A Nossa Senhora da Nazaré: A Diasporic Experience.
“From childhood’s hour, I have not been as others were. I have not seen as others saw. And all I loved, I loved alone”
-Edgar Allen Poe
The sense that one is wholly different leads to a conflicting sense of self growing up. The formation of self-identity is so pertinent in fact, that when it is lacking or challenged, it often leads to internal conflict that makes the process of finding our place in the world an almost exhaustive endeavour. The formation of a personalised and integrated sense of identity is so pivotal that those with less developed identity structures often experience confusion, ill-being and a sense of vulnerability (Luyckx, Vansteenkiste, Goosens & Duriez, 2009). When I think of my own childhood and early adolescence, I often seek out those experiences and places which shaped my ideations of self. What remained consistent throughout my childhood was a lack of belonging and the search for a place in which I felt at home.
This search for place and its meaning within wider environmental contexts is not a novel one and has been at the centre of environmental psychology for decades. As the core concept of environmental psychology, place attachment theory purports that there is an emotional bond which exists between person and place. This bond is in fact so influential that extensive research has solely been dedicated to deciphering exactly what makes a specific place meaningful enough in order for place attachment to occur (Lewicka, 2011). One need only think of the landscape in which we once felt extremely happy (or miserable) to understand how pertinent it is in evoking memories, emotions, and thoughts, but how and why we attach such significance to particular places is not straightforward. It is asserted that place attachment is not simply a cause and effect relationship, but rather one which is dependent upon the degree of reciprocity between experiences and behaviour (Rollero, Chiara, De Piccoli, Norma, 2010). In describing place attachment, scholars typically differentiate between a sense of place and rootedness. The former relates to the strong emotive relationship which arises as a consequence of cultivating meaning to places, whilst the latter, on the other hand, is an attachment which has developed unconsciously from the continual residence within a place with which we have become familiarised. The bond we have with places is therefore salient in situating and securing us within broader physical and social environments and ultimately connects us to our past and influences our future. It is thus evident that for diasporic communities, the bond between person and place, can be absent as we, the other, long for what is familiar and thus the construction of self is often difficult.
Born in the early 1980’s in Johannesburg, South Africa, I don’t recall ever feeling different in my early years, but being so small, life did not extend much beyond family. By the time I could speak, I spoke both English and Portuguese with equal fluency and Portugal to me was going to the local Portuguese club and family ‘get togethers’ when my vóvó, mother and aunt would fill the kitchen with chatter whilst cooking our family favourites: filhoses, bacalhau, arroz doce and other traditional Portuguese dishes whilst clamouring over all the little ones. The men sat around tables, cigarette or cigar in hand, casually talking work and other such things, whilst sipping on brandewyn, vinho do porto or ginja. We, as children, would play in the garden or gather around the adults as they fussed over us and those were always cherished times. All in one room were Portuguese, Lebanese and South African cultures merging and we all belonged. As I grew older and started school, I quickly noticed that I was seen as being different. In South Africa, I was Portuguese and when we eventually moved to Portugal, I was the Sul Africana. I was both and at the same time, I was neither.
As the third biggest white ethnic group, South Africans of Portuguese descent constitute approximately 15–20% of the white population in South Africa and despite this, there is a lack of research on the insurgence of both Portuguese mainlanders and Madeirans in South Africa (Kankonde, 2013). The marked rise in Portuguese immigration was attributed to the collapse of Portugal’s Republican government in 1926 (Kankonde, 2013). Those from Madeira, largely unskilled and lacking literacy skills, established a Madeiran community in the Cape during 1910 to 1920 and mainly earned a living as fishermen.Those entering illegally, due to the imposed South African Aliens Immigration Act passed in 1937, gained entry over the Mozambican border into Natal or the Transvaal (Kankonde, 2013).
Before my teenage years, our family eventually dispersed and following the death of my vôvô, my grandmother moved back to Nazaré, Portugal and when I was 11, we joined her. Nazaré was a small fishing village back then and in many ways, despite the influx of tourists and its consequent expansion to accommodate ever increasing tourism, it remains the same. Perched up high on a cliff was Sitio, where we lived. Looking up at it from the beach, it’s largest point would always give me the illusion as being one of Poseidon’s jagged teeth and the tracks of the elevador going down, his cervical spine, connecting head to body.
There are certain aspects of living which are culture specific and in Nazaré, it was no different. Everyone knew everyone and one could not make a move without it becoming known to all. Your name was often followed by “she’s Maria Augusta’s granddaughter, niece of Susana, cousin of David and Sara, you know that family that…”, to which the response would be..”Ah, já sei!”. In my short four years there I experienced an array of awful behaviours and I understood (though not for the first time) just how cruel the world can be, but I also had my first kiss, fell in love for the first time at 15 and felt nostalgia for a place when I left.
What is breathtakingly a beautiful place was overshadowed by runs home from school as groups of girls would chase after me wanting to fight (once it was because I had looked at a boy that one of them fancied!) and the numerous assaults by a group of three boys before, during and after school and then by another one once I got closer to home, called Piolho (meaning louse). They all called me by the same nickname, Mama Africa, as they groped and pushed me into corners whilst my friends carried on walking. It didn’t occur to me until much later how much it had affected me at such an integral stage of growing up. The perceived silliness of these experiences by locals hit me when I messaged one of those friends to ask if she recalls who they were for they had caused me much suffering. She had found some hilarity in it with her repeated responses of LOL and I found it unnerving, questioning what humour there was to be found in it. I wanted names to match the faces in my head, those kept hidden that would ever so often peak out of the shadows in my mind, for all I could remember was that one was called China (for his eyes were slanted); Mania (who had a rotten tooth); and another, much shorter, who would always gel his fringe into a wave that was reminiscent of women’s 80s fashion.
What I realise was that I was the Africana, and that despite having lived there, I did not form part of their community and courtesy did not extend beyond the tribe. As a child, finding my footing in this world, my experiences were singular and I did not think were shared by others, but reports of racism and violence against diasporic communities is not uncommon in Portugal and research suggests it is is derivative of:
“a colonial past which determined the treatment of people of African descent; along with migrants and Roma, who are marginalised and considered outsiders by Portuguese society” (Góis, 2019, p.41).
In fact, according to reports by the Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination (CICDR, 2018), the number of complaints received in 2017 are recorded as being the highest since its creation, with a significant increase in the last four years. These were categorised as follows:
Complaints related to the nationality of victims rank third (17.5%), preceded by colour (26.8%) and racial and ethnic origin (38%), with a rise of situations where victims suffer from multiple discriminations. From the 208 complaints received in 2008, only 15% were converted into civil proceedings (Góis, 2019, p.42).
So, I was and am not alone.It must be said, however, that in focusing on the flaws of any one thing, we lose what beauty there is in it. Despite other dark times that followed, I never experienced such otherness than when I was in Nazaré. Yet, when I return now, its beauty is unfathomable and I revisit what good memories were once forged in that place. A boy waiting for me on a bench, mammoth waves crushing any pretence you may have had before walking into the ocean that you alone are bigger; and that family is that one, small, flexible and continual shifting of space in which you can belong.
“Coração independente, coração que não comando, vives perdido entre a gente, teimosamente sangrando”
-Estranha Forma De Vida (Alfredo Rodrigo Duarte & Amalia Da Piedade Rodrigues