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Creolizing EuropeLegacies and Transformations$

Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez and Shirley Anne Tate

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781781381717

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781781381717.001.0001

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On Being Portuguese

On Being Portuguese

Luso-tropicalism, Migrations and the Politics of Citizenship

(p.157) Chapter 9 On Being Portuguese
Creolizing Europe

José Carlos Pina Almeida

David Corkill

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

José Carlos Almeida and David Corkill interrogate the implications of the European colonial project in tracing new cartographies and phenomena. Departing from reolization as a concept which refers to the interaction between African slaves, European settlers, Asian indentured workers and indigenous peoples and cultural creolization, understood as the intermingling and mixing of two or several formerly discrete traditions or cultures, they discuss the limits of this concept in the understanding of the impact of Portuguese colonialism. Critically discussing Gilberto Freyre’s work on Lusotropicalism, they contrast creolization with the politics of miscegenation within imperial and fascist expansionist projects.

Keywords:   Lusotropicalism, Creolization, Enslavement, Indenture, Miscegenation


Social sciences have borrowed the term creolization from linguists who tracked the emergence of new languages from two or more pre-existing languages. Although a fluid concept, creolization generally refers to the socio-cultural results of the interaction between African slaves, European settlers, Asian indentured workers and indigenous peoples. Cultural creolization, understood as the intermingling and mixing of two, or several, formerly discrete traditions or cultures, has been applied to societies such as Louisiana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Réunion and Mauritius (Spitzer 2003; Eriksen 2007). Ever since the word was coined by the Portuguese and Spanish explorers during the sixteenth century, creole (crioulo in Portuguese) and creolization have meant different things in different times and places (Stewart 2007). For example, today, while crioulo refers to the official language in Cape Verde, it has come to mean also Cape Verdean identity and culture.

If we think about this usage of creolization as identity and culture, Portugal has had a creolized past and continues to have a creolized present. However, in Portugal, the terms miscigenação and mestiçagem are more commonly used in preference to creolization to refer to cultural and racial (p.158) mixing and thhave been at the center of the debates on national identity for most of the twentieth century. As will be discussed in this chapter, much debate has been generated by Gilberto Freyre’s work on Luso-tropicalism, a term that has been employed to analyze racial and cultural mixing in the wider Portuguese-speaking context (Caldeira, 1993; Venâncio, 2000; Vale de Almeida, 2007), just as creolization has been used to analyze societies in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Creolization emphasizes constant contact, creative interplay and transformation in the societies, cultures and bodies that are its result (Hannerz, 1992; Boisvert, 2005), and one of the main ideas behind Freyre’s work on Luso-tropicalism was the appreciation and normalization of miscegenation (Venâncio, 2000). As Riesz (2000, 105) puts it, Luso-tropicalism is a ‘rehabilitation and appreciation of the indigenous and African contribution to the Brazilian nation and culture’, in what could be seen as a ‘contraposition to a colonial way of writing history which highlights the white and European contribution’. Of course, Luso-tropicalism erased the horrors of the slave trade in which Portugal engaged for centuries in order to build its Empire and metropole, as well as the racialized, gendered and classed relations within the coloniality of power.

Although Freyre’s work focused initially on Brazil, his work was used politically by António de Oliveira Salazar’s Estado Novo (New State) dictatorship (1926–74) in Portugal and has been employed as an important framework for analyzing Portuguese society and its relations with the Portuguese-speaking world (Castelo, 1998; Moreira and Venâncio, 2000). In fact, the idea of the Portuguese as a people with ‘a special vocation’ for contacts and mixing with other cultures remained a very strong feature of any discourse of national identity in postcolonial Portugal and was widely celebrated in Portugal throughout the twentieth century by both the Salazar regime and the democracy established following the 1974 revolution, which marked the end of the Portuguese Empire. The Estado Novo regime adopted the idea of the Portuguese as the most humane of colonialists and the myth of a non-racist culture to claim ideological legitimacy for colonialism. In the 1990s, the democratic regime celebrated the same history but this time as a meeting of cultures to reconstruct the nation as a historically humanist, universalist and non-racist one. As we will see in this chapter, Portuguese national identity was itself creolized through this Luso-tropical way of seeing Portugal and the world. This was especially useful in the context of growing immigration flows into Portugal from its former African colonies and the creation of a multicultural ethos in Portuguese society. It has influenced not only self-perceptions and ways of seeing the world but also the politics of nationhood and citizenship, and these have, in turn, influenced recent population flows into Portugal, Europe and the United Kingdom. In fact, immigration and emigration have been closely related in Portugal and many of those who migrated from former Portuguese colonies to Portugal became a significant part of recent migration flows from Portugal to Europe and, in particular, to the United Kingdom.

