Intersecting Diaspora Boundaries

Portuguese Contexts

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

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part One: Introduction
  • Chapter One: The ‘Diaspora’
  • Part Two: Identity Spaces in Intercultural Crossings
  • Chapter Two: The Evolution of Portuguese Identity in the Post-Fifteenth-Century Jewish Diaspora
  • Chapter Three: A Precarious Whiteness: Exploring Australian Cultural Diversity through the Legacies of the Portuguese Empire
  • Chapter Four: Goa: From the Local to the Global and Back Again
  • Chapter Five: Behind the Scenes: The Cultural Impact of the Portuguese on Trinidad & Tobago
  • Chapter Six: Alchemizing the Masses: Alfred Mendes’s Early Barrack-Yard Narratives and the Figure of the Dougla in Trinidad
  • Chapter Seven: Verbal Acrobatics: Word Play and Movement in Mário de Andrade’s Paulicea Desvairada and Patrícia Galvão’s Parque Industrial
  • Part Three: The Diasporic Imaginary: Self, Place, Memory, and Textualized Identity
  • Chapter Eight: Intercultural and Hybrid Poetics in David Oliveira’s Poetry: From Azorean “Ethnic Signs” within American Literature to Life in Cambodia
  • Chapter Nine: Katherine Vaz’s “Lisbon Story”: Representing Place and Cultural Identity
  • Chapter Ten: Taking in Air in Frank X. Gaspar’s Early Poetry and How to Translate Its Brea(d)th
  • Chapter Eleven: Shadows and Radiance: The Collapsed Borders
  • Part Four: Interfacing Literary Dialogues
  • Chapter Twelve: Figurations of Diaspora: Contexts, Trajectories, Effects
  • Chapter Thirteen: The Magnetic North and the Southern Gardens in the Poetry of Cesário Verde
  • Chapter Fourteen: Crossing Worlds: Echoes of Exile in the Narratives of Maria Ondina Braga
  • Chapter Fifteen: (Re)covering Memories in Translation: Ilse Losa’s Portuguese Translation of Anna Seghers’s Novel, Der Ausflug der toten Mädchen
  • Chapter Sixteen: Passages Clandestins: De l’Émigration Clandestine à la Résistance dans O Gaiteiro: Le Joueur de Cornemuse de Manuel da Silva
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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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).


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