give him satisfaction to know that he could move beyond the multicultural positioning of newly arrived minorities.

For all three men, their visible difference caused a degree of tension. None of the men I interviewed were comfortable identifying as Indian. They were acutely conscious of the implications of such identification in social and employment settings. Their decision to amplify the intersections between Portuguese ← 65 | 66 → and Anglophone cultures was astute. While the Australian nation was no longer overtly constructed according to whiteness, race and belonging continued to be viewed through other forms of cultural expression (Schech and Haggis). The men drew on their memories of European identity in Asia to create a form of Portuguese identity that resonated with Australians. This was not a fantasy, and validated core elements of Goans’ historical consciousness. When I asked Xavier how he felt when people thought he was Portuguese, for example, he initially paused before stating that he didn’t feel anything at all. “I am Portuguese,” he emphasised, “so they’re just right. That’s all” (Xavier, personal interview, 12 Dec. 2013).

It would be a mistake to view my interviewees’ desire to position themselves as European Australians as synonymous with a dislike of multiculturalism. Similarly to Antonio, Xavier was involved at the centre of a prominent local refugee settlement organisation. He recognised the importance of social welfare supports to enable integration. He did not accept that multiculturalism relied on a reimagining of Australia’s Anglophone heritage, however. It was simply a tool to target aid to vulnerable groups. This acceptance of ethnic hierarchy (rather than a horizontal multiculturalism) echoed Antonio’s and Francisco’s views on cultural diversity. Indeed, they also echo the cultures of Goa, the British Empire, and the Gulf States. When I asked Xavier which migrant communities he thought had become “good Australians,” he could only cite the (white) South Africans and the British. His concerns with multiculturalism were not to do with what Carruthers has termed ongoing “live” connections to foreign countries. They were instead a legacy of his post-colonial mind-set, which was formed from a European culture that was surrounded and threatened by an orientalised strangeness.

The men were highly comfortable with cultural diversity, but did not imagine themselves to be part of the marginalised multicultural groups. Their Luso-tropical identities did not position them as ethnic, but rather as part of the same framework of cultural attitudes that characterised traditional white Australia. One of the few points at which all three men drew attention to their identity was through food. Here too, they were part of a cosmopolitan attitude to multiculturalism among white Australians that did not require a meaningful engagement with the ethnic other. Xavier spoke of his “tactical” responses to finding opportunities to make food. While he recognised that the food “was never the same,” he nonetheless prided himself on being well-known for characteristically spicy Goan cooking. As Australians widely recognised Portuguese-style cooking, the men spoke passionately with me about recognisably Goan recipes such as vindaloo. The importance of food to Goan identity globally has been widely recognised (Beagan and D’Sylva; D’Sylva and Beagan). All three men viewed it as a tool to engage Anglophone culture, however, rather than to maintain cultural difference.

The men are typical of the wider cohort of Goans surveyed as part of the study. Many members of the community cultivate a careful ambiguity about their ← 66 | 67 → origins. This is much less the case for more recently arrived Goans, who are most likely to be active in the local Club de Goa. However, the majority of people I interviewed had little if any contact with the club. I asked Xavier, “what do you say when people ask where you come from?” His response was initially evasive, stating, with a nonchalant shrug, “Brisbane or Australia.” However, his fuller answer drew attention to the personal narratives of his history from his Portuguese family to the time he spent with his family in Perth, Western Australia. This was common among many of the interviewees. Rather than risk misrecognition of their identity through stating “Goa” or “Portuguese India,” they preferred to craft a personal narrative of journey. This is increasingly common in a multicultural Australia for groups who feel constrained by the artificial cultures suggested by the multicultural framework (Cohen, “I Am My Own Culture”).

The men drew attention to their rich and long experiences of cultural hybridity and were experienced in performing their Portuguese Indian heritage in a variety of contexts. They did not claim to be Anglo-Australian whites, but instead drew attention to the Luso-tropical aspects of their heritage. This resonated with Australians’ positive stereotypes of exotic and sexualised Latin males (Cohen, “Here/There”). For the Goans, it affirmed their cultural affinity in tropical white culture. Their identities were therefore highly fluid and contextual.