(p.159) This chapter argues that in Portugal the debate has raged around luso-tropicalism and miscegenation rather than creolization. Moreover, the role of the state has been crucial under both dictatorship and democracy in popularizing luso-tropicalism and in reconstructing it within the national narrative. As a consequence, the lusotropicalist ‘ideology’ was responsible for a ‘multicultural blindness’ when Portuguese society became increasingly diverse during the 1990s. The tensions and contradictions between a racism-free ideological discourse and reality surfaced and brought renewed challenges to the understanding of postcolonial Portuguese society.

Travel, race and empire

The sixteenth-century voyages of the Portuguese, widely known in Portugal as the Discoveries, provided early experiences of radical cultural differences which had a profound impact on Western culture. It encouraged white Europeans to start a process of self-examination and initiated an extensive discourse – a cultural and scientific debate – about race (Lively, 1998). The term ‘discoveries’ is itself troubling as it denies the existence of indigenous people and deracinates the colonial project. European racism was a reality even before it became known as such, as a result of the encounters with the Other – most often a dominated Other in the context of colonialism (Wieviorka, 1995). During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, racism developed as a legitimizing ideology for white European conquest and colonization. European scientists in the nineteenth century systematized and catalogued human beings into races, sub-races, types and sub-types, according to the results of measurements of skulls, length of arms, color of the skin, texture of the hair, shape of the lips, size of the nose, etc. (Anon. 1995 [1818]; Souta, 1997; Fenton, 1999).

In Portugal, as in European other countries, one of the main concerns of early twentieth-century anthropology was the racial definition of the Portuguese and a strong opposition to miscegenation in the colonies, an approach common among scholars such as Eusébio Tamagnini and Mendes Correia (Vale de Almeida, 2008). The rationale for colonialism was provided by Social Darwinism. The white man felt superior and had a scientific legitimacy to justify the domination of other peoples. In the colonialpolitical and cultural order the rulers were defined as representatives of a superior civilization. The Others were considered ‘backward races’, as defined during the Salazar era in the official discourse. Even if, to some, the color of the skin should be considered only a distinctive, rather than a hierarchical factor, it was said that ‘the historical fact is that the white race became civilised and the black race has not […] [the true concept should be] civilised races and races not yet civilised; races that progressed and races that stagnated’ (Camacho, 1936). The Portuguese state was therefore conceived, above all, as a civilizing state and that was to be Portugal’s historic (p.160) mission (Carneiro, 1949; Lencastre, 1932; Salazar, 1935). This was stated clearly in the Colonial Act, a document upon which relations between the metropole and the colonies were based during Salazar’s dictatorship. The second article proclaimed:

It is the organic essence of the Portuguese Nation to carry out the historical function of possession and colonisation of overseas domains and to civilise the [inhabitant] indigenous populations, exerting also moral influence.

(quoted in Jesus, 1932)

In this context, notions such as purity were at the center of the public debates about the nation. Miscegenation overseas and some ‘mixed blood’ in the metropole were often viewed as undesirable consequences of the Portuguese Discoveries and colonial expansion, having ‘painful moral and social aspects’ (Corrêa, 1940: 224). Freyre’s thesis was not immediately accepted given the spread of the ideas about race described above. It was only later, as the need to legitimize the late colonial and imperial nature of Portugal became stronger after World War II, that the notion of Luso-tropicalism become politically very apposite for the regime (Almeida, 2005; Vale de Almeida, 2007).

Luso-tropicalism and colonialism

Freyre, a Brazilian sociologist, writing in 1931 about the example of the plantations in Brazil, presented his theory for the first time. That is, that the scarcity of white women created zones of interaction between winners and losers, masters and slaves. The relations between white men and black women were relations between ‘superior with inferior’. Nevertheless, it was the miscegenation that allowed the ‘correction of the social distance which otherwise would have been maintained’ between the casa-grande (the plantation great house) and the senzala (the slave hut) (Freyre, 1964). Freyre considered miscegenation to be pivotal in the democratization of the semi-feudal society created by the system of monoculture in Brazil (Freyre 1964: xxxiii–xxxiv).

