Raul Freitas

A Port In A Storm



As many of us know, when we’re strangers in a strange land, anything, or anyone, familiar and connected to where we came from generates an attraction similar to that of a moth to a source of light. In those initial years where you’re still feeling your way around and attempting to become a part of a community, a place with a familiar name, speaking your language and sharing your experience is like a port in a storm.

Sharing thoughts and concerns with those in a similar situation, many times from the same town you come from, is an elixir to the loneliness and other less than pleasant emotions that an immigrant may feel when starting over in a country whose culture can be so different from the one you were brought up with. An oasis in a desert. There can’t be enough said about how the Portuguese clubs and cultural centres were beacons for the Portuguese looking for a new life but not only didn’t know the customs, but especially didn’t know the language. All of a sudden, you had a place to gather, to play some cards, to have a drink or eat a meal, even dance to music you thought you had left behind. I know, because I spent many an hour at most of the Portuguese oases, in many capacities, from a very young age. These places made it easy to find someone who could answer many of the questions a new immigrant could have. Many friendships were formed in those places, and many discovered family they didn’t realize lived just a couple of streets over from you; that actually happened to us.

In the case of the Portuguese, we probably had among the largest variety of associations. Besides having First Portuguese Canadian Club, which was literally the first, there were clubs from all the Portuguese archipelagos and the continent. You could easily have a specific club named after the city where you came from. I don’t think many other immigrant communities could boast of such a luxury. Of course, all are welcome at any club, and every club celebrated their ethnicity in their own way. There are even the clubs specific to your favourite soccer team back home. I fondly recall being an avid table tennis player at Benfica club. Casa do Alentejo was a favourite, everyone was always so welcoming. I remember having great meals among the Minhotos at Dundas and Ossington.

I’m sure that today these associations continue to provide the same comfort as they always have. They may not have many new immigrants peeking in the windows, but they are there to try and keep the culture alive, both for the veterans and the new generations of Luso-Canadians born from them. It’s an uphill battle, to be sure, the new generations have a difficult language barrier to get over, but the clubs are surely using both languages these days. I’m sure that many of the directors involved in these ventures today are probably Canadian-born.
Hats off to those who took the initiative in order to help those that followed. Nothing like an oasis, when you’re looking to quench your thirst. Their relevance today is key to keeping Portuguese culture alive in those who are naturally not part of it, but stem from it.
Fiquem bem.

Raul Freitas/MS

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