Portuguese Indian identities draw attention to the utility of interculturality rather than the multiculturalism commonly used in Australia. The former concept is far more common in Latin American contexts, where it has been characterised as “the idea of interaction as reciprocal social and political acts among cultural groups” (Solano-Campos 622). This develops Australian research on sites of “everyday multiculturalism,” by drawing attention to the political and social aspects of these interactions. The prism of interculturalism allows greater awareness of the continued legacies of the past from both white Australia and Portuguese Goa. Rather than point to the decline of affective connections in local spaces (Wise), the Portuguese Indians point to the ways in which cultural memories can create imagined affective connections and disconnections. Thinking about interculturalism as opposed to multiculturalism, frees migrants from the sense of being part of a government-sponsored framework that pre-supposes a welfare need and marginalises them from public space. The emphasis on personal relationships and dialogue allows for an emphasis on how cultural difference might be positioned in specific contexts.


Australia and Portugal have a long history of connection, which many Australians imagine can be traced to the country’s earliest European connection. Portugal’s Asian presence has had a particular influence on Australians, emphasising a sense ← 67 | 68 → of collective European identity at the centre of a large and potentially threatening Asian region. At times, the relationship has also called into question many of Australia’s deeply held beliefs on who, and what, might constitute whiteness in an age of decolonisation and regional instability.


1. See Salazar, “Letter from Antonio Oliveira Salazar to Sir Robert Menzies,” Lisbon, 1 Mar. 1963, and Salazar, “Letter from Antonio Oliveira Salazar to Sir Robert Menzies,” Lisbon, 5 Mar. 1964.

2. For a recent example at time of writing, see Bridie Jabour.


Antonio. Personal Interview. 1 Mar. 2012.

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“Embassy Occupied in Timor Demonstration.” Canberra Times 2 Oct. 1957: 3. Print.

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← 70 | 71 →



From the Local to the Global and Back Again



In the village of Khotalli, in the sunny state of Goa,
A warm and friendly province, where life’s a wee bit slower,
There lived a farmer Damu, who had fields of fruit and grain,
Bananas and pineapple, nachnim and sugarcane
(From “The Scarecrow in the Woods” by Mario Coelho)

Place is constituted by the way in which its inhabitants or those who are somehow connected to it by ancestry, sympathy, work, or scholarly interest interact with it or, as Benedict Anderson (6) would point out, “imagine it.”1 This way of thinking the community, as Anderson adds, is neither false nor genuine but has to do with the way in which its inhabitants experience it. Tim Cresswell makes the following observations about place: “Place is a way of seeing, knowing and understanding the world. When we look at the world as a world of places we see different things. We see attachments and connections between people. We see worlds of experience” (11).

Many times, this world of experiences takes the form of narratives that problematize the relationship of a community with a certain place. This is the case of the anthology by the Goa Writers Group, titled Inside/Out: New Writing from Goa (Menezes and Lourenço, 2011), which is a composite of short stories, sketches, life-narratives, poems, essays, and photographs. As Goa is the common referent to all these narratives, this collection lends itself to being read as what Sandra ← 71 | 72 → A. Zagarell defines as narratives of community, works that “take as their subject the life of a community (life in ‘its everyday aspects’) and portray the minute and quite ordinary processes through which the community maintains itself as an entity” (499).

In the several narratives of this collection, Goa is portrayed and discussed from the perspectives of old-timers, with first and last names in Portuguese, descendants, whose family names are in Portuguese, while their first names are in English, showing that they belong to Goenkar families that moved into the diaspora, or newcomers whose full names are either in English or in one of the Indian languages. The juxtaposition of names and languages already shows the heterogeneous quality of this community, both in terms of place and time. Regarding place, Goa is presented not as “a horizontal fraternity” (Anderson 6) but, in Bhabha’s terms, as “a space that is internally marked by cultural difference and the heterogeneous histories of contending peoples, antagonistic authorities, and tense cultural locations” (299). With respect to time, the fact that the community is made up of old-timers and newcomers, who understand Goa from different perspectives, already deconstructs temporality as being a “homogenous, empty, time” (Anderson 25), and presents it as a “dialectic of various temporalities—modern, colonial, postcolonial, native—that cannot be a knowledge that is stabilized in its enunciation” (Bhabha 303).