Freyre presented his theory for the first time in the early 1930s and over the subsequent decades traveled and wrote about the Lusophone world, promoting the idea that Portugal was an exception as a colonial power. The Portuguese, according to him, were able to create a new civilization in Brazil, India, Timor and Africa, based not only on Christian values but on racial mixing. According to Freyre (1958, 33), the distinguishable characteristic of such ‘Lusotropical civilization’ would be its ‘singularly symbiotic character of the union of European with tropic’. The Portuguese in the tropics would have been neither a true European nor an orthodox imperialist. The Portuguese (p.161)

became dark, tanned and brown like them and when he remained white he often became the procreator of brown offspring. He absorbed tropical values and peppered his own Lusitanism with Orientalisms, Africanisms and Americanisms. He thus gave his own and their civilisations a mestizo quality of which Manueline architecture and Indo-Portuguese art are examples.

(Show, 1957, 403)

Their Europeanism was diluted, even in Europe, by admixtures with the Arab and Jew. This would explain the easier fraternization of the Portuguese with the Oriental, African and American peoples subject to his domination. To Show (1957, 386–387), that was one of the reasons why ‘one of the least populous nations of Europe would carry out a job [of slavery and colonialism] generally demanding highly populated homelands’.

During the early twentieth century, the European colonialists criticized the inefficiency of Portuguese colonialism and the Portuguese reacted to this as if miscegenation was a kind of a shame. However, these attitudes towards race and mixing evolved as Gilberto Freyre’s theory about the Portuguese presence in the tropics was eagerly appropriated by the dictatorship. Freyre (1958, 29) rejected the notions that Portuguese colonialism was inefficient and that miscegenation was shameful preferring to focus on what he called the ‘repugnant colonialism for the African peoples’ as practiced by the Northern Europeans. Luso-tropicalism would be the result ‘not of simple transference of means and values from one environment to another, but of integration’ (41) reflected in the ‘sensibility to the methods, techniques and values of the tropical peoples’ (21). To Freyre (29), the societies resulting from such ‘civilization’ would be ‘with all their imperfections, much more democratic, in their essential styles of human sociability, than the colonial societies, even when politically democratic dominated by northern Europeans or Anglo-Saxons in the tropics’.

He argues that the movements of Pan-Asianism and Pan-Africanism which represent reactions to the ethno-centric spirit of Europeans did not affect the Portuguese, because that ethno-centric basis ‘was nearly always exceeded or surpassed by the Christocentric spirit’ (Freyre, 1958, 19).1 In this kind of civilization, skin would have ceased to be an identifying factor. The mestizos and mulattos would have been incorporated into the Portuguese or Christian community as equals, not as inferiors. But, to Show (1957), miscegenation was not the only colonization technique of the Portuguese. Also evident was their mild treatment of the slaves, in which color, creed and class prejudices were absent. To him, this different Portuguese experience was the result of Muslim influences in Portuguese culture and ‘blood’. Despite the apparent contradiction between the claimed Christian values (p.162) and the acceptance of slavery,2 Show (1957, 400–401) considered the mobilization of mestizos, mulattos and aborigines a ‘revolutionary sociological action or reaction against conventions grounded on a biological basis’.

The myths of the Portuguese people and nation developed through luso-tropicalism were augmented further when Portuguese anthropologist Jorge Dias (1950) developed Freyre’s proposals in the 1950s. To him, a constant of Portuguese culture is ‘the profound humane feeling, based on an affective, amorous and kind temperament. To the Portuguese, the heart is the measure for all things’ (Dias, 1950, 34). This explained in his view why the Portuguese expansion was ‘more maritime and explorer than conqueror’ (15). Another constant would be the capacity of adaptation of the Portuguese to peoples, climates, cultures, languages etc. While the English remain English everywhere and the German when he is no longer German will hardly be German ever again, the Portuguese assimilated completely in terms of the saying: ‘In Rome be Roman’. As was said above, this romanticized slavery and colonialism, both of which were brutal racialized systems of societal, cultural, economic and political white hegemony.

The capacity to adapt, their human sympathy and their amorous temperament were seen as the keys to Portuguese colonization. The Portuguese assimilated, adapted. According to Dias (1950), they never felt repugnance towards other races and were always relatively tolerant towards other cultures and religions. While to Corrêa (1940), miscegenation was viewed as a historical accident in Portuguese expansion, to Freyre and his followers, it was at its core. Resuming the Arabic tradition by which one drop of Portuguese blood meant a new Portuguese, the Portuguese managed to create a ‘Pax Lusitana, different from the Roman and the British. A peace deriving solely from the singular Portuguese capacity to fraternise with the peoples of the tropics, to love tropical nature and tropical values, to dissolve amorously in this nature and values without the loss of a Christian sense of life’ (Show, 1957, 402). Portuguese miscegenation does not have an exclusive sensual explanation, although it is characterized by a strong sexuality.3

(p.163) Portuguese expansion was mainly a male adventure, thus, mixing was also mainly of Portuguese men with black women. According to Dias (1950), the Portuguese have an inherited inclination to women of other races and are capable of showing great affection or profound love. These feelings are so deep that ‘the Portuguese do not like just some races, but all’ (Dias, 1950, 54).

