What is social capital? It is nothing more than the relationships and friendships, which an individual maintains in their lives. Throughout the years, these people become our support system. Social capital represents the resources available to individuals, through their social affiliations and membership in community organizations. It refers to aspects of social relationships that act as resources for individuals and facilitate collective action for mutual benefit. You can achieve more together than you can alone. Community is a network of different people who come together on a regular basis for some common cause or celebration. In other words, the more social capital you have: the healthier you are, the happier you are, the longer you live and the better the outcomes are in your life.
First and foremost, relationship building is the primary focus within our lives. We must strive to build ourselves, as part of a community. Whether it is shared interests or culture, the importance is the desire to develop relationships through direct social interaction. How much people trust others, socialize, and join groups — predict quality of life far better than either income or educational level. People, who have friends are more likely to have a positive self-concept, a sense of belonging, healthier emotional functioning, and more positive coping strategies. The relationships developed between individuals and members of the community and/or organizations will create positive influences in both inclusiveness and breadth. A valued social role is beneficial to an individual and the society as a whole.
Morality involves considering the well-being of others as reflected by the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The law of reciprocity, “responding to a positive action with another positive, rewarding kind action,” has become a predominant social norm. Similarly, filial piety “a virtue of respect for one’s parents, elders, and ancestors,” is considered to be an obligatory moral duty upon families. Due to the Baby Boom, which occurred roughly between 1945 and 1960, Canada’s population of seniors is at an all time high, with thousands more joining the ranks every day. With that being said, we live amongst a rapidly aging population, who require more and more assistance. As COVID-19 continues to run rampant, its effects have taken a major toll, in many unexpected ways. For the Portuguese community, one of the emerging concerns is the state of the Portuguese clubs. In a time of uncertainty, have we forgotten the cultural value and impact these places played amongst our elderly?
In the 1950’s, the first wave of immigration from Portugal were predominantly men. Many of them, who were family men, acquired jobs with the hopes of bringing their family over. It was a lonely time, however, there was no time for complaints. For family, there was no question… you simply worked as hard as you could. Nevertheless, inevitable feelings of homesickness arose. In a new land, without family, these men were forced to adopt new languages, behaviours and sometimes mindsets. How did they cope with the language barrier, culture shock and mind-numbing work? Amongst these men, a tremendous feeling of “saudade” began to build, an underlying melancholic longing for their culture and a sense of familiarity. What came to be known as the First Portuguese Club emerged in the 1970’s as a result. It pioneered an influx of social clubs, which became a safe haven for many first-generation immigrants.
These clubs were places of solace and reprieve, full of festas and processions, the marching bands and folklore groups… it was the link to what was missing in their lives. In a sense, their social capital had been diminished upon arrival in Canada. By themselves, they were left to their own devices, with a huge burden on their shoulders. Which is to say, Portuguese Clubs became a little slice of home, promptly filling the void of loneliness.
In recent times, many of these clubs have become a place of social gathering for the elderly community. With cards games, outings and daily social programs which continue till today… they fulfill a unique role, which a retirement home cannot necessarily replace. I think it is fair to say, for the elderly, these Portuguese Clubs provides more than comfort. It is a place of belonging, full of their friends, of people that understand their struggles and upbringing like no other. As previously mentioned, the pandemic has caused great concern for these clubs. The loneliness among the elderly is approaching epidemic proportions. To an extent, a time of unease and social isolation for them… it brings on the feeling of “saudade” once again. As a community, we must reflect, and strive to utilize our resources for the betterment of their lives.
Social capital, while intangible, is wholly present within the relationships in our lives. The first-generation immigrants, who came with nothing, we must ease their anxiety and uncertainty. Now more than ever, let us use this opportunity to alleviate their stress with signs of hope. As proud Portuguese community, united together, with our hearts in hand, let’s “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” …to ensure the doors of these socials clubs remain open!
Sara Isabel Dias/MS