Hence in Inside/Out Goa is recreated by authors as one of the last of the natural paradises of post-modern society and, therefore, a refuge from the high-paced life of first-world urban centers, as shown in the epigraph of this chapter; for others, it is the last remnant, within the Indian subcontinent, of the once mighty Portuguese Empire; still for others the nostalgic land of their ancestors; and for many more, their home, either because they have lived there forever or because they have made of Goa their new place of residence. What connects all the narratives is the “desire to go back to an idea of a stable community at the moment when it [seems to be] disintegrating” (Zagarell 500) due to the rapid changes introduced by political moves and globalization. It is this same identification with a certain place that sometimes makes the old-time residents distrustful of the new ones:

[sometimes] seeing the world through the lens of place leads to reactionary and exclusionary xenophobia, racism and bigotry. ‘Our place’ is threatened and others have to be excluded. (Cresswell 11)

Vidyadhar Gadgil, in one of the most insightful pieces of the anthology, “An Outsider among the Goans,” tells about his wife, of “Goan descent,” whose family “had kept up its links with Goa—a common phenomenon as [he] was to discover—with a magnificent, if dilapidated, family house which was opened up whenever any of the family came down to Goa” (53). In the same breath, he tells that sossegado, the Portuguese word for calmness and tranquility, is a “reality” in ← 72 | 73 → Goa, and that “people are friendly and the natural beauty is something truly special” to the point that he himself has “developed a strong sentimental affection for the place” (54). However, not everybody is considered a Goan or a Goenkar. What turns you into one is not the fact that you might inhabit the place, own property, or fight for its preservation, but rather the ethnic connection, as in the case of his wife; she is an insider while he is an outsider, though he prefers to remain one. Gadgil then goes on to discuss the case of the foreigners who fall within the category of bhaille: “well-heeled foreign tourists […] of a special sort and fawned upon,” and the ghanti, also foreigner, but “from over the ‘ghats’, a [term] used for labor-class Maharashtrians and Kannadigas” (56). While the former might be welcome, the latter will always be outsiders. The complexity of the question of the Goan identity shows that it is deeply tied to the desire to preserve Goa’s landscape, culture, and identity from tourists, workers, and foreigners—a process that includes some and excludes many from this almost mythical place called Goa.

For all of Goa’s uniqueness, however, this kind of conflict about identity is not just particular to Goenkars, but is profoundly associated with the changes many communities are going through all over the world. Doreen Massey states that the “annihilation of space by time” (1), brought about by globalization, has led to a questioning and redefinition of the concept of “place”:

One of the results of this is an increasing uncertainty about what we mean by ‘places’ and how we relate to them. How, in the face of all this movement and intermixing, can we retain any sense of a local place and its particularity? An (idealized) notion of an era when places were (supposedly) inhabited by coherent and homogeneous communities is set against the current fragmentation and disruption. (Massey 1)

The constant flux of people all over the globe at a much quicker pace than before, as well as the development of the new media, have led many communities to feel threatened and consequently to adopt reactionary attitudes that deny the present and look back to the past when, it is believed, communities tended to be stable and homogeneous. This is why, as Massey goes on to say, long-time residents adopt what she terms “reactionary attitudes when confronted with such massive change” (1):

The current fragmentation and disruption] has been part of what has given rise to defensive and reactionary responses—certain forms of nationalism, sentimentalized recovering of sanitized ‘heritages’, and outright antagonism to newcomers and ‘outsiders’. One of the effects of such responses is that place itself, the seeking after a sense of place, has come to be seen by some as necessarily reactionary. (1)

People who are prone to hindering the entrance of newcomers to a new place generally do so because they think that it is their own community that has always been identified with a certain place: they are the true owners of the place. Massey (1), ← 73 | 74 → however, deconstructs this relationship, arguing that place and community are coterminous on very rare occasions. Nonetheless, she understands that many times the desire for such a coherence is due to geographical fragmentation, typical of contemporary society.

If there is a case in which place and community have never been fully coterminous, perhaps, it is Goa. First, more than being a national community, Goa is a region within India among many others in this profoundly heterogeneous country; second, it can be defined as a community that extends beyond its geographical boundaries into the diaspora; third, it has constantly received foreigners within its territory. Already in the sixteenth century, the coming of the Portuguese disrupted the quality of the local community and lent to it a distinctive cultural hue that many of the descendants of this historical process try to keep alive. Then, mainly in the pursuit of work, many Goans have historically been forced to leave Goa. Nevertheless, though living in Africa, America, Australia, or Europe and having foreign nationalities, with English often as their mother tongue, the children of Goenkars abroad are sometimes considered as being more truly Goans than many of the newcomers who have settled in Goa. Evidently, it is not only the geographical location that turns them into Goenkars, into true children of the land, but the ethnic bond, which is a very central and conflictive issue in the present definition of identity. Goa is thus a paradoxical place; though many of its villages still bear the marks of a rural community, it is also the epitome of post-modern times. While it seems to be small and contained, it breaks barriers of space, as it is profoundly integrated with the global world through those who, though far away, continue to define themselves as Goans and through the foreigners who come from far away and want to be treated as locals. Transit, more than quiet, is one of the main features of this place.