Although contradictory and naive at times the notion that the Portuguese had created a hybrid civilization in the tropics through miscegenation was manna from heaven for the Portuguese New State’s propaganda machine (Castelo, 1998; Almeida, 2005). Salazar employed it to legitimize his colonialist ideology especially after the 1950s when anticolonial movements began to appear. As part of the ideological legitimization of the empire, the New State denied any ethno-centric definition of national identity. As late as 1967, in a context of increased international isolation due to the colonial war in Africa, Franco Nogueira, the Portuguese Foreign minister, was still presenting the Portuguese overseas policy as an example of success:

Only we, before anybody else, took to Africa the idea of human rights and racial equality. Only we have practised the ‘multiracialism’, the most perfect expression of fraternity between peoples. Nobody in the world contests the validity of this principle but they hesitate in admitting that this is a Portuguese invention and recognising it, could increase our authority in the world.

(quoted in Ferro, 1996, 177)

Salazar’s regime had celebrated the ‘Portuguese world’ in a major exhibition in 1940, when Portugal possessed an extensive colonial empire (Corkill and Almeida, 2009). In the double centenary commemorations of 1940,4 the virtues of the civilizing race were celebrated. In 1960, when Portugal commemorated Henry The Navigator, the imperialist nature of the regime was already subject to international criticism. Therefore, the emphasis of those celebrations changed to the missions and the scientific discoveries. In 1986, a large programme of commemorations started to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Discoveries. In the late 1990s, two major moments were celebrated, the fifth centenary of the discovery of the maritime route to India in 1998, and the discovery of Brazil in 2000. The very naming of these events (p.164) as ‘discovery’ negates the brutality of conquest, colonization and the traffic in humans and other merchandize. As part of the celebrations, Portugal organized a large international exhibition in 1998. Although the idea of a world exhibition in Lisbon arose from the National Commission for the Commemoration of the Portuguese Discoveries, the Portuguese exhibition had as its general theme ‘the oceans – a heritage for the future’. The main attraction in the Portuguese pavilion was a film of animated iconography based on the famous Japanese Namban Screens.5 It represented the meeting between the Portuguese and the Japanese in 1543 and transmitted the way the Japanese saw the Portuguese in those first meetings. We were presented in the way the other saw us.6 Some characters and scenes of Japanese paintings were chosen to reconstruct the history of a voyage from Lisbon to Japan. In these screens of the early seventeenth century, the Japanese painted with great detail everything that impressed them in their first contact with the Portuguese. It was said in the introduction to the film that there was an ‘astonished, amused […] look about this western people with strange habits – and big noses – that brought exotic animals, unknown objects like the glasses of some Jesuit priests or the guns that changed the course of Japanese history’.

When the new cycle of commemorations started, only ten years after the collapse of the colonial empire, the metaphor of the ‘meetings’ or ‘encounters’ replaced that of the ‘discoveries’. Portugal reconstructed its ‘collective memory in a way that allowed it to share it with the whole Lusophone world’ (Hespanha, 1999, 18). This was especially useful in the context of renegotiation of its semi-peripheric role in the world (Sousa Santos, 1992; Almeida, 2004). As part of the reconstruction of Portugal´s relationship with the Lusophone world, language has often been conceived as the spiritual union, which unites not only all Portuguese nationals and descendants but also all Lusophone-speaking people. This lay behind the creation of the CPLP (Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries – something akin to the Anglophone Commonwealth) and Lusophony itself.

