Raul Freitas

BitterSweet

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Big stars and big events are marking this weekend’s 70th anniversary of Portuguese emigration to Canada, focusing the attention of all who are connected to that tree, on the events that placed them where they are today.

Nothing like a celebration of heritage to unite the people it represents. It’s also an eye-opener for those who know where their past lies, but have yet to freshen up on what it’s significance, and where it all began. It’s more than a few presentations and concerts. Just the fact that it’s being done and in such a scale says a lot about its importance. It truly is a chance for the younger descendants to learn much about themselves.

On this side of the Atlantic, where it all began, only at the government level was there mention of the goings on, and that makes sense. In Portugal, besides being proud that so many of our people managed to thrive after leaving their homeland over the last 70 years, we can’t forget the reasons that so many felt compelled to leave. Just as important, and I believe it’s a topic that rarely gets a mention, is the fallout, over the last 70 years, of the loss of such a large portion of our population. Sure, we grabbed back our freedom in 1974, but continued to lose our people in droves until relatively recently. Fascism stagnated our culture in every aspect, a legacy that will continue to linger for a few generations to come. But it also created this exodus that became a Portuguese way of life. For decades, the hope of anyone who could think for themselves was to go elsewhere to make a life for themselves and their families. Today, I don’t see any interest in studying this phenomenon, or even pondering it. Today we thrive on tourism, and in the interior of the country the coming of the immigrants during holiday seasons is of the upmost importance, not just for family reunification, but for economic reasons. We all count on that support because otherwise these areas would be nothing more than ghost towns; many already are. But we need our people, more than we need the money. I often look around and imagine the potential, if only we had people walking the streets. I imagine them sitting at the cafés, perusing through the stores, sitting down for lunch at an eatery. Mostly I imagine young people making their way with their friends, finding ways to pass the time. Our cities are bursting with tourists who fly in and fly out, taking, and leaving nothing in return. That’s what a tourist is, that’s reality, but it creates lonely cities for those who are here and truly love it. It’s a different thing when a Portuguese tourist comes in. They have a sense of wonder, a connection they feel and need to explore.
So, I’m putting it out there: Teach your young people about their heritage. Create the inevitable sense of pride.

It’s not just at these times we should remember our culture in serious terms. A Canadian of Portuguese heritage is still part Portuguese, and initiatives like the 70th anniversary celebration help to open many eyes. It’s also up to us older ones to tell the rest of the stories, the more personal ones. Show off your pictures and videos. We might think none of our youngsters have any interest, but if even one in ten find a spark within them to look into their past, that’s definitely a step in the right direction. We’re much more than a great tourist destination, we’re a place where anyone could thrive, if only we have enough believers to invest in the future.

Fiquem bem.

Raul Freitas/MS

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