Inside/Out comes precisely at a moment when the deeply intertwined concepts of community and identity have brought about much discussion in Goa, as the narratives reveal. When seen in this light, the name of the collection, Inside/Out, acquires new shades of meaning, as in the different narratives the insiders/out, as well as the outsiders/in, have their say, though always coinciding on one issue: they all want to be considered as being part of Goa. In turn, the subtitle of the collection, “New Writing from Goa,” might be understood at two levels: it is new because it has not been published before, but mainly for the way the different narratives look at Goa, trying to discuss how the place has shaped its inhabitants’ identities in the past and in the present. This perspective is put forward in the Introduction:

Experiences emerge. Memoirs bubble forth. We try to make sense of what Goa means to us, within and without. If the collective past has shaped Goa, Goa now shapes us through daily engagement. We tell of how we perceive Goa, knowing well that Goa has shaped the very mind that now seeks to examine her. (n. pag.) ← 74 | 75 →

Hence, in Inside/Out, both writers and photographers alike talk about how they interact with the place: the way it has influenced them and how they have contributed to modifying it. In the different narratives that constitute the book, Goa emerges as a bucolic landscape, severely threatened by realtors and the influx of tourists. The expanse of its many villages is crisscrossed by the many insiders who look to the past and want to recover some idea of what it once was, and the new residents who already feel part of the place and want to leave their mark on it. All the narratives in the collection―in different tones and genres―discuss the conflict between place and belonging, as its name Inside/Out also reveals: the need to express why they chose to live in Goa, how they feel about the place, as well as their desire to turn the community inside out to better understand it. For all their differences, Goa emerges as a place that, as Gadgil points out, evidently “grows on its inhabitants” (4).

In her discussion on narratives of community, Zagarell observes that “genres arise in response to cultural-historical circumstances” (500). If the novel, “with its simultaneous action in homogenous empty time” (Anderson 26), is the literary form of the nation, it might be argued that this new kind of fragmented community, emblematic of what happens around the world today, needs a new type of literary genre to recreate it. Communities like Goa defy the concept of the linear and progressive chronotope of the novel (Anderson 26). Although a limited terrain in the heart of the Indian subcontinent, Goa has never been self-contained, as culturally it is situated between the East and the West: it is part of an Eastern culture that was conquered by people who came from the West, it continually receives Western tourists lured by the East, and Goans have historically migrated to the West.

The short story, with its elliptical form and epiphanic quality, is one of the most adequate artistic forms to recreate this diverse community. Perhaps this is why short story collections about Goa were very common in Portuguese up to 1961, when Goa was annexed to the Indian Union, and nowadays in English, Konkani, and Marathi, the languages spoken in Goa. They have a looseness of expression that permits dealing with a markedly heterogeneous community. One form of the short story is the “short story cycle,” a group of stories by the same author related by locality, character, and theme, among other literary categories (Wiemann 156). In an earlier book, Forrest L. Ingram had defined the short story cycle in the following terms: “a book of short stories so linked to each other by their author that the reader’s successive experience on various levels of the pattern of the whole significantly modifies his experience of each of its component parts” (19).

The first definition emphasizes a common locality as one of the threads that relates all the narratives of the cycle. They deal with the life and ethos of a community, presented/viewed in minute detail; this is why this kind of narrative is of great ← 75 | 76 → relevance at the present moment, when the local seems to be under siege by the global. In turn, what stands out in the second definition is the relational structure of the cycle: the way in which each one of the parts constitutes a movable whole since the pattern that emerges will very much depend on the reader’s perspective. This characteristic of the short story cycle is also akin to the definition of community according by Homi Bhabha. While for Anderson (24) what helps a community imagine itself as being homogeneous and fraternal is the meanwhile that relates the experiences of all its members, though they might not know each other, for Bhabha the same connective tissue does not represent “the present continuous” of the community but a “succession without synchrony that might even be instantaneous, but not simultaneous, repetitive but not necessarily progressive” (295). It is precisely the dissimilar but juxtaposed narratives that make up Inside/Out that contribute to revealing this heterogeneous quality of the Goan community.