Nationhood, migrations and the politics of citizenship

As a colonial power, under the general Luso-tropicalist narrative, Portugal created a supposedly inclusive model of citizenship as a way of integrating its colonial subjects. By the 1960s, students in the country’s schools and universities were being taught that Portugal was a pluri-continental country, bigger than Spain, France, Germany and Italy put together, where the sun (p.165) never sets, in which other peoples were integrated based on multiracial and non-discriminatory principles, forming a part of the same unified pátria:

Many races – One Nation

Whites, blacks, yellows and mestizos

All are Portuguese

(Serviços de Instrução de Moçambique, 1962, 7)

The nation and the empire were represented in moral terms. The non-racist, human, universal nature of the empire was expressed in the illustrations in the schoolbooks through, for example, the image of a mother figure of the nation embracing two sons, one black and one white. As part of this ideological discourse that legitimized colonialism, citizenship was supposed to be based on an all-embracing principle, including all imperial subjects irrespective of color. However, as Davidson (1988, 46) highlighted, ‘the authority and power were white, while the subservience and obedience were black’. In the colonies of mainland Africa a distinction was made between white settlers, assimilado, and the indigenous, ‘uncivilized’ population; furthermore, legal dispositions granted the control of the rights and labor of colonized peoples to the colonizers (Vale de Almeida, 2008). As Miles (1989, 111) argues, ‘racism became a relation of production, in which the white race was destined to rule politically and to organise and direct production, and the African race was destined to provide the labour power necessary to produce the surplus’. In the Portuguese Empire, given the lack of white men from the metropolis, the Cape Verdian mestizos were employed in the colonial administration. Portuguese citizenship was given to the Cape Verdians in 1914, within a policy of assimilation which educated them to do low-ranking jobs in the colonial administration in other parts of the empire (Querido, 1989). Cape Verde was seen as an extension of Portugal. Elsewhere, the indigenous code of 1954 clearly stated that in order to become assimilated and cease to be indigenous, thereby gaining access to Portuguese citizenship, one had to be over eighteen years old, able to express oneself correctly in Portuguese, be employed in a profession, dress in a proper European style, wear shoes and eat according to European manners. This arrangement had the gate-keeping function of safeguarding Portuguese citizenship as white. Thus, in practice, for example, the percentage of Angolans who were granted Portuguese citizenship under the indigenato law code never exceeded one per cent (Reiter, 2005).

As the Estado Novo regime claimed the Luso-tropical heritage to legitimize its overseas policy in the 1960s and early 1970s, 140,000 people were mobilized in order to fight the colonial wars in Africa. Also 700,000 people emigrated from Portugal mainly into Western Europe, many escaping compulsory military recruitment. This caused a shortage of the labor required for the public works programme and the construction boom in the Algarve which began in this period. This was resolved by the state using its colonial metropolitan status. In fact, we can trace the origins of the current (p.166) major immigrant communities in Portugal to the period of 1966 to 1973, during which a special department to support the process (CATU – Centre to Support Ultramarine Workers) was created. For that purpose a ship was chartered in 1967 to import workers from Cape Verde (França, 1992).

Immigration and emigration have always been closely related in Portugal. Under the New State, the attitudes of the dictatorship towards the emigration of many thousands of white Portuguese men to European countries such as France and Germany remained ambivalent, including a certain tolerance towards the numerous passadores7 who smuggled many thousands of Portuguese peasants across Spain and into France in the 1960s. The laws regarding emigration were restrictive. However, the family separation they provoked, by averting its eyes from the clandestine emigration, encouraged remittances. In this way the state ensured a steady flow of emigrant remittances into Portugal, which became particularly useful in a context of very costly colonial wars in Africa. In this period, emigration also acted as a ‘safety valve’ regarding aspirations for change (Pereira, 1981; Brettell, 2003).

In the postcolonial era, the re-imagination of a special relationship with its former colonial subjects, by which Lusophone citizens became ‘more equal than others’ (Marques, 2004), not only materialized in the creation of the CPLP, it also had practical effects on the nationality law (Ramos, 2000) and on the norms for granting citizenship or acquiring residency status. After the collapse of both the Salazar regime and the colonial empire in 1974, the 1981 Law of Nationality shifted from jus soli – granting citizenship to those born in Portuguese territory, including parts of Africa – to jus sanguini – which grants citizenship to people of Portuguese descent. Under this law, people from Portuguese-speaking countries benefited until 2006 from special conditions for the acquisition of Portuguese nationality, either because they had Portuguese ancestry or because of the other benefits included in the law such as a shorter period of residence in the country required. Data available on the naturalization processes received by the Portuguese border agency SEF (Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras) show that, until 2006, around 90 percent of the cases were from people originally from the PALOP (Portuguese-speaking African Countries) and Brazil.8 In fact, in the 1990s, (p.167) Portugal became one of the European countries with the biggest proportion of African migrants (from the PALOP) and South-American immigration (from Brazil) (Machado, 1997).

