Emanuel Melo -The New Wave of Luso-Canadians

"In recent years, I have fumbled my way back through the world of art and literature. I have tried hard to find a connection, and I'll keep on trying. Yet the more I try, the less connection I seem to find, and the connections I make are, at best, tenuous. It's always just a little bit not the right fit."

Emanuel Melo -The New Wave of Luso-Canadians

The New Wave of Luso-Canadians

 Emanuel Melo   

Normally, I don't watch Saturday morning TV, but when I woke up today, I remembered that it was time for the start of the weekly Portuguese shows. They came on one after the other, each 30-minute show giving a different flavour and perspective on the diaspora continuum. 

The first show, Canada Contacto with host João Vicente, showcased two professional Portuguese women. The first, a very dynamic, articulate, and sophisticated business woman who founded two companies with celebrity chefs among her many other successful projects. It wasn't until near the end of the segment that she acknowledged growing up Portuguese in her perfect English. She praised her hard-working parents and the sacrifices they made for their children. When she read that Portuguese students were the number one ethnic group not to pursue higher education in Canada, she devoted her time to support and encourage youth of Portuguese background to pursue post-secondary learning. She believes these students can be anything they want in life by thinking outside the box, while at the same time embracing the strong work ethic learned from their parents as the best tool for their success. I got the impression that this motivated entrepreneur probably no longer speaks any of the Portuguese she would have learned growing up. I was watching a fully-integrated, English-speaking Canadian.

 Her childhood photograph projected on the screen was the only item that indicated her Portuguese heritage.

 The other woman was a successful journalist visiting from Portugal, her Portuguese sounding only the way someone who lives in the homeland could speak. Her interest was in literary journalism and writing. She had published a book about women in the Portuguese penal system as well as a photobook on hospitals seen from the patients' point of view. She was engaging and just as articulate as the first woman, yet their experiences of being Portuguese were as diverse as their interests. 

The second show, Nós, Portugueses, with Bill Moniz, dealt with the "nova vaga de emigrantes." He asked, "Quem são os novos pioneiros?" It turns out that the new pioneers, are professional and educated people who want to continue their careers as doctors, lawyers and engineers in the countries that receive them. They are leaving Portugal these days, from "todos os cantos" from every corner, for the same reasons that the old wave of immigrants left: economic instability, the hope of a better life for families, and better career opportunities. But this is the only common ground they have with earlier generations of immigrants, who, unlike the "nova vaga" had been poorer and less educated. In those days, this country still needed a working class so the benefit to both the immigrant and Canada was enormous: construction workers, railroad builders, farmhands and cleaning women. Today, Citizenship and Immigration Canada is only willing to accept the highly educated professional applicant and without these skills, people from my parents' generation would not have found the same open door they did over 50 years ago. The "carta de chamada" which was the popular way so many were allowed to come to Canada no longer exists, so to be advantaged in today's new immigrant market, you must have higher credentials than a willingness to clean houses or build skyscrapers. 

Moniz interviewed a couple, recently arrived from Portugal with their two young daughters. The husband found work similar to what he did back home and he is already doing well. The wife, however, a lawyer by profession, still needs Canadian certification. Until she finds her way into accreditation, she opted for the traditional choice of previous generations of women who worked as cleaning women "na limpeza" albeit with a twist. In this young lawyer's case, she has not spent too much time cleaning bathrooms but has put her higher education to good use by forming her own cleaning company. That's the difference between her generation and the older generation: EDUCATION! Even the children of these new immigrants have different aspirations from my generation. For example, one of their daughter's dreams of going to New York to become an actress, having already experience performing in Portugal. 

We watch the family in their new Canadian home. It's somewhere in a nondescript suburb; the garage is the prominent face with the house hidden behind it and there are two cars in the driveway. They sit in a living room watching a big TV monitor, the walls are blank and a stark white. Perhaps they haven't been here long enough to put up what's important to them, but I wonder. The living room looks like so many other living rooms I have seen in the suburbs. So different from the homes of first wave immigrants who covered their walls with old black and white family photos and religious images. I see no similarities between the old and the new immigrants. They might as well have come from different cultures which makes me think that it's not only a shared language and a way of life that keeps us similar, it's in part a generational divide. Coming from Portugal in the 1950's was very different from someone coming in the 2000's. It surprises me that it was only watching this show that I became conscious of the role of specific "time spans" in determining how you experience, and acclimatize in, the diasporic world. 

The last show was Gente da Nossa, with host Nellie Pedro. Her program is more about documenting the weekly social events of the Portuguese Community, mostly in Toronto and surrounding area: the various club dinners held in local church halls or community centers which always include local entertainers with music for old and young to dance to while children run between the dancing partners. Others watch, sitting around large tables where an entire family can be together and eat caldo verde and other traditional dishes. Today she announced the "tourada à corda" happening (not in its native island of Terceira) but in Cambridge, Ontario and somewhere else I can't remember because this is when I turned off my TV. I can't relate to this way of being Portuguese in Canada either. I realize that the old generation of immigrants still clings to traditions and ways that help them keep their past alive. Even had I stayed in the Azores I would not have been someone who enjoyed club dinners, folkloric music and dancing or any form of bullfighting. I must go my separate way without judging. 

Watching these three shows was like watching three panels of cultural diversity, each trying to define and explain the Portuguese immigrant experience. My sense is that the new wave is made up of very different people than those who came during the old wave. The new generation of immigrants are accustomed to social redes, mass media, YouTube and iPhones and other trappings of imposed globalization. They will not miss these things from home because they find them right here, too and so they will adapt seamlessly, already familiar with the North American way of life. They will probably not gravitate to the existing cocoons of old world nostalgia, just like most recent generations of Canadians don't go into old-timers' legion halls, except at voting time. Ultimately, the new Portuguese immigrant's experience of saudade will be quite extraordinarily different from earlier generations. 

I wondered which of these three TV shows I identified with and yet I found myself in none. I have been wrestling for several years with the possibility of finding a place to belong within my ethnic community, looking for a place of re-entry. In recent years, I have fumbled my way back through the world of art and literature. I have tried hard to find a connection, and I'll keep on trying. Yet the more I try, the less connection I seem to find, and the connections I make are, at best, tenuous. It's always just a little bit not the right fit. 

Emanuel Melo is a writer and he lives in Toronto, Canada.