Despite having several features in common with the short story cycle, such as a common locality, Inside/Out also goes beyond the limits of the genre in two ways. First, though it is a composite narration, every piece in the book is by a different author, either Goenkar or bhaille, already defying and rewriting the question of who is who in Goa and the common authorship of the short story cycle. Second, all the narratives, though brief, are not necessarily short stories. The collection includes narratives in different genres, interspersed with photographs. If genres are contingent, a multiple authorship as well as written and imagetic narratives should be the defining mark of a post-modern narrative cycle.

Along the same lines, instead of the term, memoir, mentioned in the Introduction of the book, or the more common term, autobiography, after Smith and Watson, in this paper I use the term, life-narratives, on the grounds that, rather than privileging “the autonomous individual and the universalizing life story” (3), the narratives in the collection tell about individuals as members of a particular community and their experience within it. Besides, more than discoursing on their public achievements as outstanding members of the community, these authors are regular citizens of Goa whose narratives tell about their everyday life in the community.

In this paper, I will be focusing on some of the many narratives that make up Inside/Out, taking as an organizing principle the way in which they either affirm or deconstruct the sossegado quality of Goa and, in so doing, rewrite the communal place.


As already pointed out, all the narratives in Inside/Out are stories of living and belonging. While some of them seem to be intent on recovering a departing way of life and look to the past, others acknowledge a cosmopolitan one, in which outsiders from the ← 76 | 77 → Indian subcontinent and abroad occupy more and more space, simultaneously lending to the anthology both an ancient and an avant-garde tone. The whole cycle of narratives contributes to recreating a synchronic chronotope that shows, as suggested before, a community in process. Zagarell observes that “novels are teleological, plotting the individual lives they feature as dramas arranged around desire, conflict and choice, dramas that move towards success or failure” (520). In other words, they can be understood as linear narratives that lead to some kind of conclusion. Unlike the novel, narratives of community, as Inside/Out, are concerned not with resolution but with process, the way in which its many inhabitants experience the day-to-day life in the different communities that make up Goa. In this sense, episodical narratives should be more akin to narrating the processual quality of a community’s life, with both global and local characteristics, since what matters is not a sequential telling that leads to some kind of ending, but one that actually shows how the community functions: “The episodes [are a] repeated exemplification of the dynamics that maintain the community. Narrative action is built around these dynamics and stresses how the elements of the community are integrated” (Zagarell 520).

Therefore, in narratives of community such as Inside/Out, an ultimate definition of place is never reached because the representation of Goa in each one of them is contravened by the way in which all the other pieces depict it. It is the continuous deferral of an ultimate definition of Goa, from narrative to narrative, as well as the juxtaposition of all of them, reaffirming and contradicting each other, which actually contributes to showing Goa and its inhabitants in all their complexity.


The idea of a Goa under siege by the forces of change is recreated in “A Village Named Destiny” by Vivek Menezes, a composite narrative of sketch and photograph. Already the name of this village, one among the many that make up Goa, points to this irrevocable change. It is called “Moira” which, as the author observes, means “fate, destiny” (116) in Classical Greek:

The Goan village that bears this poetic name spills pleasantly over a series of hillocks, and is renowned throughout the region for the quality of its outsized bananas, as well as the eccentricity of its citizens. In every way, it is the archetypical village from the Old Conquest, the part of this territory that was occupied first and experienced the longest colonization in history. (116)

Though there is a desire to romanticize Moira, it comes out as a community of excess showing that there is something amiss in it. It is a small village that the author has frozen into a sossegado landscape. However, its rich soil is more fertile than any other since it produces the biggest bananas. And if a community ← 77 | 78 → determines the traits of its citizens, there must be something peculiar in Moira since its people are the most eccentric. What seems to give them this unique quality is that Moira is the archetypal village of the Old Portuguese Conquest. The photographs that illustrate the narrative reinforce this idea by depicting not only the unusual bananeros and the leisurely residents, in shorts and flip flops, but also the almost ancient women of the village, toothless, and attired in the black headscarf, typical of last-century Catholic devotees. Also, the interiors of the dilapidated mansions that can be peeped at through the crevices of the windows take the readers back to the time when Moira was a faraway corner of the Portuguese Empire. In the empty rooms there are pictures of family trees whose roots entwine Indians and Portuguese. All of them reveal a past time that still lives in the present but, as the sketch suggests, might sadly disappear if not taken care of:

Like Goa itself, Moira has managed to sustain a remarkable cultural integrity into the new millennium, but now faces an uncertain future in an era of rapid change, demographic displacement and the erosion of hard-won social and political balance. (116)

In V. Menezes’s narrative, Moira’s rural quality conveys the idea of an eternal Goa; it implies cultural homogeneity and permanence. V. Menezes seems to see landscape where Moira’s inhabitants see place. But, as Creswell would say, “we do not live in landscapes. We look at them” (11). While landscape is static and unchanging and there is a desire to preserve it in written or imagetic narratives, place is in a constant process of change. And Moira is a place subject to the uncertain future like any other community.

Hence, both pictures and text, in V. Menezes’s narrative, reveal the author’s desire to rescue the sossegado quality of the place. The paradox is that V. Menezes does not seem to see himself and the Enfield Bullet, from which he is trying to turn Moira into an immutable landscape, as being part of the same process of change: “[He] roared around Moira on the back of an Enfield Bullet piloted by his friend, Augusto Pinto (another Goan resident) to compile a photographic portrait of the village for the newly formed Moira-Net Internet Group” (116). Again, and paradoxically, through V. Menezes’s agency, the website will irretrievably contribute to Moira’s destiny of change since it will reveal Goa to people from all over the world who, like V. Menezes, want to live in a sossegado place, without realizing that their own presence will inevitably disrupt its quiet.

Massey explains that this longing for community stability and coherence is the result of “the spatial disruption of our times” (1). It is this threat, the author adds, that eventually has given rise to “outright antagonism to newcomers and ‘outsiders’” (1). In Melinda Coutinho Powell’s “Village Vibes,” this fear of the outsider is explicitly expressed. In her life-narrative, Coutinho Powell tells how she and her husband relocated from Mumbai to Goa and “ended up building a new house next door to [her] mother in Chaddo Vaddo, Darvolim” (84). ← 78 | 79 →

Though due to her ancestry she qualifies as a true Goenkar, Coutinho Powell and her family were still viewed with suspicion because of “her husband’s non-Goan status and [their] city connections […] So […] there was endless speculation about [their] life” (84). Eventually, they were “sort of” accepted by the community and started enjoying what they had come looking for in this new dwelling: the real heart of Goa that is not “in the slice of life in some tourism- affected coastal areas [but] in the villages, where people are warm and friendly, where neighbors will lend a helping hand in times of trouble, where there are long lasting friendships that span generations” (86). She makes a point establishing a difference between the bhaille, who belong in the tourist area, and the true villagers who still live in communities that look like pre-industrial helmets, where everybody is on a first-name basis. She herself would belong to this second group.

Though excluded in the beginning, once Coutinho Powell settled down and started mingling with the locals, she considered herself a true insider, a true villager, who could tell the village in the past from the village in the present: “Earlier we could recognize every passer-by, today we don’t. Change is inevitable. A lot has happened since I moved to Goa ten years ago” (85). Through the use of the first person plural she includes herself among the true Goenkar. Her presence does not seem to have disrupted the landscape as recent newcomers have done. However, in other parts of her narrative she adopts the perspective of an external observer; her village emerges as a picturesque location (a landscape to look at, not a place to live in), an almost fictional place inhabited by also colorful people who, in her own words, look like “a motley bunch of characters”:

Dona Imelda, a frail, silver-haired woman with wizened countenance […] Then there is Pedru the plumber, a bespectacled comic-looking man who roams around on a rickety scooter with a bag of odd-looking tools. […] And then there is Philomena, [her] gardener, who looks after several gardens in the village […] and our Jack of all trades—Manuel, the village shop-keeper. (86–87)

She also remembers when her father passed away and the neighbors not only kept them company but also helped with the arrangements of the funeral. This kind of behavior, unheard of in big cities, makes her feel that she belongs to that singular place that still follows the precepts of a rural community untouched by globalization. She relishes her village’s old-age customs and traditions: “We still have freshly made pau delivered by a poder on a cycle and the fisherman still does his rounds, selling small catch to the villagers” (88).