Regular and irregular immigration flows from African Countries such as Cape Verde and Angola into Portugal continued to increase, attracted by the modernization process of the 1980s and 1990s and the need for labor for the major construction works such as the Vasco da Gama Bridge or Expo ’98, among others. These African immigrants came to join those who were living in Portugal since the 1960s and 1970s, many of whom had Portuguese citizenship themselves. When the economy started faltering in the early 2000s, many joined the white Portuguese in the recent emigration flows from Portugal to the rest of Europe and in particular to the United Kingdom. Portugal functioned therefore as a springboard to other more economically attractive countries, where the wages are generally better (Almeida, 2007; Almeida and Corkill, 2010) and, to the United Kingdom, where a large Lusophone population has been settling since the early 2000s.

These recent flows can be compared in terms of numbers with those from the 1960s and 1970s. However, one fundamental difference is that many people that have been migrating recently were themselves originally African and Brazilian immigrants in Portugal. In the context of the Schengen Agreement and free movement within the EU, having a European nationality became a very important asset for those who wanted to live and work in Europe. In fact, previous research (Almeida, 2007) shows that a significant number of Portuguese nationals living in the United Kingdom are people born outside Portugal, or people that attained Portuguese nationality through descent, with Angola, India, Mozambique, Brazil, South Africa and China (Macau) being the leading countries of origin in this respect. There are also some interesting regional concentrations, such as people with African origins in the Manchester area, a small East-Timorese community in Crewe and a significant Indian and Mozambican-born population in Leicester (Bastos, 2008). Given the fact that Mozambique has an important Indian population and that Mozambique has traditionally been a point of passage in the migration from India (mainly Goa) to Portugal and the United Kingdom (Malheiros, 1996), it is possible that many of these Mozambicans may well be people with roots in India. The language, historical and colonial links with the United Kingdom and Portugal help to explain why this route might be used to gain entry into the EU by citizens from South Africa, India or Zimbabwe. Furthermore, some of these countries are traditional destinations for Portuguese emigration, which might also be an indication of mobility amongst the Portuguese diaspora, for example, second generation emigrants, (p.168) born in countries such as South Africa, Venezuela or France (Almeida, 2007). These flows have created an increasingly diverse Portuguese-speaking community in the United Kingdom. As in Portugal, the image of a wider Lusophone community with different peoples living in harmony is often reproduced.

Luso-tropicalism and racism

In the ‘age of migration’ (Castles and Miller, 1993) in which we live, Portugal became an immigration country in the 1990s, mainly from its former colonies, and began to experience growing diversity, caused mainly by global migration and from the fact that minority groups demanded more cultural and political recognition (May, 2001). In the postcolonial era, ‘the ideas of inherent ethnic and racial difference were “re-imported” into the colonial homeland […] and re-emerged when peoples of former colonies were incorporated into the economic and political systems of the colonial centre’ (Fenton, 1999, 46). As was the case elsewhere, racism became more visible as Portuguese society became more diverse. However, the lusotropicalist view of the nation has been reconstructed in postcolonial Portugal and an image of exception has been reconstructed by the Portuguese state (Almeida, 2005). Thus, the attitude of the state has been one of ‘multicultural blindness’ (Souta, 1997) presenting Portugal as an exemplary country in handling diversity through miscegenation and fusion with the Other. After the traumatic colonial wars and the decolonization process, Portugal initiated a period of soul-searching over its colonial past. In this process the state has also breathed new life into its colonial contacts and mixing with other peoples as one of the main heritages of the past, reproducing again the myths of the Portuguese as the most humane of colonialists and practitioners of a non-racist culture which is part of a wider Lusophone pattern of acceptance of multi-ethnicity and intermarriage. As immigration flows increased in the 1990s, many immigrant associations began to demand better living conditions for the recently arrived immigrants, who lived in ‘precarious situations, in a strange environment, making them targets of marginalization and intimidating actions provoked by their living conditions and because their costumes and skin are different’ (‘O regresso das Caravelas’, n.d.). In the same pamphlet, however, Fernando Dacosta, a Portuguese intellectual, expressed the general optimistic view about the future relationship between them and us because we are ‘miscegenated by heart, by skin, by freedom. The affection is mutual […] going beyond the government relationships or system conveniences. The language is our root of unity, of reunion’ (‘O regresso das Caravelas’, n.d.). This constant reaffirmation of the universalist and humanist character of Portuguese national culture creates a culture of denial, where prejudice and racism are perceived as non-existent problems in Portugal given its supposedly tolerant and (p.169) non-racist culture. Racism was rather perceived by the political elite as a form of social exclusion, typical of capitalist societies, which can be resolved satisfactorily at the economic level (Almeida, 2005).

