All countries that I have visited on my trip have been involved in independence struggles. Ireland, Finland and the Baltic States have been occupied but (re)gained independence. Scotland is having issues with England, while Sweden at one point occupied most of Scandinavia. Portugal, although a quite modest country today, was one of the world`s biggest colonisers during the previous millennium, a situation which still has consequences today.
Brazil is the best known colony of Portugal, but the current relation between the two countries are not very strong. Brazil gained independence in 1822 and has been a country of its own ever since. The language of conversation is still Portuguese ? a slightly different version of the language, but still easy to understand for a Portuguese. The language recognition is not fully mutual. Brazilians have difficulties understanding the Portuguese version of Portuguese, because the Portuguese have a tendency to swallow many of their vowels. Brazilians can be puzzled in their attempts to retrieve the missing letters.
`I came to Portugal with my aunt when I was 13, then got married and got a child`
`Most Portuguese people feel hardly related to Brazil. Even though they watch Brazilian Telenoveles (type of soap series) and listen to Brazilian music `, says Yasmin (29), who is Brazilian herself. She thinks the general attitude of the Portuguese towards Brazilian people is rather negative. She prefers to present herself as Spanish, because it will give her nicer treatment. The Portuguese are not very likely to recognize her as a Brazilian anyway ? Brazil is such a big country that there is hardly any stereotypical view of a Brazilian.
Yasmin further condemns the way Portugal reigned Brazil for centuries. `They only came to take our resources and did not care about anything else`, she says, adding that the situation never really changed since independence. Most Brazilians dreaming of emigration will choose most other countries before opting for Portugal. The United States are favourite for those who want to make money. France and England are most appealing to people who want to enjoy living outside Brazil.
Emigrants from all other former Portuguese colonies are likely to follow the opposite reasoning. They generally have Portugal as number one and only reference on their wish list. They may be disappointed that Portugal never proposed a naturalisation scheme for their colonies. Who was not Portuguese by the time Portugal let go off its colonies, did not have a chance to acquire the Portuguese nationality upon request.
Andrea (41) is more positive about the relation between Portugal and its former colonies. She thinks that Portuguese people love their former colonies, with two countries as favourites: Angola and Brazil. Both are very popular holiday destinations, appreciated for their slow pace of life. She explains the love for Brazil by the music and the TV. When Portugal was still under dictatorship, until 1974, the only TV that was not supplied by the state came from Brazil. The Telenoveles were a nice change from the boring state TV.
Andrea explains that the Angolan friendship was a result of the Portuguese involvement in the local civil war in the 1970s. The openness and friendliness of the Angolan people were a pleasant surprise to the Portuguese soldiers. Many of them found a wife during their stay ? and moved back to Portugal together.
Regulation has been stricter since, but Pedro (26) tells me that getting access to Portugal has become more difficult over recent years. He suspects that the way into Portugal now leads via corrupt immigration officers, who take money to let illegal immigrants in. An easier way for people to get to Portugal is simply to apply for a 90-days tourist visa, stay longer and in the meantime find alternative ways of acquiring Portuguese citizenship. Marriage is the best option, although that path is slowly being blocked off by new regulations.
Despite his negative view on immigration, Pedro thinks that the first generation of newcomers are generally ambitious and willing to work. He specifies that it`s especially the second generation of immigrants that causes problems: `They often seem lost between two cultures and do not to which one they belong. They do not want to work and they do not want to study. They don`t want anything and they pose big problems in the country.`
Marianne (26, photo) came with her aunt when she was 13, then got married and had a child. She says she does not always feel very welcome in Portugal. At supermarkets, bars or on the bus, people can always tell that she is from Angola. If it`s not from her face, it will be from her accent. Although she thinks life in Portugal is quite hard, she does not want to move back to Angola. It is a nice country, she last visited in 1997, but life is better in Portugal. That may well be the case, but many Portuguese people leave to Angola on holiday every year.
Liliana (18), who has Guinean/Angolan parents but was born in Portugal thinks that a coloured skin is not an advantage in social life. She herself has been able to find a job, at McDonalds, because she knew some people. Liliana thinks Portuguese people are quite racist, if not by choice then simply because they are not used to people who are different or think differently.
Tania (24) and Arthur (23), both Portuguese think that racism is especially popular among old people. They quickly add that old people can be rude to anybody and sometimes simply look for excuses to be rude. It is not strange to hear them shouting `go back to your own country` to somebody ? whether that is to a tourist or somebody living in Portugal.
Angolans and Brazilians are obviously not the only foreigners living in Portugal. The second biggest population is Chinese. They fiercely compete with a traditional local industry that until recently used to be a source of Portuguese pride: clothes manufacturing. The Chinese hardly mix in with the local population and their visible presence is limited to small shops and restaurants.
The other former colonies also account for a large share of the foreign population. Guineans, people from East-Timor, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Macao. Nationals from the Cape Verde islands are also present across the country. Their reputation can hardly be called positive. They are accused of doing in the South of Portugal what Romanians are accused of in the North of Portugal: pickpocketing and mending..
Other Eastern European immigrants have slightly better reputations. Ukrainians and Moldovan citizens have also jumped to the other end of the continent. Generally not without first learning the language, which assured them of better jobs. They often work in health care or in education. Romanians have been less lucky. Many of them thought they would be able to get by easily because the Portuguese language is similar to Romanian, but they soon found out that they are different enough to form a barrier.
While many countries urge their minorities to learn the local language, Portugal proves that just that is not enough. Most of its immigrants even have Portuguese as their mother tongue, but they still have difficulties reaching the higher echelons of society. In order for immigrants to be successful in a new country, they ideally need to have followed a high level of education, be open minded, not look too different from the local average, adopt the local religion and ideology, change their name make it mix in with local names and learn the language. On top of that, immigrants expressly need to prove their use to society. Integration is a tough challenge.
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