Though showing great affection for all of them, her narrative reveals an unbridgeable gap between herself and the village people, since she seems to be watching them from a global and present perspective of which they seem to be totally unaware. She seems to be the only one to realize that Goan identity is ← 79 | 80 → vulnerable to the invasion of outsiders who threaten both the geography and the culture of the village. The villagers’ agency, on the other hand, seems to be limited to the menial and old-fashioned tasks they perform daily and, therefore, totally inadequate to defend their way of life from the aggressive assault of “the mega housing projects” (87), and the “Goan landlords [who] have built tenements and rent out rooms to migrant labor” (85). Again, as in the previous narrative, though a relative newcomer, Coutinho Powell does not see her presence as altering the features of the landscape.

She finishes her narrative on a resigned and almost anguished note: “Home is where the heart is. My heart is in my village. I wonder how long my village will remain relatively untouched. Until the inevitable happens, I shall enjoy the sylvan setting, camaraderie and all the sights and sounds that make up village life” (88). Though an outsider in the beginning, once she has become part of the community, her own discourse becomes possessive, defensive, and fearful.

According to Massey, in this rapidly changing world people feel insecure and vulnerable and therefore become defensive when changes tend to destroy their community. In these circumstances, a strong sense of place becomes almost inevitable:

So the search after the ‘real’ meanings of places, the unearthing of heritages and so forth, is interpreted as being, in part, a response to a desire for fixity and for security of identity in the middle of all the movement and change. A ‘sense of place’, of rootedness, can provide—in this form and on this interpretation—stability and a source of unproblematic identity. (5)

Paradoxically, Coutinho Powell’s presence in Goa, as well as her desire to preserve it, as it once was, already show that Goa is a place in transition, struggling for coherence and survival in the midst of the contrary pressures of modernity and tradition.


Many of the narratives in Inside/Out are markedly nostalgic. Jennifer Joan Smith (5) points out that the language of nostalgia serves two purposes. The first is to fight back the feeling of displacement and despair produced by rapid changes in the community. The second is to affirm place or community in order to counteract the ruptures produced by these changes. Nostalgia thus helps recover places and identities under threat because, implicitly, it affirms that the past is superior to the present. “Granny’s Goa” by Veena Gomes-Patwardhan, “The Unsolved Mystery of a Family Portrait” by Fátima da Silva Gracias, and “Support Systems in a Long and Ongoing Life” by Victor Rangel-Ribeiro, belong within this category. ← 80 | 81 →

All these life-narratives, in which the authors tell the stories of their ancestors while they themselves play main or secondary roles, depict Goa as a place rooted in history. These life-narratives are populated by characters with Portuguese names who lived in a bygone time and, therefore, are invested with an almost mythical quality, both for the reader and the authors themselves. Likewise, though their lives are undramatic—to use Zagarell’s term (505)—the narrators’ evocations of the grandparents’ lives, the feats of a beloved brother who was in the war, or the mysteries hidden in a family portrait turn the Goan past into an unknown country. At times, it is the life of an almost perfect community whose motto seems to have been happiness and harmony, in spite of all vicissitudes: “Back then in Goa, people lived life in a different lane. They worked hard, rested well, came together to celebrate their feasts, shared their joys and sorrows with each other, and kept the spirit of community alive” (Gomes-Patwardhan, “Granny’s Goa” 157). At other times, the narratives tell about the rigid patriarchal family system that decided who would inherit the family property, be destined for the church, marry, or remain single to take care of aging parents. Though these family decisions were many times frustrating for some of the members of the family, they seem to have given their lives a meaningfulness that existence has lost today in the constant flux of an ever-changing society:

In most Goan Christian families of that time, traditionally the first son became a priest, the second one married and the remaining sons stayed unmarried at home […] Women of my grandmother’s generation lived with grace and were not as disempowered as it is made to seem.” (da Silva Gracias, “The Unsolved Mystery of a Family Portrait” 201)


X, 341
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2016 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. X, 341 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Irene Maria F. Blayer (Volume editor) Dulce Maria Scott (Volume editor)

Irene Maria F. Blayer holds a PhD in Romance linguistics from the University of Toronto, and is Full Professor in the Faculty of Humanities at Brock University, Canada. Dulce Maria Scott holds a PhD in sociology from Brown University, and is Full Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Anderson University, Indiana, United States.


Title: Intersecting Diaspora Boundaries