Although this assumption that racism in Portugal is simply a contingent and eminently manageable problem of economic exclusion seems too optimistic, the myth of a racially democratic and humane Luso-tropical civilization remains a constant reason for celebration. However, for the majority of the twentieth century, the population in Portugal remained very homogeneous. It was, therefore, not difficult to claim a non-racist culture because the different Other remained something exotic and distant from the metropole. Hermínio Martins (1998, 99), wrote in 1971, during his exile in the United Kingdom, that Portugal

[i]s not a plural society because unlike other ex-imperial powers, it has not absorbed yet any significant fraction of its colonial or ex-colonial subjects and, therefore, hasn’t diversified its ethno-cultural composition. Paradoxically, for an oceanic society, Portugal has been quite successful in the exportation of this ethno-cultural diversity.

Portugal, not only traditionally an emigration country but also pictured as one of the most homogeneous nation states, became a multi-ethnic country and, therefore, faces similar challenges to its European postcolonial neighbors, such as racism and nostalgia for the colonial past. The attitudes towards the Other inside national borders seem sometimes not to be as encouraging as the political correctness of the elite’s representation of the nation suggests. However, when these Portuguese nationals born outside Portugal emigrate, they are no longer the Other. They become us as Portuguese emigrants and form part of the Portuguese diaspora. Symbolically, the term emigrante (emigrant) is, for the Portuguese, a core cultural meaning and one that is highly charged.

The history of contact initiated by the navigators and carried on by emigrants is seen by some as Portugal’s greatest asset and both discoverers and emigrantes have been widely celebrated in popular culture. They both contributed to spreading the language and to making Portugal a ‘major power’. The emigrant is also fundamental to the Portuguese culture and its ecumenical and racially tolerant world view. Throughout history, migrants have been navegadores (navigators), colonos (settlers) and emigrantes. Each was a symbol attuned to historical and politico-economic circumstances: the navegador in the age of discovery, the colono in the age of settlement, the emigrante in the postcolonial period (Brettell, 2003). The way they integrated and related with local societies also varied. Despite many similarities with the patterns of migration and settlement in other countries in Europe (Salt and Almeida 2006; Almeida and Corkill 2010), there are also significant differences. Just like the first-generation immigrants in France (Villanova, 2006) there are indications of obstacles to integration, (p.170) principally the inability to speak the host-country language. One of the major differences, however, is related to diversity within the community itself. In fact, Portuguese emigration in the 1960s to the rest of Europe was almost exclusively white. As seen above, the Portuguese community in the United Kingdom is increasingly diverse and this is related, at least in part, to the increasing diversity in Portuguese society brought about by migrant inflows which in turn were caused by the influences of Luso-tropicalism in the laws that rule nationhood and citizenship in Portugal. There is also some evidence that as they become us in the context of the diaspora, the tensions and contradictions of modern Portuguese society in dealing with diversity are also exported (Almeida and Corkill, 2010). This growing diversity both in the homeland and amongst the Portuguese diaspora is, therefore, an enormous challenge in a culture used to seeing itself as an example of universalism and humanism and accustomed to consider itself part of a Lusophone racism-free area.


The state in Portugal has promoted an image of exceptionalism regarding racial and cultural mixing through the idea of Luso-tropicalism. This negates past and present Portuguese racism while seeming to engage with a Glissantian creolization which goes beyond métissage while remaining firmly embedded within métissage itself. Luso-tropicalism then was a creolity which sought origins and remained wedded to essentialism. As such it could not erase the importance of racial difference and its structuration of societies both in the metropole and colony but was imbricated with it. Before 1974, luso-tropicalism as discourse was especially useful to the empire in claiming historical legitimacy. After the democratic revolution and the collapse of the colonial empire, it also became useful as part of the reconstruction of relationships with its former colonial subjects and in managing increasing population diversity caused by immigration flows from its previous African territories in the 1990s. In this context, Portugal maintained some exceptions in its nationality law, namely the requirement of a shorter period of residence in the country to citizens from Portuguese-speaking countries.

Ethnicity and racism became part of the public debates about the nation, largely contrasting the multicultural blindness of the state and the self-referential and self-congratulatory state representations of Portuguese culture, for example, in the World Exhibition, Expo ’98. In this World Exhibition, as part of the celebrations of the fifth centenary of the Discoveries, several symbols recurrent to the maritime historical tradition were used. The ideological view of the past, which makes little or no reference to slavery, was reconstructed under the ‘politically correct’ theme of ‘The Oceans’ (Almeida, 2005).

As Portugal became an immigration country in the 1990s, it did not (p.171) stop being an emigration country. In fact, this status has been recently reinforced by large population outflows. These recent emigration flows from Portugal into the rest of mainland Europe and the United Kingdom have been comparable in numbers with the 1960s. One fundamental difference is that emigration from Portugal has not only been of white Portuguese as in the 1960s but also of many African-born people living in Portugal. They become part of the Portuguese ‘imagined community’ (Anderson, 1991) as many emigrate as Portuguese nationals and are included in the general term ‘Portuguese’. A significant proportion of these migrant workers consist of people who initially arrived in Portugal and then decided to move to another country, Portugal being a stepping-stone in migration to the European Union. Many were born in Portuguese territories before 1974 and have always had Portuguese citizenship. Others were granted Portuguese citizenship under Portuguese nationality laws. In the context of the Portuguese diaspora, this diversity is generally reduced to the category of ‘immigrant’ or ‘Portuguese’. The idea of ‘Portugueseness’ itself becomes creolized, transcending ethnic differences which, in many cases, belies the reality, as is also the case in Portugal. As emigrants, they are also viewed as followers of the Navigators’ tradition of reaching beyond the shores of a small country situated at the margins of Europe, contributing to Portugal’s greatness.

As the Portuguese case shows, the phenomenon of migration challenges traditional conceptions of citizenship and national identity (Castles and Davidson, 2000; Westwood and Phizacklea, 2000). In a context of an ‘integrating’ Europe, the traditional boundaries of the nation state and the assumption of exclusive membership of one country are also being challenged. Despite the reaffirmation of the Luso-tropical myth of a non-racist universal culture, it is apparent that Luso-tropicalism has limits and inadequacies in any attempt to analyze postcolonial Portugal and that creolization expressed as mestiçagem is increasingly insufficient to analyze and understand Portuguese culture and society. Cultural and political exclusion in Portugal are expressed in ways that are not very different from other postcolonial countries. Much more research is needed to evaluate how this is expressed in the context of an increasingly diverse Portuguese diaspora and in particular in the United Kingdom, one of the most recent destinations of Portuguese emigration.

  • Aquela cativa
  • Que me tem cativo,
  • Porque nela vivo
  • Já não quer que viva.
  • Pretidão de amor,
  • Tão doce a figura, Que a neve lhe jura Que trocara a cor. This poem has been read as an example of the Portuguese ideal of expansion. On the one hand, it expresses the acceptance of the slave as a woman; on the other hand, it is the valorization of a different type of beauty, expressing the attraction for the black color (Ribeiro, 1994).

Works Cited

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(1) The colonial war started in 1961, three years after Freyre’s paper was published. It lasted until 1974, leading to the end of the last and longest-lasting colonial empire.

(2) The literary work of the Jesuit priest António Vieira (1608–1697) reflected the contradictions of his time in Brazil, between the incompatibility of the colonial system and a fair government, the demand for freedom and the legal existence of slavery. Vieira advocated these principles but argued for social and intitutional stability that in practice negated them (Palacin, 1986).

(3) There is a famous a poem by Camões expressing his love for a slave:

(4) In 1940, Portugal celebrated a triple centenary: the foundation of the nation (1140), the restoration of independence (1640) and the peak of its overseas colonial expansion (1540). However, the emphasis was placed on the first two and the celebrations came to be known as ‘the double centenary’.

(5) The word Namban means ‘the barbarian’ or ‘the savage’.

(6) It represented the view of the Portuguese through Japanese eyes and is interesting because the Japanese were not subject to direct colonial rule.

(7) This term refers to the men who acted as ‘guides’ for many illegal emigrants in their long and dangerous voyages through Spain into France. Often a significant part of the journey was made on foot, out of view of the authorities. Portugal had a very restrictive law on emigration and it was a crime to leave the country without a passport. Many clandestine emigrants decided to leave the country to look for a better life and to escape the compulsory military service that could last for four years when the colonial wars in Africa escalated (Brettell, 2003).

(8) The Lei Organica n.º 2/2006 introduced important changes to the rules of access to Portuguese nationality, making it easier for people born in the Portuguese territory as it granted citizenship ‘to people who have a strong connection with Portugal’. As a result, a growing number of immigrants were granted naturalization, such as people from countries including Moldova, India, Ukraine and Russia that have sizeable immigrant communities in Portugal.